What is the Buffet Effect?

What is the Buffet Effect?

Today we’re going to explain the buffet effect, or put another way: why we continue eating despite feeling full.

We often hear the following phrase from health professionals:

“…Eat a varied diet…”

This has a clear practical justification: if we eat from a variety of food groups, the chances of nutritional deficiencies in micronutrients are reduced, while ensuring the inclusion of favourable nutrients such as fibre or phytonutrients.

But few people know that the maxim also has a negative side, one which is especially negative for those who are overweight and obese.

The more variety, the more we eat

Have you ever asked why we eat more at a free buffet?

The reason behind this truth lies in a feature of our central nervous system called habitation.

The more times we are exposed to a stimulus in a given period of time, the less we will respond to it.

Our ability to respond to a stimulus decreases indirectly in proportion to the number of times we encounter it.

If you only eat potato, your interest in the potato will gradually decrease until you hate it.

Potatoes

Imagine you’re travelling by car in the North of Spain and you see a purple cow.

  • You go crazy, go down to pet her, take pictures with her, and pass them round all your WhatsApp groups.
  • 15 minutes later, you see another purple cow.
  • You keep freaking out, you can’t get over the cow.
  • After 10 minutes, a herd of three purple cows appear.
  • Well, “there must be a lot of purple cows around here”.
  • You’re starting to justify that stimulus.
  • When you’ve been looking at purple cows for three hours, you eventually lower your head and see what’s on Instagram.

Cow

You no longer respond to the stimulus.

Palatability test

In 1981, Barbara Rolls and collaborators evaluated this phenomenon in a study: they asked volunteers to report the palatability of 8 different foods, trying a small amount of each.

Hours later, they were given one of those eight dishes for lunch.

Hours after lunch, the volunteers re-evaluated the palatability of the same 8 meals, and what the researcher found was that the palatability of the seven meals they had not had for lunch was much higher than the food they had had for lunch.

You can go deeper into the subject and learn about the possible risks of Palatable Foods at this link.

The good, in small doses, is twice as good

Sound familiar?

Barbara Rolls called this specific sensory satiety phenomenon, a type of satiety selective towards foods with the same organoleptic properties as those we just tested.

In short, at a buffet (or in our daily lives) we tend to eat more than we need, even if the food’s not the best in the world, because (among other things) we don’t have time to get used to a particular meal.

Few people repeat dishes in this situation. It’s normal to try as many dishes as possible.

  • When we get tired of sushi, we go for the spring rolls.
  • We eat two, then go for the lemon chicken.
  • Three bites and we’re on to the veal.
And so the caloric spiral continues, which only ends when the emergency brake of our satiety appears on the scene, usually after we’ve eaten far too many calories.

What’s this about the second stomach?

This is the mysterious reason why some people (most) have what they call “a second stomach” or the “dessert stomach”.

I’m sure you’ve seen yourself more than once in this type of scenario:

  • You’ve been out to eat with your family and you’re completely full.
  • You’ve eaten starters and a big main dish.
  • You couldn’t even fit another drop of water.
  • You’re at your limit.

Second stomach

Suddenly, the waiter comes over and whispers: “we have fried milk, rice pudding or mille-feuille for dessert, would you like some?”.

  • Then you find yourself taking in another 500 calories with hardly any effort, when you thought you couldn’t take it anymore.
  • Your appetite reappears.
  • Your dessert stomach opens

Specific Sensory Satiety

This is the reason why.

The organoleptic characteristics of the dessert (sweet taste, showy presentation, smell), and with it being a new element in today’s food (you are not used to it), make your satiety decrease only for that food.

Of course, there are other factors that can’t be overlooked for causing us to overeat in a “free buffet” environment.

Availability of food ad libitum

The most obvious is the accessibility of the food.

In a free buffet you can eat what you want and you’re not going to pay more for it.

We’ve broken another barrier: the economic one.

The simple thought:

  • “I can eat what I want, as much as I want”;
  • “I have to make the most of the buffet, that’s what we paid for”.
It can make you eat beyond your means. And it often does.

What can we do?

If we have understood what specific sensory satiety consists of, we’ll understand that the solution involves doing what very few are willing to do (and even less so in a free buffet): limiting the supply and diversity of food.

A practical and useful rule would be to put a limit on the number of different dishes you have.

Dishes

Example: a maximum of 5 different dishes, including desserts.

Conclusions

The buffet is a mirror of Western culture.

In it, we find an incredible variety of hyper palatable foods, visually striking and accessible (you only pay once at the buffet).

Dessert

This is the perfect recipe for overeating.

Day after day, this chronic surplus is deteriorating our mechanisms of reward and hunger-satiety, hypertrophying our adipose tissue and setting the ground for the appearance of all kinds of chronic non-communicable diseases.

We’ll see you in the next post. And keep on empowering!

Related Entires

  • Want to know 7 foods that can ruin your diet? Continue reading.
  • Intuitive Eating is a concept that establishes eating «with your feelings»… more information.
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About Borja Bandera
Borja Bandera
Borja Bandera is a young doctor who focuses on nutrition, exercise and metabolism, he combines his professional activity with his vocational dissemination and research.
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