My mom used to always tell me stories about her grandmother who would dream vividly about food at night and then have no appetite the next day. This idea always amazed me and our whole family never understood the science behind it; or if there even was any explanation for it. I’ve tried to conduct my own experiments but they never seem to work, so I decided to finally do some research on the topic.
I wondered if anyone had every experienced something like this before or if any research had been done on the topic. Immediately, I came across an article by Veronica Tonay discussing exactly what I was looking for. To start off, she explains that going to bed hungry or thirsty can cause you to dream about food or beverages. These findings from the 1950’s have showed a serious correlation with appetite and dreams. Tonay goes on to explain exactly what I was looking for. She says that, if you dream vividly about food during your sleep, you will in fact be less hungry when you wake up; and the same goes for dreaming about drinks. While this leads me in the right direction to confirming causation between the two, I wanted to find some more recent and detailed experiences from people.
I came across a piece of writing by Nick Wan on Truebrain.com in which he described his experience with food dreams. He claimed that he had a dream about eating a significant amount of food, and when he woke up, he was full; just like my great grandma! Nick decided to do some research like me and came across the very same article by Veronica Tonay. He agreed that there is certainly a correlation between food dreams and hunger, as Veronica stated, but he refused to take her word for it. Like me, he needed more evidence to prove causation between the two, but all he could find were explanations for why he was having food dreams. Wan researched dream interpretations and discovered that his current happiness in life may have caused him to dream about food, but what was causing him to wake up full? I did some research on whether happiness led to a decreased appetite, but I immediately learned, according to this article by Chris Iliades of Everyday Health. Chris explained that loss of appetite is most certainly an effect of depression, meaning that happiness couldn’t possibly be causing a loss in appetite for my great grandma and Nick. With no leads in this direction, I went back to researching the basic question.
I eventually discovered another article by Jonathan Bechtel of the Health Kismet Blog. In the article he discusses the finding of Daniel Kahneman, one of the greatest psychologists of all time. Kahneman discovered that “habituation” may be what causes us to lose our appetite when we think a lot about food. Habituation is when increased thought about something causes you to lose interest in it. In his explanation, Kahneman discusses 5 experiments which all showed a strong correlation between thinking about a food and lesser consumption. In the experiment, people who continually thought of food ate less than those who did less thinking about food. While 3rd variables could quite possibly be a factor in these results, as well as chance, it is very unlikely. All 5 experiments showed that thinking about food more than others almost always caused the individual to eat less. Also, however, this experiment including only thinking about one food item, not a meal as a whole. So going back to my question, does dreaming about food cause you to lose your appetite?, or does it only work for a specific food? At this point, there haven’t been any experiments large enough and detailed enough to prove causation, but we can definitely say that my great grandmother’s loss of appetite in the morning is highly correlated to her dreams about food at night through a process called “habituation.”