Why Do We Always Have Room For Dessert?

Posted by Eric Troy on 02 Jan 2017 02:50

The first Dorito in the bag always tastes the best. The second Dorito is pretty boss, too. Then, your Dorito high goes a little lower with each chip you eat. In fact, the same is true of any food unless it is my coconut cream pie. Did you know that this is a real and researched psychological phenomenon complete with its own scientific term? And, this same phenomenon can explain what most of us think of as our 'dessert stomach.'

The Dessert Effect

My friend and author Jamie Hale has written about this effect, which is called sensory-specific satiety, a.ka. the Dessert Effect:

"Sensory-specific satiety refers to a decrease in pleasure with continuous consumption of the same food or flavor relative to an unconsumed food or flavor. Sensory-specific satiety may also be defined as a change in liking for eaten versus uneaten foods or a change in liking for similar foods similar in sensory qualities (taste, smell, texture, flavor, visual appearance) versus comparable foods that differ on these qualities." - Hale1

Why do we always have room for dessert (dessert stomach)
Why do we always have room for dessert (dessert stomach)

Satiation: What Makes You Feel Full?

Notice the word satiety. The feeling of fullness and your diminished desire to eat at some point during a meal is termed satiation. Most readers will assume that this feeling is caused by your stomach being 'full.' In reality, there are several signals that combine together to cause a sensation of satiation. While the actual stretching of your stomach (involving stretch receptors), is one such signal, it is not the only one.


Another signal is the release of a substance into the small intestine called cholecystokinin (aka pancreozymin), or CCK. CCK stimulates the release of digestive enzymes and bile from the pancreas and gallbladder, but it has also been shown in many studies to act as a hunger suppressor which promotes satiation and thus helps reduce or stop eating. It also slows the rate of stomach emptying.

The Origin of your 'Dessert Stomach'

Both the above are physical signals which directly affect satiation. There are also psychological factors, and sensory-specific satiety is one such factor. Just as we get tired and bored of the same music we get tired and bored of the same type of food. With any kind of food, your incentive to eat it declines as you continue to eat it. But, if a different food becomes available that is appealing, you may well feel like you've 'got room for more.'

Some people say "there's always room for dessert." This ability to eat a sweet finisher even after you feel sated from a meal is colloquially termed the dessert stomach. In reality, it is the dessert effect or sensory-specific satiety. And, this phenomenon does not just happen with savory or salty foods. After you have become sated by a decadent dessert, you may still be tempted by a salty bowl of potato chips. In fact, you may actively crave them.

Restaurants Know This

Savvy restaurants are well aware of the dessert effect. After a meal, your waiter will usually ask you if you would like to order dessert and coffee. A smarter restaurant will bring a tray of delicious looking treats over to your table and the chance that you will order dessert is increased simply because of the availability of the appealing foods. A dessert menu with mouth-watering photographs can produce much the same effect. Such foods already have a strong incentive value, so even if you are full enough to want to loosen your belt, a fudge brownie sundae can still tempt you into eating more.

Variety and Appetite

According to the article, this effect is not only limited to different foods made available to you after you eating another food, but is present even when different varieties of food are presented to you together. The more variety available, the more we eat because "satiation appears to be specific to the particular sensory properties (taste, smell, texture, temperature, appearance) of a food, if other foods are distinct or discriminant enough, they can renew appetite. Thus, the presence of distinct foods (i.e., variety) can increase intake."

The more variety available, the more we eat.

1. Hale, Jamie. "Knowledge and Nonsense: The Dessert Effect." EliteFTS. EliteFTS, 29 May 2013. Web. 01 Jan. 2017

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