Guest Post: How "Hyperpalatable" Foods Could Turn You Into A Food Addict

Tyler Durden's picture

Authored by George Dvorsky, originally posted at,

Over a third of the global population is now overweight, and the percentages are increasing. Some neuroscientists have suggested that the rise of so-called "hyperpalatable foods" may partially explain the unprecedented rates of obesity.

Above: The Taco Bell Taco Waffle. Credit: Taco Bell.

Our food environment has changed dramatically over the years, most notably through the introduction of so-called "hyperpalatable" foods. These foods are deliberately engineered in such a way that they surpass the reward properties of traditional foods, such as vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Food chemists achieve this by suffusing products with increased levels of fat, sugar, flavors, and food additives.

Conditioned hypereating

David A. Kessler, author of The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite and former head of the FDA, claims that the food industry has combined and created foods in a way that taps into our brain circuitry, thus stimulating our desire for more. On their own, these ingredients aren't particularly potent, but when combined in specific ways, they tap into the brain's reward system, creating a feedback loop that stimulates our desire to eat and leaves us wanting more — even when we're full.

As Kessler told the New York Times, restaurant chains like Chili's cook up "hyper-palatable food that requires little chewing and goes down easily," while a Snickers bar is "extraordinarily well engineered." As we chew it, he says, the sugar dissolves, the fat melts and the caramel traps the peanuts so the entire combination of flavors is blissfully experienced in the mouth at the same time.

Eventually, the experience of eating impossibly delicious foods results in what Kessler describes as "conditioned hypereating." When we consume enjoyable sugary and fatty foods, it stimulates endorphins in our brains — chemicals that signal a pleasurable experience. In turn, and in Pavlovian fashion, these chemicals stimulate us to eat more of that type of food, while also calming us down and making us feel good.

But is it really addiction?

Conditioned hypereating sounds suspiciously similar to what we might call food addiction. And indeed, studies have shown that hyperpalatable foods may be capable of triggering an addictive process — one that's been postulated as a possible cause of the obesity epidemic.

But is it fair or reasonable to categorize food — something we need to keep us alive — alongside such things as illicit drugs, alcohol, and gambling? Some scientists say yes.

Last year, for example, neuroscientists from Connecticut College claimed that Oreo cookies are more addictive than cocaine. The researchers came to this conclusion after measuring a protein called c-Fos in the brains of rats. They found that the cookies activated more neurons in the accumbens — a region of the brain associated with pleasure, and studied for its role in addiction and reward-processing — than addictive substances like cocaine. Not surprisingly, the researchers were harshly criticized for suggesting that something as apparently benign as an Oreo cookie could be compared to a notorious party drug.

These concerns aside, evidence is mounting in support of the idea that food addiction is actually a thing.

It's known, for example, that food cues and consumption activates neurocircuitry, such as the meso-cortico-limbic pathways, implicated in drug addition.

In addition, work done in Bart Hoebel's lab at Princeton University have shown that rats overeating a sugar solution develop many behaviors and changes in the brain that are consistent with the effects of drug abuse, including withdrawal symptoms. Other studies support these findings, suggesting a reward dysfunction linked to addiction in rats who overeat hyperpalatable foods. Importantly, much of this compares reasonably well to humans, including cravings, continued use despite negative consequences, and diminished control of consumption. On the face of it, food addiction certainly exhibits all the hallmarks of conventional forms of addiction.

If it looks like a duck...

As noted by Nicole Avena and Mark Gold in a short-paper on the effects of sugars and fats on hedonic overeating, many of these "studies are supported by clinical research showing similarities in the effects of increased body weight or obesity and abused drugs on brain dopamine systems, as well as the manifestation of behaviors indicative of addiction."

Importantly, a relationship has been found to exist between binge eating-related disorders and addiction-like eating habits facilitated by the consumption of hyperpalatable foods. As summarized by addiction expert Adrian Meule:

In humans, increasing evidence suggests that individuals with binge eating-related disorders, i.e., bulimia nervosa (BN), binge eating disorder (BED), and obesity, experience behavioral symptoms and neurochemical changes that are highly comparable to other addictive behaviors. Moreover, increased prevalence of drug use can be found in BN and BED, but not in anorexia nervosa. In recent years, neuroendocrine pathways have been identified that are involved in both drug- and food-seeking behaviors. Specifically, appetite-regulating peptides like ghrelin, neuropeptide Y, orexin, or leptin have also been associated with craving for alcohol or tobacco. On a neurochemical level, reduced striatal D2 receptor availability has been found in obese patients similar to patients with substance use.

In light of this evidence, some researchers are suggesting that "food addiction' join other non-drug addictions, such as sexual compulsivity and gambling.

Tackling the Problem

Though the addictive potential of foods continues to be debated, a number of strategies have been proposed to address the situation. Back in 2011, Ashley Gearhardt and colleagues reviewed some policy and public health strategies that have proven effective in reducing the impact of addictive substances. They concluded that:

Corporate responsibility, public health approaches, environmental change, and global efforts all seem essential in reducing food- and substance-related problems. Such approaches could be enacted in conjunction with individual-focused behavioral and pharmacological efforts that could also benefit from considering similarities between food-related conditions like obesity and drug addiction. Ignoring the analogous neural and behavioral effects of foods and drugs of abuse may result in a substantial loss of time, resources, and lives, as we rediscover lessons learned in reducing the impact of addictive substances.

Amongst their many recommendations, the researchers proposed that hyperpalatable foods be taxed like cigarettes, have their accessibility reduced (e.g. removal of vending machines from specific locations), and that manufacturers be limited in terms of marketing and sales (e.g. by not allowing certain products to alter the food environments of developing nations). It has been shown, for example, that obesity rates in countries such as France and the United Kingdom have been rising in parallel with increases in the availability of highly processed foods and fast-food chains.

Lastly, by recognizing and appreciating the neurological underpinnings of overeating, researchers will be encouraged to find new ways of improving treatments, while policy makers will have added support for implementing broader and more impactful health policies.

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Stackers's picture

Have you tried the new Lays Chicken and Waffle Potato Chip ?

Bear's picture

This has got to be a joke

Bad Attitude's picture

So, if it tastes good, it's bad for me. If it tastes really good, it's really bad for me.

Is bland tasteless gruel good for me?

Forward (over the cliff)!

ghengis86's picture

Hyperpalatable: local, grass fed NY strip steak, medium rare, dressed with butter, a fresh salad from the garden and steamed mixed veggies from the garden.

StacksOnStacks's picture

I feel like throwing up thinking of all of these "hyper-palatable" foods.  I'm with Ghengis, only I'd do a Ribeye (Bone-in).  Make sure you get the Rainbow!

TeamDepends's picture

Um, yeah (looks around nervously), I'd like a toy with that...

smithcreek's picture

Hold the presses!  People eat tasty crap!  This is news?  I guess not, but call it an addiction and all the Bloombergs of the world will be allowed to regulate how much of it you are allowed to eat.  How about just letting insurance companies base prices on the risk that some fat fuck will require more health care and let the chips (pun intended) fall where they may?

cifo's picture

Anyone who's hungry should stop reading the comments right now.


zhandax's picture

"all the Bloombergs of the world will be allowed to regulate how much of it you are allowed to eat"

No one is suggesting that ANY new regulations are required to address these facts,  However, the strict interpretation of a law enacted over a hundred years ago, the Sherman Antitrust Act, would in short time address this, as well as a host of issues plaguing modern society.  The concentration of power is evil, folks.  When the fuck will you wake up?  A lot of little businesses are better for everyone except the executives than a few big ones.

Cliff Claven Cheers's picture

Fake food with fake nutrition that causes obesity along with a host of medical problems.  Let health insurance work like other insurance and price based on risk/weight/blood pressure/blood sugar etc  OR let the gov regulate this shit out of all the engineered fake foods, i.e. out law the shit.  I know a lot of fat asses that the gov has paid for 2 new knees at a cost of at least $90K.  If the fat asses had to pay for that out of ther own pockets I doubt they would have packed around that extra 100 pounds for the last 20 years.  Why should my grandchildren keep paying for the sins of these fat baby boomers?  But this is America so we will say something like "tell the gov to stay out of my shit but give me all that free medical care".

Oracle of Kypseli's picture

When I see a fat kid, I see a negligent or ignorant parent.

If you are over 18 or a parent and overweight, the train have left the station.


BigJim's picture

***** ('Awesome') for identifying that food is just as (or even more) addictive than (other) recreational drugs. I find it easier to say no to a line of coke than a bowl of Ben & Jerry's.

* ('Poor') for suggesting .gov needs to step in and protect us from ourselves. You want to eradicate the negative externalities of bad eating? Get rid of socialised healthcare, dimwit Statists.

johngaltfla's picture

Good. It means Glenfiddich is still an acceptable staple in the food grouping but only hyperpalatable when put on waffle tacos. I'll keep mine neat to avoid the tacos then.

One of We's picture

Last fall's last cut of venison backstrap lightly sauteed in garlic and soy sauce, sauteed mushrooms and onions and fresh organic greens from someone's garden/farm (mine are just planted), topped off with a bottle or two of organic cab....that's what these po' folks are eating tonight!  The rest of last summer's halibut for tomorrow's dinner cause we gotta make room for fresh!  I love SPRING!


Eat fresh BITCHEZZ!

giggler321's picture

>>So, if it tastes good, it's bad for me. If it tastes really good, it's really bad for me

Hey BA, a quote from Duke Nukem is most fitting here.

"Eat shit and die mother f***ers"

ghengis86's picture

Dats rayciss!

(Did I miss the watermelon and purple drink chips too?)

Stackers's picture

What makes it even funnier is they are real. Saw them sitting on the rack at the 7-11 yesterday. Classic WTF moment

Jendrzejczyk's picture

Fantastic review: 5 of 17 people found the following review helpful

 No, not really.

By NettyBettyPoh on August 28, 2013

I became deeply excited when I spotted these on the shelves of my local grocery store. Never have I eaten both chicken AND waffles at the same time or even within minutes of each other for that matter. I get them home and am as eager and impatient as prom night.

I gently pull apart the adhered edges and the scent of maple syrup invades my nostrils. Yes, I say, this is happening. I stuff four chips into my mouth at once, hoping to cover every single taste bud with what may be the best thing ever.

The syrupy aroma is not misleading. I'm convinced I've poured maple syrup into my mouth. I chew, taking in the sweetness of the maple and anticipating the arrival of the chicken. It doesn't show. More chips, I say and insert three more. Nothing. Very much like prom night I am stood up.

The chicken flavor never comes through and I am left with maple syrup and salt. No hints of golden flakiness, not even a drop of frying grease. Not a thing. The maple syrup is all there is and comforts me like a sympathetic friend. I finish off the bag because the maple syrup has treated me well and end the night regretful.

I still think about it. I wonder if I would have loved these chips if only the chicken hadn't been a "no show". I'll never know.

To each his or her own; the flavor just wasn't there for me.

Jendrzejczyk's picture

Wolf shirt reviews are also fantastic.

 Dual Function Design

By Amazon Customer on November 10, 2008

Color Name: Dark GreenSize Name: Boys 2-4
This item has wolves on it which makes it intrinsically sweet and worth 5 stars by itself, but once I tried it on, that's when the magic happened. After checking to ensure that the shirt would properly cover my girth, I walked from my trailer to Wal-mart with the shirt on and was immediately approached by women. The women knew from the wolves on my shirt that I, like a wolf, am a mysterious loner who knows how to 'howl at the moon' from time to time (if you catch my drift!). The women that approached me wanted to know if I would be their boyfriend and/or give them money for something they called mehth. I told them no, because they didn't have enough teeth, and frankly a man with a wolf-shirt shouldn't settle for the first thing that comes to him.

I arrived at Wal-mart, mounted my courtesy-scooter (walking is such a drag!) sitting side saddle so that my wolves would show. While I was browsing tube socks, I could hear aroused asthmatic breathing behind me. I turned around to see a slightly sweaty dream in sweatpants and flip-flops standing there. She told me she liked the wolves on my shirt, I told her I wanted to howl at her moon. She offered me a swig from her mountain dew, and I drove my scooter, with her shuffling along side out the door and into the rest of our lives. Thank you wolf shirt.

Pros: Fits my girthy frame, has wolves on it, attracts women
Cons: Only 3 wolves (could probably use a few more on the 'guns'), cannot see wolves when sitting with arms crossed, wolves would have been better if they glowed in the dark.


One of We's picture

You keep howling at my ex-wife's moon and we'll have problems.  I don't like her cookin' and she gets uglier by the day but she's always good for a little panic sex when I tell her the child support check will be late cuz I can't get to work with this morning wood.....yeehaw!!

ILLILLILLI's picture

Yes, you have to know how to make the system work for you....

ajax's picture



@Jendrzejczyk, + 1000 upvotes. I fell off my perch laughing.

Just out of curiosity, is there any word in English which rhymes with your name?

Seek_Truth's picture

This has got to be a joke?:




prains's picture

....if you're too fat, when the time comes you won't be able to fight back.....makes perfect sense, if you're an oligarch, 75% of the population will be too winded to leave their "shelter in place" until it's too late

Spungo's picture

It's someone else's fault I don't exercise at all.

TeamDepends's picture

Sure, blame the product and not your hyper-suggestible food libido.

NidStyles's picture

Am I the only one that noticed the displacement of actual physical activity with video games in modern life?

Wahooo's picture

In terms of physical activity, there's no difference between playing a video game and reading a book. Most book readers I know are overweight. Now, it could just be because they're Americans.

NidStyles's picture

You're joking right? You know your brain uses far more calories than any other part of your body and you're telling me that you think reading is the same as video games.


Let me guess you grew up with a controller in your hand... I feel so bad for you.

the tower's picture

Playing a video game uses lots more energy than reading a book. Playing video games is good and fun, as long as you also move plenty, like walk, swim, and ride a bike.

Poundsand's picture

By hyperpalatable you really mean foods with bacon!!!!!!!

atomicwasted's picture

Laying the groundwork for our rations of mush.  It'll be good for us.

Dollar Bill Hiccup's picture

Free yourself from the sugar molecule.

It's eating your lunch, Mr. and Mrs. Amurica.

OC Sure's picture

It's the breads too.

Lay off pasta, breads, bagels, cereals, chips, pretzels, and any other forms of breads. You'll lose that bread-basket in just weeks.

daveO's picture

Look at the food pyramid. Uncle Sam has brainwashed people. 

OC Sure's picture



"Uncle Sam has brainwashed people."



the tower's picture

I love bread. Here in Europe you don't see so many fat people. We eat lots of bread. It's not the bread, it's culture.

OC Sure's picture

Well it certainly is that food is the cause of the oscillation of one's body weight and not the culture.

Perhaps bread products are created differently in Europe than in USA?

Maybe it is an ingredient(s) that are different?

RaceToTheBottom's picture

Society made me a fatty

americanspirit's picture

I think the culprit is that food is being designed to interact with widely used medications. The food manufacturers and Pig Pharma are no doubt working closely together. The "Blind Munchies" were probably what gave these two evil industries their first clue - unless it was salted peanuts and beer.

Anyhow - I am convinced that meds dictate certain kinds of eating behavior, and it simply isn't possible that the evil geniuses in these two industries aren't aware of this and aren't taking full advantage.

Note the title of the agency - the Food & Drug Administration. Pretty much right in our faces, hidden in plain view.

NotApplicable's picture

Thankfully I'm pill free and don't eat any processed foods on a regular basis.

Which means the bowl of chocolate pudding I just made at my desk and ate was entirely guilt-free.

1 oz bakers chocolate

1 banana

1 avacado

cinnimon and raw honey to taste.

Part of my cube is basically a pantry.

cowdiddly's picture

nah bakers chocolate could never be a proscessed food never.

Spungo's picture

I blame blacks for my problems <boos>
Ok it wasn't blacks. It was Jews. <boos>
Ok it wasn't blacks or Jews. It was society. <cheers>

/liberal mind set

Dingleberry's picture

If you are fat, it's because you are a lazy slob with misplaced priorities and endless excuses.

Stop blaming the fork.

If I paid you $1000 an hour to find an hour a day to work out, you would miraculously find the time to do so.

But since I am won't.

Despite your health being the most valuable thing you have (by far) while sojourning on this hurling rock.

Oh well. See you at the buffet.



freedogger's picture

An hour a day isn't enough for me if I eat poorly, I still gain weight. About 2-3 hours a day of exercise and I can eat whatever I want without gaining pounds.

On the other hand, I can eat smart with zero exercise and get to whatever weight I want.


XRAYD's picture

Please, SUPERSIZE mine!