Vitality

Female Desire And Food: Why A Well-Fed Woman Is More Likely To Focus On Romance

eating
Just one more reason you should ask her to dinner. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

They say a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but science is starting to find that this may very well be the case for women, too. Sometimes a good meal (complete with chocolate fudge cake and a nice bottle of wine, of course) can get a lady in the mood, and a new study by researchers from the University of California, San Diego is finding a well-fed woman is one who will want to satisfy other desires.

For their study, published in the journal Appetite, a team under author, and postdoctoral fellow Alice Ely sought to examine if a full stomach had any subsequent effect on desire. In previous research, the team examined how women’s brains responded to the image of fatty foods both before and after they had eaten, finding that a past history with diets or no diet history at all affected the brain’s activation patterns differently. Taking this study one step further, Ely and her team presented women with another stimulus associated with reward, romance, to see if the contents of their stomach had any effect on their response. Long story short, it most certainly did.

To start, researchers recruited 20 young women of average weight, half of which had dieted at least twice in their life to try and lose weight, and the other half having never dieted at all. The team then asked that the women refrain from eating for eight hours and then show up to the lab for an fMRI scan. While in the scan, researchers displayed romantic pictures to the women of scenes like couples holding hands, along with neutral images like a bowling ball. They found that when all the women were hungry, similar levels of brain activation occurred across the board.

Researchers then gave the women 500 calories of a meal-replacement drink, and told them to undergo the scan once more. This time, the women were full, and asked to examine the same images. Ely says that on the second go, “they were more responsive to romantic cues.” Ely’s theory? When women were no longer “hangry,” or the unpleasant combination of both hungry and angry, they were able to pay attention to other things than their growling stomachs. “Once we’re sated, then we can get on to better things,” she said.

Better things, indeed.

Psychology professor from the University of Minnesota, Traci Mann told Time that Ely’s hypothesis makes a lot of sense. She says the longer you’re refraining from food, the more preoccupied you become with it, making it more difficult “to be drawn away from thinking about food to thinking about other things.”

The researchers were also surprised to see that women who had a past history of dieting responded more to romantic cues than those who had never dieted before. The theory here, which draws on previous research, is that women who have dieted have stronger brain responses to rewards like food, even if they’re already full. This motivation to eat, even when you don’t need to, seems to be reflected in how these women respond to romance, says Ely: brain activity is stimulated more by reward, no matter what that reward is.

Overall, Ely says that while this study did yield some interesting results, more needs to be done. Their first study featured a small, relatively similar group of women, and they are hoping to expand their horizons in the future. “It’s all very speculative, but it’s still very interesting and a sort of unexpected finding,” she said.

As for now, ladies, you have my full permission to site this research as a scientific reason why you must be wined and dined.

Source: Ely A, Childress a, Lowe M, et al. The way to her heart? Response to romantic cues is dependent on hunger state and dieting history: An fMRI pilot study. Appetite. 2015. 

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