Hooked Book Summary - Hooked Book explained in key points
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Hooked summary

Michael Moss

Food, Free Will, and How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions

4.2 (283 ratings)
23 mins
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    Science is just beginning to understand how our brains respond to food.

    Yale graduate student Ashley Gearhardt was studying our relationship with food in 2007. And when she invited people to her laboratory to talk about food, she made a remarkable discovery.

    The stories people told sounded incredibly similar to those told by people addicted to drugs or alcohol. They talked about powerful cravings and how impossible it seemed to give up eating certain foods. They even spoke of dropping out of their social lives to try and get away from the foods they craved.

    Here’s the key message: Science is just beginning to understand how our brains respond to food.

    Gearhardt decided to run some tests. She put together a survey that asked respondents whether they agreed with statements like “I eat much more of certain foods than I planned” and “I feel sad or nervous when I stop eating certain foods.” Ultimately, Gearhardt concluded that a whopping 15 percent of the American population met the criteria for being addicted to food. What’s more, most of them were severely addicted. These people were overconsuming certain types of food and were losing control. They couldn't stop eating – even when they wanted to.

    But what kinds of foods are people addicted to?

    By putting participants into an MRI scanner, researchers have been able to study our brain activity when we taste our favorite foods. Incredibly, when some people taste their favorite fast foods, such as cheeseburgers, fried chicken, and ice cream, their brains show a pattern of activity that’s typically associated with taking cocaine. Scientists have concluded that some people’s brains respond in the same way to junk food as they would to addictive drugs. In both cases, their brains shout “This is good, I want more!”

    Of course, many of us eat junk food from time to time, and most don’t lose control over how much of it we eat. So doesn’t that prove that it’s not addictive?

    Well, the fact that most of us can eat this food without becoming addicted doesn’t matter. In fact, a useful definition of addiction is that it's a repetitive behavior that some people find hard to stop. The key here is some people. In the same way that most people who drink alcohol or occasionally use recreational drugs aren't addicted to them, most people who eat processed food aren't addicted to it either. All that matters is that some people do become addicted, making certain foods, just like alcohol, tobacco, and cocaine, potentially addictive.

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    What is Hooked about?

    Hooked (2021) explores our complex relationship with processed food. It explains why certain foods leave us wanting more, and reveals how our brain chemistry and our evolutionary biology are exploited by the fast-food industry.

    Who should read Hooked?

    • Parents wanting to give their children a healthy start
    • Anyone struggling to lose weight
    • Psychology buffs looking for fresh insights

    About the Author

    Michael Moss is an investigative journalist and author. In 2010, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on contaminated hamburgers. His previous book Salt, Sugar, Fat, was a New York Times best seller.

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