As my wife can attest to, this little cup of heaven is one thing I can’t pass up. Even after two helpings on Thanksgiving, I will devour Blue Bell ice cream. Done and done.
But why keep eating when I’ve already satisfied my body’s nutritional needs? Recent research from the lab of Dr. Palmiero Monteleone at University of Naples SUN in Italy, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, shows that this pleasure eating stimulates reward systems in your brain to keep you coming back for more.
The desire to eat for pleasure is known as Hedonic hunger. It’s exactly like my Thanksgiving example – you want to keep eating despite already meeting your body’s nutritive needs. Why we do this isn’t really well-known, because by definition we’re eating only for yumminess and not to fulfill any actual need our body has. Obviously, this type of overeating can lead to a range of obesity-related health problems, so this research team wanted to learn the physiological reasons for hedonic hunger.
They went looking for the answer in a group of healthy adults. First, each person was given their individual favorite foods. Later they were each given a food of equal nutrient and caloric value, but much less satisfying in the taste department. Throughout this process, they took plasma from blood samples to analyze later.
When they looked at blood samples taken during the pleasure eating, there was a dramatic increase in the presence of two compounds when compared to eating the boring food. These compounds are known to be involved in the body’s chemical reward system, indicating that when you eat for pleasure, your body activates this system. These powerful reward signals override the signals from the body that says you’ve met your nutrition needs.
Simply, perhaps intuitively, you really enjoy eating tastier foods more. Your body literally rewards you for doing so. At least in the chemical sense. You may pay for it with your health later. I recently shared a story on how smell intensity can affect the amount you eat, so you can really see how important these senses are. If continued research can further clarify these points of control, perhaps we can manipulate these inputs to prevent overeating and the resulting obesity problems.
Thanks & Gig ‘Em.