We’ve all experienced this: After eating a big meal it feels as if you can’t eat another forkful — until somebody brings out the dessert and your appetite perks up again.

This is known as “hedonic eating,” that is eating for pleasure rather than to fulfill the body’s energy needs.

This small pilot study by Italian researchers investigated the physiological processes underlying hedonic eating. They compared what happened to levels of chemicals such as ghrelin and 2-AG when eight well-fed people ate equal number of calories from their favorite foods and from less palatable foods.

Ghrelin is a hormone that stimulates appetite and food intake, while 2-AG is an endocannabinoid — both are part of the body’s chemical reward system. Plasma levels of these two chemicals increased after hedonic eating but not after eating the less palatable foods.

The finding suggests that hedonic eating can activate our reward system, which can override the body’s signals that its energy needs have already been met. In an environment where highly palatable foods are ever present, hedonic eating may “powerfully” stimulate overeating and contribute to obesity, say the authors.