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Why we always have room for dessert and why understanding this can help with weight loss

No matter how full we are there is always room to squeeze in dessert right? Everyone knows we have a separate dessert stomach, sadly it’s never been found but it does exist.

Have you ever seen the Monty Python sketch where the man eats everything on the restaurant menu gets offered one, single wafferrrr thin mint to finish…he just couldn't resist could he haha.

It always makes me chuckle when my little niece Charlotte is round for tea. You’ll often hear her say “I am full now” followed quickly by “can I have some dessert now?”.

Me “I thought you said you were full Charlotte?”

Charlotte “I am”

Me “So you don’t want any pudding then do you?”

Charlotte “Yes I do” *said in a very assertive and not to be messed with tone*

So why is this? How is it that no matter how full we are, we can always have something sweet?

It is down to something known as sensory-specific satiety (SSS) (Rolls et al., 1981). SSS is a decrease in appetite (desire to eat) for the foods we are eating (e.g. savoury) compared to foods we have not eaten which provide a difference in sensory stimuli such as taste, texture and appearance (e.g. dessert) (Rolls et al., 1982).

As we eat a specific food we become desensitised to it’s taste, eventually leading to habituation (getting sick of the damn thing). Have you ever really loved a food, eaten it time and time again and in the end got so sick of it you now hate it? That’s habituation.

This is why new tastes, textures and colours are novel and spark our interest, hence why even when really full on savoury food we have room for something sweet.

The change in taste and texture invigorates us to eat more, it increases the palatability (tastiness) once again. In terms of palatability, the tastier foods are to us, the more we want to eat and the more likely we will increase our energy intake (Johnson and Wardle, 2014). Studies have found palatable foods like desserts influence intake through hedonic (pleasure) motivational pathways (Yeomans et al., 2004). Even more interesting is the fact palatability has a greater influence on how much we eat when we are satiated (full) compared to in a state of hunger (Yeomans et al., 2001), suggesting that we seek out pleasurable foods more so when full.

The more variety of foods available to us, the more we will eat, leading to increased energy intake and weight gain, whilst dietary monotony (less variety) is associated with weight loss (Johnson and Wardle, 2014). Think of an all you can eat buffet, picture yourself with a plate in hand, ready to go see what foods are available, it’s exciting isn’t it? You don’t know where to begin. If you’re anything like me, you’ll take a little bit of everything and end up eating 9 plates.

We are intrinsically motivated to eat a wide variety of foods. From an evolutionary point of view, being motivated to select a wider variety of foods is a positive as it ensures we get multiple types of nutrients necessary for survival, however this is not ideal for weight loss.

So what does this mean in practical terms for weight loss or maintenance of body composition.

In simple terms, you are better off reducing the variety of highly palatable foods.

I don’t mean restrict or stop yourself from eating foods as that tends to lead to restrictive/binge eating but to reduce the amount of options available to you and the times you will consume them.

Potentially, food swaps are a good alternative idea. We may not be able to stop ourselves from wanting sweet foods after savoury, I myself have a terrible sweet tooth and it is an ingrained habit of mine now that I must have sweet after savoury. Instead, swap the high calorie options for low calorie ones instead.

A good example of this is to swap your typical ice cream for low calorie options such as Grahams, Oppo or halo top. As an ice cream lover myself, I can enjoy eating a whole tub of ice cream for less than 350 kcals, that’s less than 15% of my daily energy needs. Compare this to a tub of Ben and Jerrys or Haagen Dazs and it can be 1300 kcals, over 50% of my daily energy needs. See the difference?

So the next time you are stuffed and couldn’t possibly eat another thing, you now know the truth about your dessert belly.


Johnson, F. and Wardle, J. (2014) 'Variety, Palatability, and Obesity1234.' In Adv Nutr. Vol. 5. pp. 851-859.

Rolls, B., Rowe, E. and Rolls, E. (1982) 'How Sensory Properties of Foods Affect Human Feeding Behavior.' Physiology & behavior, 29(3), 1982 Sep,

Rolls, B., Rolls, E., Rowe, E. and Sweeney, K. (1981) 'Sensory Specific Satiety in Man.' Physiology & behavior, 27(1), 1981 Jul,

Yeomans, M., Blundell, J. and Leshem, M. (2004) 'Palatability: Response to Nutritional Need or Need-Free Stimulation of Appetite?' The British journal of nutrition, 92 Suppl 1, 2004 Aug,

Yeomans, M., Lee, M., Gray, R. and French, S. (2001) 'Effects of Test-Meal Palatability on Compensatory Eating Following Disguised Fat and Carbohydrate Preloads.' International journal of obesity and related metabolic disorders : journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 25(8), 2001 Aug,



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