Mind & Body

Here's the Scientific Reason You Always Have Room for Dessert

You've just finished an amazing meal, and you could not eat another bite. Until the pie arrives, and you suddenly have room for one — make that two pieces. Why does that happen? According to one school of thought, it all comes down to something called sensory-specific satiety. That is, you weren't actually full; your senses were just bored.

A Nice Change of Taste

Sensory-specific satiety (SSS) refers to the idea that the more you eat one kind of food in a single sitting, the less appealing that food becomes. It feels like you're full, but often it's just that your brain has stopped being excited by the flavors of your meal. When the pie arrives, suddenly you're faced with something new and different, and you're ready to eat again.

A review published in the International Journal of Obesity back in 2003 found that SSS doesn't just apply to dessert. You can get bored of any flavor, texture, or color of food. The most familiar example of SSS for most of us is in savory food: You eat a savory meal until you feel satisfied, then sweet food looks appealing. But the opposite has also been shown to be true ("I'm stuffed after my ice cream, but I could sure go for a steak!"). You can get tired of a food even if there's no difference in flavor; candy of one color stops tasting as good than identical candies of another color, and the same goes for shapes of pasta.

Hack Your Plate

What does this mean for those of us watching our waistlines? Well, it turns out that there may be a way to game the system. A 2009 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that you can make SSS happen faster — that is, make yourself feel full before you've overeaten — if you eat in smaller doses.

Subjects who were asked to drink as much orange soda as they wanted consumed less if they drank in smaller sips. The researchers concluded that the smaller sips led to more sensory exposure per ounce, so the participants reached sensory-specific satiety faster. So the next time dinner comes with the promise of pie, don't skip dessert. Just eat in smaller bites.

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Written by Ashley Hamer February 2, 2017

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