"The meal is not over when I'm full, the meal is over when I hate myself," jokes Louis CK in his stand-up special Chewed Up. He then compares himself to "normal people," who eat only until they're full, whereas he eats until he's doubled over, feeling like he has maple syrup for blood, asking himself why he'd ever eat so much.
Not true that he's not normal. The bit illustrates the hilarious self-deprecation that pervades CK's persona, but it also nicely condenses the psychological realities of contemporary American eating life that existential psychologist Kima Cargill describes in her academic crossover book The Psychology of Overeating.
Neurologically and nutritionally, Louis CK probably finds it difficult to stop eating because his food contains enough refined sugar to throw off his brain's ability to determine when his body is full (see Cargill's chapters on sugar and "hyperpalatable" and "ultraprocessed" foods). Nature never gives us sugar without a large amount of fiber, which slows down the body's ability to intake and absorb sugars. We absorb and store refined sugars more quickly than we can use their calories, so we get fat.
The psychology of overeating, Cargill argues, is similar to the psychology of overbuying. People who live in consumerist cultures like ours identify themselves by what they consume, not by what they produce. We've evolved biological mechanisms (sexual pleasure ensures propagation! Sweetness means calories!) that companies exploit in myriad ways to compete for dollars. Since many companies sell shit we don't need, they create advertisements that manufacture false desires for those things (Pop-Tarts, Solowheels).
But we love the taste and touch of this stuff, even if we don't need it, even if it makes us feel empty. And because our narcissistic free market has made little narcissists of us all, we conflate what we like with who we are, and, of course, who we are is the best person there is! So when our likes are challenged by finger-wagging academics, we think our very essence of being is under attack. Self-defense mechanisms rush in, which Cargill lists: rationalization (if I run, I can eat as much as I want!), denial (the river), and dissociation (I know that this shirt was made by slaves in Indonesia, but isn't Indonesia way over there, and anyway I NEED IT SORRY). In the meantime, all this stuff makes us poor and fat, which makes us hate ourselves.
That's the psychology of our consumption problem. The bigger problem, Cargill says, is that the only way to solve a consumption problem in a consumerist society is more consumption. Too much stuff? Buy stuff to organize your stuff. Eat too much? Buy special diet food. Feel anxious? Buy Paxil. Too expensive? Buy a generic version that's probably made by the same drug company and that only has to prove it fights your anxiety better than a sugar pill. But all the stuff we buy doesn't really work, and thus we're trapped in an endless narcissistic ouroboros that's killing us and our planet.
Cargill drops a glut of Holy Shit That's Crazy facts and arguments from all over the academic world in order to illuminate and back up her comparative theory. It's hard to meaningfully summarize them all. But the ones that gave me heart attacks involve how much money food companies make off of poor people via food stamps (one-sixth of Kraft's revenue, $4 billion for Pepsi and Coke annually) and how often pharmaceutical companies advertise rare but vague diseases (gluten intolerance, depression) in order to sell their cures.
I was also shocked by the idea that a person could be obese but not fat ("Up to 40 percent of the population is now 'metabolically obese, normal weight,' that is, suffering the same ill effects of obesity... but maintaining a normal weight"), and by how addictive and terrible and wrapped up in colonization and capitalism sugar is (rats prefer it to heroin, and in her years as a psychologist, Cargill hasn't ever been able to get her patients off of it). She spends a lot of time talking about sugar, calling it "the central link between overeating and the culture of consumerism."
Throughout the book, Cargill often compares the addictive qualities of sugar and the manipulative legislative and advertising practices of its purveyors to the tobacco industry, which is an excellent analogy in that it offers us a solution to the systemic side of our consumption issue. Don't spend so much time shaming yourself or worrying about others shaming you: Shame the food companies. In the meantime, if you struggle with this stuff, Cargill suggests you try to eat less, re-fang the FDA, and cook at the house more often.