As the holidays approach, many people are planning how they can indulge in their favorite holiday entrees and desserts, or they are deciding to forego the sweets altogether. However, if you are stuffed after eating the main course and are planning to pass up dessert, you might want to reconsider.
A study from 2011 concluded that taking just one bite of a sweet desert after reaching a feeling of fullness can help your stomach relax and help you feel more comfortable after a large meal. It’s the age-old “I am so full but I always have room for dessert” phenomenon, and it has a scientific reason that it occurs.
Physiologically, when you eat a large meal, your stomach’s walls relax to accommodate the food, and the feeling of pressure is one way you register feelings of satiety (or fullness). Two other factors—the visual sight of food, chewing and swallowing the food, and the passage of food to the duodenum of the stomach—also determine how full you feel. Messages are sent through nerves in the stomach all the way to the brainstem, which then determines how relaxed the stomach walls will become.
When you eat sugar, it stimulates this relaxation effect, and reduces feelings of being overly full. This makes more room in the stomach for more food; and suddenly, you have room for dessert.
It can be hard to take just one bite of desserts, however, because the lower end of the small intestine is responsible for signaling that’s enough sugar, and it is a whole 5 meters down from the mouth. The part of the intestine responsible for telling you that’s enough fat is much higher up and more sensitive, which explains why people feel very full on high fat diets, but you can literally consume a sickening amount of sugar/carbohydrates before you realize you’ve gone too far.
So if you’re feeing extra full this holiday season and are looking for relief, try a small portion of dessert—but be warned it will create more room in your stomach, and you might just end up eating seconds!
- Berstad, Arnold, and Jorgen Valeur. “Dessert Stomach.” Journal Nor Legeforen, vol. 131, no. 2453, 2011, doi:10.4045 / journal.11.0998.