New Public Enemy #1: Big Food

While I try to keep this blog pretty mountain bike specific, I am a fitness professional and tend to keep up with a wide variety of health and fitness topics. I have just started listening to an audio book called The End of Overeating and while it may not pertain to most of us, almost all of us know someone that suffers from obesity and the inability to control what and how much they eat.

The book starts off with some fascinating interviews with people who simply can not control their eating habits. They are literally obsessed with food and spend all day thinking about it. One of the ladies the author interviewed said she was able to control her weight through a lot of exercise but that she still obsessed with food, something that me wonder how many riders fall into that category of using mountain biking to help balance out their food obsessions.

The book then talked about how this obesity epidemic is a rather new phenomenon. Up until the 1980’s the weight of the average American was pretty constant and predictable. They would add a few pounds through adulthood and lose a few pounds as they got into old age but most people kept a healthy weight and the overweight people were the exception, not the norm.

However, statistics showed that trend changed drastically in the 80’s. For example, in the 70’s the average weight of a female between 21-29 years old used to be 126 pounds (I am writing these numbers from memory so they may not be exact but they are pretty close). However, in the year 2000 that had jumped 159 pounds. These jumps were seen across the board and one of the most disturbing trends was how much fatter the kids were getting.

While I am just starting the book and have a lot left to get through, I can tell you that there is a sinister underlying force at work here. Much like Big Tobacco learned how to combine nicotine with other chemicals in just the right amount to increase the addictiveness of cigarettes, Big Food has learned how to combine sugar, fat and salt in ways that make food much more addictive.

For example, there was a study on how a sugar and fat solution affected a strain of mice that had been bred to be obesity prone vs. regular mice. The regular mice would eat regular food until they were full and then stop while the obesity prone strain would tend to overeat and gain weight. However, when the sugar and fat solution was introduced to both groups that difference disappeared.

Both groups would gorge themselves and the regular mice would be just as prone to gain weight as the obesity strain. This is pretty scary stuff – there are literally food combinations that will short circuit your body’s normal mechanisms of controlling how much food you ingest. The Big Food companies have literally researched how much salt they can add to certain foods in order to maximize how much we love it without being too salty so that we hate it.

I just find it ironic how quick we are to levy huge taxes on cigarettes and demonize Big Tobacco while we give companies McDonalds and products like Big Macs a pass on their role in a much bigger problem. Literally 2/3 of all Americans are considered overweight, far more than smoke, and the health risks associated with obesity are real and well documented.

I’m pretty excited to get further into the book and learn more about the causes of this problem and what can be done to solve it. While I do not personally understand the obsession with food I have family members who eat too much and while I still think that will power and exercise play a role, the truth is that there is a new enemy out there who wants your money and will do whatever they can to get it, even if it means having people literally eat themselves to death. The more we can do to help educate people about Big Food and how it is manipulating them the better we will be as a society.

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  1. Trent says:


    This is an interest of mine as well. I wonder if you have had a chance to read more of the book and can add more to what you shared?

    Reply • November 4 at 7:17 pm
    • bikejames says:

      So far it has been a look at how these foods will actually alter your brain chemistry much like addictive drugs like cocaine and heroin will. What is worse is when you start to associate places and events with those foods and those places and events become triggers for you to crave the foods, not the foods themselves. The food industry has done a lot of research into what it takes to make you crave foods and how to draw in kids at younger ages. Scary stuff so far, I can not watch food commercials the same way now as I recognize the cues they are using to associate their food products with emotional triggers.

      Reply • November 5 at 10:27 am
  2. Howard says:

    You might want to check out the book “Sweet Poison:Why Sugar is Making us Fat” as well, which amongst other things graphs the increase in fructose consumption in the western diet over the last 100 years. Its frightening stuff.

    Reply • November 7 at 2:01 pm
  3. Richard says:


    It is too easy to blame Big Food. People have got to shut their PIE HOLES. I have friends that regularily eat fast food and I see them actually add salt to their food. Home Econmomics classes should be manditory to teach kids how to cook healthy balance meals without processed foods. That is the real problem, their parents don’t know how to cook and don’t teach them how to eat healthy. It is hard to really overeat if you are chowing down on veggies and good protein.

    Reply • November 9 at 8:42 am
    • bikejames says:

      Before reading that book I would have totally agreed with you and still do to a point. Of course it all still boils down to self control and taking responsibility for you actions but it is also important to realize that there are massive forces at work trying to get people addicted to sugar, fat and salt. Big Food purposefully seeks to make irresistible foods for as cheaply as possible and then to market them aggressively. Just like people get addicted to drugs and the cues that bring on the desire for drugs, highly palatable foods are addictive and the cues that spur desire in a lot of people are everywhere.

      We all have stuff in our lives we struggle to control – for a lot of people food is that thing. Recognizing what is going on will help people realize that they have to approach overcoming food addictions just like any other addiction.

      Reply • November 9 at 1:13 pm
  4. rbiker says:

    after you get done with that book, watch this movie
    and read “Good calories, Bad Calories”

    Reply • January 31 at 8:18 pm

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