Why we eat so much at Thanksgiving

Data pix.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind- We all know the classic dishes that make up a Thanksgiving Dinner. Year after year, we always go back for the same thing, and end up eating too much of it.

Whether it’s savory, or sweet.

“It's gotta be green bean casserole, done the right way," said one shopper at Kroger in Fishers. "With bacon grease and cheddar cheese and you know, the fixin's.”

"Oh it’s the sweet potato yams," said another. "With the pecans and caramelized sugar on top of it, that’s my favorite.”

We all have that favorite Thanksgiving dish we crave year after year, and while some new ideas like pumpkin pie flavored hummus make it onto shelves, stores still focus on the basics.

“We do have some people who want to come in and try something new so were ready for that," said Kroger spokesperson Eric Halvorson. "But we know that turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie are going to be the basics for a lot of people.”

Outside of the basics, there are also some interesting items that sell like crazy come turkey time. For instance, some of Kroger's top-selling items this time of year are King's Hawaiian Rolls, and cocktail shrimp.

However, the classic turkey and the rest of the famous dishes top the list.

"Some of those things are so associated with Thanksgiving, that it might not be Thanksgiving without them,” Halvorson said.

It’s not just in our heads, this can be explained by science. Cordelia Running is a professor at the Purdue “SPIT” lab. It's a lab dedicated to spit and the science of taste, but it’s really an acronym that stands for Saliva, Perception, Ingestion and Tongues.

She says the brain associates memories with certain sensations, such as the flavors of unique Thanksgiving dishes.

“As you grow up, you learn to feel that nostalgia for what you identify as this happy holiday season and those feelings can transfer to your perception of the food itself," Running said.

“I think back to what I had as a kid, and I think that feeling, the nostalgic feeling, does drive a lot of what people think about as part of the fun of Thanksgiving,” Halvorson said.

As for why we get so full, that’s obvious. However, Running says the variety of flavors and dishes actually makes you eat more, through a phenomenon known as sensory-specific satiety.

“If you just sat down and ate an enormous bowl of mashed potatoes, you’re probably not going to go back for more," Running said. "By having multiple flavors, that effect is not as strong. So, you think you’re full because you just ate all these mashed potatoes, but there’s still room for dessert, there’s still room for turkey, there’s still room for something dunked in gravy. That phenomenon is a documented effect that people eat more when there’s variety.”

"It kinda sneaks up on you," one shopper said. "You get a little bit here, little bit there, and you just have a full overwhelming plate.”

No matter what you eat or how much you eat, at the end of the day the happiness we feel doesn’t come from what’s on the table, but rather those around it.

“It's just about who’s around the table at Thanksgiving," one shopper added. "That’s what makes it special.”

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