Ever feel full after a big meal only to find yourself craving dessert the second you see a Snickers bar or another snack on the way home from the restaurant? Turns out, that's not your stomach making room for extra helpings. Hunger and cravings are two different things, according to science.
"In other words, craving Snickers does not make you hungrier; it makes you desire Snickers specifically," said Kenway Louie - co-author of a recent New York University study.
Researchers also found that cravings have more to do with nostalgia than hunger or nutritional needs.
"Craving, which is pervasive in daily life, may nudge our choices in very specific ways that help us acquire those things that made us feel good in the past — even if those things may not be consistent with our current health goals," said co-author Anna Konova.
And those cravings could be eating away at your wallet.
In the study, scientists conducted a series of experiments where subjects were asked how much they would pay for certain snack foods before and then after they developed a craving for them. The results showed that people were willing to pay more for the exact same snack food item once they developed a hankering for it.
This willingness to pay more for the same item after craving it happened regardless of whether the subjects were hungry before or after the exposure, which again suggests that craving and hunger are distinct experiences. This effect was stronger in foods that were higher-calorie or had higher fat and sugar content.
"Our results indicate that even if people strive to eat healthier, craving could overshadow the importance of health by boosting the value of tempting, unhealthy foods relative to healthier options," added Konova.
But that's not exactly surprising to anyone who's ever ordered a pizza instead of a salad to combat the munchies.
Researchers also found that people were willing to pay disproportionately more for higher portion sizes of the craved items. So if your budget is on a diet, you might want to stock up on the things you crave when they're on sale.