'Dessert stomach' is real, scientists say

For many of us, it is an all-too-familiar sensation: feeling fit to burst after a big meal but somehow finding room for dessert.

For those struggling to shift the pounds, there is at least some solace: it's not just greed, it's the way we have been hardwired.

In fact, 'dessert stomach' is a scientific fact, and it's all because of something called sensory-specific satiety.

Put simply, it means that the more you eat of something, the less you like it, which gives you the impression that you are full. You are, however, only sated with that particular taste, texture or flavour.

'Dessert stomach' is a scientific fact, and it's all because of something called sensory-specific satiety

'Dessert stomach' is a scientific fact, and it's all because of something called sensory-specific satiety

'The decline in pleasure you derive from food is specific to the food you have been eating, or other foods that are similar,' says Barbara Rolls, a professor of nutritional sciences at Penn State University in the U.S., who has been researching this area for 40 years.

'So, while you might lose your appetite for that food, a different food will still be appealing. That's why you always have room for dessert.'

Professor Rolls has shown that food doesn't just become less tasty as a meal progresses, it also looks, smells and feels less appealing. This encourages us to try something different.

The theory is that sensory-specific satiety evolved to keep us healthy. Limiting our appetite for one food and encouraging us to switch to another boosts the odds that we will get all the nutrients we need.

However, for dieters — especially those who liked to savour many courses — there are serious drawbacks. In one study, Professor Rolls showed that people ate 60 per cent more calories if given a meal with four different courses, rather than one in which all the courses were the same.

Evidence for this inbuilt mechanism dates back to a classic study from the 1920s, when a Chicago-based paediatrician allowed newly weaned babies to eat whatever they liked from a wide selection of foods.

Trays with little dishes — each containing a different food — were put in front of the babies' beds. A nurse waited for the child to reach for, or point to, a dish before spoon-feeding them from it.

Some did become fixated on one particular food for a short period. But, as time went on, they all ate a well-balanced, varied diet, leading researcher Clara Davis to conclude that they must have been guided by 'some innate automatic mechanism'.

It seems that

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