Why We Crave Strange Foods at the Airport, According to a Dietician

Beef jerky and froyo for an airport breakfast? Why not?

It’s 5 a.m. What are you having for breakfast? An omelet? Sounds nutritious. Muffin? Meh. How about a freshly microwaved frankfurter, its snappy skin wrapped in a steamy sleeping bag of a bun; a bright stripe of mustard that serves as an exclamation point? I can’t be the only one.

Does anyone else turn into a complete animal the second they pass through airport security? As soon as the relief resonates, the only reasonable reward for arriving at an ungodly hour, getting through TSA, and first making sure that your gate does, in fact, exist ... is food.

Related: This Is the Best Airport for Food — and It's T+L's Best Airport in the World

What sort of food? I doesn't even matter! The second I’m secured comfortably inside the terminal, my stomach gives me a giant middle finger and betrays me faster than a bad boyfriend. Exhibit A: I once ate a hatch chili–flavored package of jerky as an amuse bouche, followed by a pre-packaged assortment of sushi, and then a swirl of TCBY for dessert — all before 9 a.m. Exhibit B: I once devoured a sirloin burger before sunrise at Bobby Van’s Steakhouse in JFK. This is certainly not the type of eating behavior I practice while home. In fact, I don’t even bother to eat breakfast most days.

<p>Creatas/Getty Images</p>

Creatas/Getty Images

But at the airport, all bets are off, and a breakfast burger or two-lunch day is the norm.

Keeley Mezzancello, a Greenville, South Carolina–based dietitian and wellness coach, says travel throws off schedules and routines, including eating and sleeping norms: “Sleep is linked closely to hormones that regulate appetite, and when you are under-rested, you may find you are hungrier than usual or turning to extra fuel to make up for a lack of sleep. Generally, you are more likely to crave higher energy ‘comfort foods’ in this unrested state.”

<p>raquel arocena torres/Getty Images</p>

raquel arocena torres/Getty Images

Travel writer Amelia Mularz says, “For me, airport eating exists beyond the constraints of time and traditional meal schedules. Instead, I go for my favorite foods at each airport, regardless of the time of day. So at Burbank Airport, I'll have Guy Fieri's Trash Can Nachos for breakfast, and at O'hare I'll snag a bagel from Great American Bagel even if it's 7 p.m. — with a side of Garrett's cheese popcorn, of course.”

There’s also what you might call the casino effect: the psychology of tapping into the senses to create the desired environment: specific bright colors, pulsing music, scents, or circulated air. It could be two in the morning or two in the afternoon; either way, a mimosa is always available and acceptable.

Bryan Lee, a consulting food scientist, says environmental stimuli can play a large role in impacting our taste and appetite. “When there is a loud background noise, a certain network of neural circuitry is cross-wired and causes your brain to have a heightened perception of savory foods. Any food that contains umami becomes stronger in taste than other tastes, like sweetness or sourness, which is why some people prefer to drink tomato juice on planes, which contains a high concentration of umami-eliciting compounds," he said. "The same goes with the visual perception of color. A study found that the color red heightens the perception of sweetness, which may be why Coca-Cola uses red cans for its soda."

Related: 7 Foods You Should Never Buy at the Airport

Those come-hither ruby signs? Think Krispy Kreme, Wendy’s, and Mrs. Fields. To me, an airport is the equivalent of Las Vegas, offering up a no-holds-barred approach to consumption. What happens in the airport, stays in the airport. (Like a Cinnabon Caramel PecanBon roll … after landing.)

For some of us, travel can feel like an escape. It’s a time when we can shed our normie skin and embark on an adventure. Because of this, we do things we’d normally not do when we’re traveling. We eat things we’d normally not eat. We may tip back a few more drinks, too. (Hello, Vino Volo.)

Related: A Complete Guide to Every Food You Can (and Cannot) Fly With

Mezzancello points out that there’s the psychological component when it comes to airport and eating: “Traveling brings out a sense of adventure that takes us out of our ordinary routines, and some people equate partaking in those airport eats as part of the ‘vacation experience’ mindset. For others, you may view your travel with excitement, nerves, or are somewhere else along the emotional gamut and channel those feelings into some emotional eating.“

Some people say an airport is a culinary wasteland. I say it’s part of the adventure. Find me at Vino Volo, even if it’s 10 a.m., and we’ll cheers to that.

For more Travel & Leisure news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on Travel & Leisure.