Two people doing a "cheers" with ice cream bars.

Always Nibblin on the Sweet Stuff?
Written by Kim McLaughlin

Have you ever felt so full that you couldn’t possibly take another bite of your lunch or dinner but then you think about the ice cream you have in the freezer or the dark chocolate peanut butter cups you have (also, hopefully, in the freezer) and, magically, you have an appetite back? 

So many things could be playing into this…. 

It could be a habit that you need to break

It could be a boredom issue.

It could be the fact that you’re undereating calories and even though you’re convinced yourself that you’re full but your body is still craving something else.

It could be the fact that the sweets are “forbidden” in your head so it makes you think about them/crave them more…and finally give in. 

It could be….or it could be something else. 

I know this tendency all too well because I’m the master of “finding room” when it comes to sweets. Good news – it may not actually be the lack of motivation or willpower you think it is. There is actually a scientific reason/term for it. 

Sensory Specific Satiety 

There are studies that have been done that show the different sensory experience you get from sweets will allow almost anyone to “make room” for that sweet food even when they are feeling full to the brim from other savory or salty items (ie. dinner).  It is a type of sensory boredom and is part of our human condition. Essentially – when we eat one type of food long enough, we no longer get excited by the sensory experience and this helps us to recognize when we are full. If you introduce or think about another sensory experience, all of a sudden that full signal is blocked in favor of a new flavor profile. 

In addition to all of that, sugar and sweet compounds help the stomach relax and it allows for more space to consume more. This also explains why, after the sugar leaves the stomach and heads to the small intestine, we start to feel bloated and “overly full” – our stomach contracts again once the sugar has left. That’s the super yucky feeling you get afterwards – it’s NOT guilt (mostly).

So…what can you do about it? 

The distraction of a different habit following dinner is a great place to start…IF you can create some space between yourself and the kitchen or yourself and the food, the less likely you are to blindly grab for the sweet stuff or even think about the sweet stuff to begin with.

Set a non-food habit you can do after dinner. Examples=  go for a walk, read 10 pages in a book, 5 push-ups every 30 seconds for 5 minutes, journal for a bit, play a game with your kids, etc. Sometimes the distractions can take the focus off of the food if it’s not necessary and it just takes a little change in habits to break the cycle. The more active this activity is, the less likely you are to come back to the sweets.

If you can’t stop thinking about it and the “distraction” doesn’t do the job, have a sweet alternative that can provide that same sensory experience but doesn’t have any calories…sparkling water or tea is an awesome replacement. There are some really good naturally sweet teas out there – hot or iced – this can do the trick. IF it’s before bed, watch out for caffeine.

This is one of my favorite options for a sweet hot tea (it’s not amazing iced) –  It’s called Good Earth Sweet Tea. It comes in both caffeinated and caffeine-free versions.

If the tea or sparkling water doesn’t do it, that’s when I move to the fruit. It will have all of the effects of something like chocolate (although slightly less appealing) but it also leaves the system faster than chocolate and, obviously, has more nutrient benefits. 

Also, I know it’s easier said than done but…another method – DON’T BUY the peanut butter and chocolate. If it’s not there and accessible that makes it harder to consume…you would have to actively go out and get it when you are craving it. If you’re willing to spend the time to get in your car, drive to the store, stand in line and purchase it to have it…it’s probably more than the sensory specific satiety thing we’re chatting about here. Email me…we’ll talk about the other things going on in your life. 

If you’re now thinking, “Kim – my chocolate after dinner is the only joy in my life and the one thing I look forward to,”  then I have one more option for you….. 

Plan it into your day – whether you’re on a tracking system or not, you need to know where your calories are coming from. When you work with me on nutrition, nothing is off limits so you CAN have the chocolate or the ice cream as long as you know it’s in your calorie budget for the day. Sweets are expensive in the calorie/macro counting game but everybody NEEDS calories to function so if you’re planning them out and you can fit sweets in there…go for it.  Your body will use those calories for energy just like everything else. BUT…if you don’t pre-plan it is these will be the calories that put you over the calories you burn in a day….every time.  

Knowing that there is a scientific reason behind the “always room for dessert” phenomenon is helpful to combat it (at least for me) but it doesn’t give you a pass for the ice cream or chocolate so hopefully the next time you can’t eat another bite but can get dessert, you’ll have some ways to stay on track with your eating goals.

Want to work with Kim on your nutrition? Email us to find out how! 

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