Hyperpalatable foods are those that hit the “sweet spot” in your mouth and immediately tell your brain to have more …. even if you are full. Hyper means excessive and palatable means appetizing, pleasing to the taste buds. So a hyperpalatable food is one that is so tempting it can override your ability to control the amount you eat. Have you ever been out to eat and ordered dessert even though you were stuffed? Chances are the dessert was hyperpalatable. In nature, food is tasty and worth foraging for but it doesn’t quite have the zing that highly processed food do. Think about an apple versus apple pie or a carrot versus carrot cake. We all have foods that we have a hard time saying no to. There is a reason the saying “Bet you can’t eat just one!” resonates with most of us. We have personally experienced it so we know it’s true. Brain imaging has shown that these hyperpalatable foods, ones with the right amount of sugar, fat and salt, light up the reward center in our brain. We like it, we want it, and we are motivated to get more! Dr. David Kessler, former FDA commissioner, was one of the first to expose how the food industry uses this information to design food that we just can’t resist. Restaurants have hired consultants to redesign menus to entice us to overeat. And we do! Unfortunately all this eating takes a toll. America has the highest rate of obesity in the world! Yikes. This affects us on many levels. Excess weight is a contributor to high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and premature death. It increases health care costs and causes psychological stress, especially in children and teens. Many people are turning to gastric surgery for a solution. Gastric surgery results in dramatic weight loss but unfortunately many people regain at least some, if not all, of their weight back. There can be medical complications and nutritional deficiencies from the surgery so it is essential for those patients to follow a life-long supplement protocol. An interesting and very problematic potential result of gastric surgery is alcoholism. I have seen several clients who were non-drinkers or moderate drinkers who became alcoholics after surgery. Apparently there is a relationship between alcohol addiction and food addiction.
The term food addiction is sometimes seen as a joke and not taken seriously but it can cause pain and suffering to those that have it. In Lisa Kotin’s book “My Confection: Odyssey of a Sugar Addict”, she clearly spells out her struggles with sugar addiction. She is open about the lengths she would go to ‘score’ sugar, not unlike a substance abuser’s drug seeking behavior. Some studies show that the dopamine pathway in the brain is a root cause for addictions, regardless of what a person’s substance of choice is. Remember the study that indicated that rats love Oreos? I have heard the argument that food can’t be addictive because we have to eat. Well if we think about it for a minute we realize that some of the food items we eat today are barely food and so highly processed they are not part of our natural or original food selection. Certainly the highly processed, chemical laden, artificially manipulated created foods we eat could be and are addictive. Hence the University of Bordeaux study that found an artificial sweetener (saccharin) was more addictive than cocaine to lab rats. Of course, not everyone is a sugar addict. Some of my clients report that they can’t stop eating savory/salty foods once they get started, while others will overeat anything. And of course, the lucky ones are ‘normies’ who don’t have food-related issues.
One of the main strategies for overcoming food addiction is to avoid hyperpalatable food, at least for a period of time. Couple that with eating regular, balanced meals and your brain and body have a chance to get to a more normalized chemical balance. I find that a bit higher protein intake, plenty of lemon water and low sugar is very helpful in reducing cravings and getting on a better track. And don’t forget exercise. Also, a support group like EDA or OA can be helpful.
Each person recovering from a food addiction may have a different journey so working with a professional that understands addictions, brain chemistry and nutrition is valuable.
Lisa Licavoli, RD