Former FDA commissioner David Kessler, MD, coined the term “hyperpalatable” to describe foods engineered in laboratories to create an irresistible blend of fat, sugar, and salt. The emerging consensus is that these foods don’t just taste good but are also chemically addictive, triggering the release of dopamine, the brain chemical that makes you feel pleasure.

Your brain is hardwired to accommodate a healthy amount of natural sugars in fruits, vegetables, and dairy, but flooding the brain with too many refined sugars leads to dopamine overstimulation and, through an adaptive process called down-regulation, fewer dopamine receptors. Over time you build a tolerance for sugar and find yourself in the nightmare scenario that epitomizes addiction: You need more to feel good. (It’s also possible that you are among the 40 percent to 60 percent of the population that started off with fewer dopamine receptors from birth.)

In her New York Times best seller The Hunger Fix (Rodale, 2012), Pam Peeke, MD, describes how eating sugary-fatty-salty combo foods regularly—what she calls “false fixes”—undermines the brain’s pleasure and forms the basis for food addiction. “Refined sugar is the most potent of the hyperpalatables, with animal models showing it to be more addictive than cocaine,” she says. In her book, Peeke provides a detailed plan (summarized below, in "Basic Detox Plan") for breaking free of false-fix dependence.