Why You Crave Thanksgiving Dessert (Even When You're Beyond Full)

Overindulgence is the word of the day when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner. It's hard not to partake in all those different foods and desserts, especially when it comes to your nana's pie or Aunt Fran's cornbread stuffing. Even when watching your calories, it's hard not to fill your plate on Thanksgiving. And experts say not to sweat it.

Exercise physiologist Rachelle Reed told USA Today, "Research suggests that it's the behaviors you sustain over time — so think weeks, months, years — that are going to have big impacts on your life and your health as opposed to focusing in on just one day or even one meal within a day." So, it's easy to fill your plate with all that good food and eat until you're full (or as stuffed as the Thanksgiving turkey). However, no matter how much you've eaten in your meal, you always have room for dessert when it comes time. It might seem impossible, given that your stomach is only so big. But there is a bit of science behind why you can't say no to dessert, no matter how full you feel. It's a phenomenon known as sensory-specific satiety, and it has to do with how pleasantness for food changes after eating.

Learn more about sensory-specific satiety and how it gives you that extra room you need for a bit of chocolate cake or pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving.

Why there's always room for dessert

You've eaten your fill of mashed potatoes and gravy. Your belt has become undone, and you're basking in the glory of a stomach filled with fantastic food. However, when you hear the word dessert, your interest is piqued due to sensory-specific satiety. Professor Len Epstein explained this phenomenon to Live Science: "Part of the reason why people stop eating a meal is that they're tired of the food ... But if you introduce a new flavor, smell or even texture into the mix, it's easy to overcome that feeling of 'Oh, I'm full.'"

A study in Original Research Communications of obese and nonobese women found that when you provide people with the same food every day, they become bored and eat less of it. Additionally, a study in Appetite found greater food variety correlates with eating more. Therefore, you can easily overcome that stuffed feeling you had just a few minutes ago to partake in a little fresh-out-of-the-oven pumpkin pie.

This phenomenon is still being researched, but theories attribute it to getting a good mix of nutrients in our diets and meals. You also get a nice hit of dopamine when you eat dessert, which helps to make them more tempting. To combat this in everyday life, Barbara Rolls, director of Penn State's Laboratory for the Study of Human Ingestive Behavior, told Live Science, "Keep a good variety of healthy, low-calorie [dense], nutrient-rich foods readily available that you enjoy." And on Thanksgiving, enjoy.