Have you ever craved something that isn’t healthy? Do you have a favorite comfort food? A favorite fast food? Have you ever worried that maybe your cravings for this particular thing may not be totally healthy?
What if I told you that food companies are engineering foods to make them “hyper-palatable” (addictive) in the hopes that you could become addicted?
You would have two options; dismiss me as a crazy, conspiracy theorist or think perhaps I have a point.
A couple of years ago, I attended a training that examined the intersection of trauma and addiction. I thought it was really compelling that they had a researcher, Dr. Pam Peeke, there to discuss food addiction and that was the first time I heard the term hyper-palatable foods. The research presented highlighted that the pleasure center in the brain reacts similarly in many people when addictive (hyper-palatable) foods are introduced, as it would when drugs are introduced to drug addicts.
A 2011 study from Yale that examined this phenomenon in lean as well as obese individuals found that there were addict behaviors in both lean and obese individuals. At the beginning of the study they evaluated each participant using a modified set a questions that would be used to determine if someone had an addiction to drugs/alcohol. Then the participant's brains were monitored and measured while they consumed hyper-palatable foods and found that the participants who fell within the addiction spectrum had brains that reacted similarly to brains of drug addicts when drugs were introduced.
Still think I'm crazy?
It is not far fetched that food companies and manufacturers could use the same data to create foods that are nearly irresistible. We have seen in the tobacco industry and the sugar industry. Tobacco companies knowingly lied to consumers for decades about how addictive their product was. Now, we have food companies attempting to mislead use about how much sugar and salt are in the foods we eat.
What does this mean?
It means a few things. For starters, if you are struggling with a complicated relationship with food, it may not be as simple as 'I need to just stop eating that' because your brain could be working against you. It could also mean that you may need more support than you think to 'kick the habit' as you are being targeted by a multibillion dollar industry. And finally, you could have other life stressors that could likely contribute to making it difficult to give up hyper-palatable foods.
If you are curious to see if you fall into the food addict spectrum the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS) is here and only takes a few minutes to complete.