I can't make up my mind.

All these mixed media signals are causing me some serious cognitive dissonance.

On the one hand, celebrities are telling me I should love my body for what it is, no matter what shape I'm in.

On the other hand, glossy magazine covers remind me that slimming and trimming can and should be the focus of my life if I want to be happy.

Which advice am I supposed to take? A few laps around the track really deliver the endorphins. But then I get home from the gym and the piece of chocolate cake in the fridge is calling my name. I come up with some universal truth to validate my deplorable action: Life is short eat dessert first!

I used to think it was my fault, that my lack of willpower and determination were internal character flaws. And they are. But that's only half the story.

Instead, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner has put a few fascinating notions in my head, via his current book, "The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite."

David Kessler, a former FDA commissioner and a major player in the fight against the tobacco industry, has built a case after years of research that the problem plaguing us Americans is "conditioned hypereating" a biological challenge and not a character flaw.

The physicians's dig for the truth began with his own obsession for a particular treat, an obsession you and I probably also share: the infamous chocolate chip cookie.

Why, Kessler asked, does this delectable little treat have so much control over so many of our thoughts and actions when we are put in arm's length of a baker's dozen?

In his book released in April, Kessler describes how the food and advertising industries and our negative lifestyle changes have short-circuited our bodies' self-regulating mechanisms. This leaves us at the mercy of reward-driven eating, attracted to and obsessed with diabolical combinations of salty, fatty and sugary food which take few chews to swallow.

Just the other day I was reading my latest copy of "Shape" when I ran across a Breyers ice cream ad. Instantly, I was reminded that a pint was waiting for me in the freezer and craved a bite, without having any notion of hunger prior to the commercial priming.

I'm writing about the book because I think anyone who reads it will begin to understand the extent of the damage. For the first time ever, a credible health professional explains to us just exactly why we behave the way we do and how and why we've become obsessed with food. Understanding why is always the first step to understanding how to change our behaviors.

And we must change, because we're being set up for a lifetime of food obsession and raising an entire country of people who are gaining weight and getting sick.

While it's true that there are concerns about how we measure our weight woes the infamous BMI (body mass index) has recently come under serious scrutiny as a measurement of health there's no denying the fact that we're fat. During the past 30 years, adult obesity rates have doubled and childhood obesity rates have more than tripled, while health spending has increased two percentage points faster than our GDP, according to "F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies Are Failing in America 2009," a report released earlier this month by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

It's time to make up our minds by figuring out what's going on in there if we want to reverse any of these trends. But first, I think I'll have a few of those cookies to cool off my head...

Staff Writer Shajia Ahmad can be e-mailed at sahmad@gctelegram.com.