My Posts

There Is a Reason Your Stomach Always Has Room for Dessert!

By Orgesta Tolaj


12 June 2024

stomach dessert

© Suzy Hazelwood / Pexels

Have you ever noticed that no matter how full you are after a meal, there always seems to be room in your stomach for dessert? It’s not just a lack of willpower, there is a scientific reason behind our insatiable sweet tooth.

Desserts are typically high in sugar and fat, making them a tempting treat for many people. But why do we always seem to have room for dessert, even when we’re feeling stuffed? Researchers have been studying the brain’s response to sugary foods and have uncovered some interesting findings.

Is Dessert Stomach an Actual Thing?

“Dessert stomach” is something many people can relate to. Despite feeling full after a nutritious meal, there’s often still room for dessert. This tendency is even more pronounced in children. While they may refuse more of the main course, they are usually eager to indulge in something sweet afterward.

dessert stomach
© Ella Olsson / Pexels

Registered dietitian nutritionist Allegra Picano from Henry Ford Health explains that it is not a literal second stomach. However, introducing a new food, especially something sweet after a savory meal, can override the feeling of fullness and make you feel hungry again. So, while it might seem like a mystery, there’s a scientific explanation behind why we always have room for dessert!

So, Why Does Our Stomach Still Have Room for Dessert?

It all comes down to sensory-specific satiety. Satiety is the feeling of fullness. Sensory-specific satiety involves the combination of taste, appearance, smell, and texture of the food.

Dr. Barbara Rolls from Penn State University’s Laboratory for the Study of Human Ingestive Behavior has researched this concept since the 1980s. She explains that sensory-specific satiety occurs due to chemicals that stimulate the brain’s reward center. This then leads to pleasurable feelings when we eat.

different sweets
© Teejay / Pexels

As you continue eating, the pleasurable feelings associated with food gradually decline. This decline is specific to the food you have been eating or to similar foods. So, even if you lose your appetite for a particular food, a different one will still be appealing. This phenomenon is why there is always room for dessert!

What Does This Mean?

The feeling of being full or satisfied is often a result of a chemical cocktail in the brain that signals a loss of interest in a particular food. This makes sense when you think about the experience of eating something like truffle french fries. The first few bites are amazing, and even the next few might be enjoyable, but eventually, the pleasure diminishes as the brain loses interest in that specific food.

In essence, sensory-specific satiety means that the more you consume a particular food, the less appealing it becomes, giving you the sensation of fullness specific to that taste, texture, or flavor.

Can Research Back Dessert Stomach Up?

Yes, it can! Professor Rolls’ research has demonstrated that although we may become tired of eating the same food over time, our appetite can miraculously recover when we switch to a different food, such as transitioning from pizza to a chocolate sundae.

In one of her initial studies, participants were served a four-course meal. One group received four courses of the same food, while the other received four different dishes.

dessert stomach
© Alexander Grey / Pexels

Professor Rolls’ study revealed that the group who consumed four different dishes ate approximately 60% more calories than the group who ate four identical courses. This was because the variety kept them interested in the food and provided pleasure. Dr. Rolls suggests that this tendency is an evolutionary tactic humans developed to maintain health.

Since a healthy diet requires variety, our brains have evolved to reward a varied diet, signaling that changes in what we consume are beneficial. Dr. Rolls explains that as omnivores, we need to eat a variety of foods to ensure we obtain the necessary nutrients, and changes in appeal during a meal help to sustain our eating habits.

Do Others Agree?

Vox conducted an experiment based on one of Professor Rolls’ earlier studies, where participants were served a meal of macaroni and cheese followed by a dessert of macaroni and cheese. Volunteers in the Vox experiment were asked to rate their interest in the meal and then rate their interest in the dessert.

The volunteers’ initial interest in macaroni was high, starting at 6.2 out of ten, but drastically dropped to 1.3 after the first course, with an average consumption of just one ounce for ‘dessert’ and a final interest level of 0.2 out of ten; in a subsequent trial, ice cream replaced pasta as the dessert option.

During the meal, volunteers maintained a high interest in ice cream despite eating macaroni, consuming three times more ice cream than pasta for dessert, illustrating sensory-specific satiety’s influence not only on dessert consumption but also on overeating in diverse food settings like barbecues or buffets.

Other studies also agree.

Extra Information on Dessert Stomach

Professor Rolls suggests that sensory-specific satiety likely exacerbates the challenge of resisting the wide array of foods available today, potentially contributing to the obesity epidemic; while the exact biological mechanisms behind it remain unclear, research from the University of Oxford indicates that cells in the brain’s reward centers, responsible for pleasure sensations, become less responsive to food as it is consumed.

dessert stomach
© Dan Cristian Pădureț / Pexels

When another food is tasted, cells in the brain’s reward centers regain full responsiveness; to curb overindulging in dessert, Professor Jane Ogden suggests opting for low-calorie options like fruit salad, frozen yogurt, or figs if weight loss is a goal.

What are some of your favorite dessert stomach stories?

You might also want to read: Spice Up Your Movie Night With These Delicious Snack Ideas

Orgesta Tolaj

Your favorite introvert who is buzzing around the Hive like a busy bee!