Doctorate Housewife

What my degree in IPE didn't teach me about baking, DIY, fitness, and life…

Scientific Evidence For a Dessert Stomach

For years now sweet teeth (sweet tooth plural?) the world over have known one fundamental truth: there exists a dessert stomach. It doesn’t matter how full your dinner stomach is, there is ALWAYS room for dessert!

Peanut butter truffle blondie chocolate cupcakes

Peanut butter truffle blondie chocolate cupcakes

Well, drum roll please… the growing science of obesity just may have discovered the reason for this. It’s called sensory specific satiety. The principle is simple (and easily recognisable): basically as you eat a meal, you get tired of eating one particular food, but being “full” on one thing, doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to stop eating another thing. Studies with both rats and humans bear out the prevalence of this phenomenon, and bam what lekkerbeks the world over have known forever is finally born out in science – just because you’re done with dinner, does NOT mean you’re done with dessert.

This has pretty obvious implications for obesity research and weight loss, where the “cafeteria diet” is a known phenomenon. The larger the variety of foods on offer, the more people eat – freshman 15 anyone?! Take for example the following study, where scientists separated 6 groups of rats and presented them with the following food choices:

  • rat chow (coloured in circle)
  • rat chow plus crackers (empty triangle)
  • rat chow plus cookies (empty circle)
  • rat chow plus chocolate (empty square)
  • rat chow plus crackers, cookies, and chocolate given at once (coloured in triangle)
  • rat chow plus crackers, cookies, and chocolate given successively (coloured in square)

As you can see from the graph below, the rats who got the largest variety of fun food (rat chow plus crackers, cookies, and chocolate) all at the same time gained the most weight, and significantly more weight than the rats just on chow.



Interestingly there was a pretty big difference in weight gain between the rat group that was given these foods successively and the one that was given it simultaneously. It seems there’s something about getting all these lovely choices all at once. I can imagine lots of reasons for this including loss aversion (more on the science of human decision making and consumer choice theory – my PhD topic btw), but regardless of the “why”, the “what now” is an important question.

Variety may be the spice of life, but it might also be your diet downfall. The implication is clear, if you want to eat less, reduce your choices, limit your variety, and stick to routines: have the same lunch everyday, stay away from the buffet, have only 1 treat option… Because apparently you might get tired of eating Oreos (I’m not entirely sure how), but still have room for ice cream and cake.

yum cake =)

yum cake =)

And before you know it you’re in a serious binge and the diet or healthy eating plan is completely out the window. (Here’s a great post from Katie at Runs for Cookies about binge-eating)

But, it’s not all bad news. You can also use sensory specific satiety to your advantage. Want to eat more fruits and vegetables? Increase your options. Buy lots of colours, lots of shapes. Have a big bowl full of different fruits in full view where you’re likely to pass it. Here’s mine:

fruit bowl

Plus I know there’s grapes, oranges, and blueberries in the fridge, not to mention a whole host of vegetables. =) The more I have on hand, the more I eat. I’ve tested it and it’s true!

The conclusion: Variety and availability matter! So, use them to your advantage. Limit the variety and availability of the foods that tempt you (notice I said limit, not eliminate) and increase the variety and availability of the foods you want to eat more of.


2 comments on “Scientific Evidence For a Dessert Stomach

  1. Brenna
    May 13, 2013

    Oh my goodness, so as a child when I told my mom I was full of dinner but not dessert, I was right?!?!

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This entry was posted on May 1, 2013 by in Healthy Living, Nutrition and tagged , , , , .

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