Why Do We Have a Dessert Stomach?

This is a universal experience we’ve all had at some point in life. Definitely at least once as a kid. You know the one, you’ve eaten dinner and you can’t possibly eat any more. Well. You couldn’t eat any more, because they just brought you the dessert menu and you know what? Maybe there is a little room for some ice cream. Also some pie. What’s up with that? How do we get these second winds when dessert is on the table? Why do we have a dessert stomach?

How Much Can You Eat Before You Explode?

So, it is possible to rupture your stomach from eating way too much food. It’s called a gastrointestinal perforation. Don’t worry about going in for seconds (or thirds) though, because suffering from gastrointestinal perforation because you ate a lot is exceedingly rare. Like realistically the probability of this happening to you is so low you might as well say it’s impossible. Most of these cases are a result of trauma (like getting hit in the stomach or getting shot) or eating something you really shouldn’t eat. 

But could you make your stomach burst if you really tried? Yes. In cases where people burst their stomachs, doctors have found 5 litres of food/liquid inside the stomach. Some cases pushed this number as high as 15 litres

Anyway, once your stomach is filled by like a litre (much less than 15, or even 5), your stomach will start telling your brain you’re full. That’s why professional eaters have to actively train to suppress these satiety signals–including but not limited to their gag reflexes. 2021’s Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Champion Joey Chestnut ate 76 hot dogs–which pushes 8 litres. 

The point is, you could maybe eat enough to pop like a balloon if you professionally tried, but your dessert stomach is not going to turn you into a bursting balloon. 

Repulsion

Your brain will make you dislike even your favorite food if you eat enough of it. Sort of, it’s a mechanism for telling you you’re full.

In a 2001 study, participants were given a piece of chocolate and asked to rate how pleasant the chocolate was while getting the fronts of their brains scanned. Over time participants said the chocolate was less pleasant with each successive piece. The parts of their brain that controlled repulsion in the orbitofrontal cortex became more active as reward centers slowed down as well. That’s why you feel full as you eat your meal, your body is telling you you’ve had enough of what’s on your plate. This whole concept is called sensory-specific satiety, and it’s the same reason your favorite movie isn’t as good on the 3rd or 4th watch. It’s also the same reason your new favorite song you play on repeat constantly eventually becomes not your new favorite song. Then you find a new song and the cycle starts again. 

What’s on Your Plate

So we know having the same thing in a short period of time will make you not want it anymore. Now let’s think about what you normally eat for your entrée. Normally you have your carbs, proteins, fibers–but notably you normally don’t have a lot of sugar. When you’ve finished your meal, you’re feeling stuffed in part because your body just doesn’t need any more of what you just had. 

But you haven’t had a lot of sugar. Maybe you need some. At the very least it’s new so the repulsion centers of your brain haven’t begun reacting to sweets in the same way it’s already reacting to the carbs and stuff from your entrée. Now that you know your body can hold a lot more food than you may have initially thought, it’s no surprise that you can find some extra room. 

Back in the early times, this probably helped us seek out balanced diets. If we were content to only eat one thing while avoiding literally every other food, we wouldn’t last very long in the wild. 


Why not look at a bunch of desserts here?

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