Can’t Stop Craving Unhealthy Food? That Can Be Solved in 2 Minutes, Study Reveals

You’re trying to lose weight but the pizza is just so tempting that you finished the whole box without realizing it. Goodbye, dream body…

Wait, don’t lose hope just yet.

A new study finds that you could curb your uncontrollable food cravings by surrounding yourself with their scent. A whiff of fried snacks might entice you to take a bite of these oily foods. However, try to breathe in that scent for about two minutes, more likely you will be more content with your fruits and veggies.

The idea is to compensate one sense with another sense. That is because your brain does not necessarily differentiate the source of sensory pleasure. 

In the paper published in the Journal of Marketing Research, researchers claimed that there is a direct connection between the length of exposure time to the scent of food and whether or not one will succumb to food cravings.

“Ambient scent can be a powerful tool to resist cravings for indulgent foods,” said Dipayan Biswas, Ph.D., lead author of the study and marketing professor at the University of South Florida, College of Business. “In fact, subtle sensory stimuli like scents can be more effective in influencing children’s and adults’ food choices than restrictive policies.”

The researchers conducted a series of tests by using an inconspicuous nebulizer that gave off the scent of either unhealthy, indulgent food items or healthy, non-indulgent food items. The team used cookies vs strawberries and pizza vs apples.

Pizza vs Apples

In one test which involves around 900 kids in a school canteen in a middle school in the US. The researchers used pizza and apple scents. They chose a school located in a low-income, working-class neighborhood with more than 80% of the students eligible for free or price-reduced lunch. This is to examine the effects of the study to economically disadvantaged children, who have a higher risk of obesity.

On the day the apple ambient scent was used, a total of 36.96 percent of the foods sold were unhealthy. On the day of the control condition where no scent was used, the unhealthy foods sold had a slight drop to 36.54 percent. Meanwhile, on the day the pizza ambient scent was used, the percentage of unhealthy food sold dropped dramatically to 21.43 percent.

Cookies vs Strawberries

A second test was done in a lab where the researchers used cookie and strawberry scents. Participants were first given a set of filler questions to make sure they were exposed to the scents from the same unobtrusive nebulizers before they were asked which food they preferred to eat between the strawberries and cookies prepared in the table.   

Lastly, a third test was done in a supermarket. The researchers partnered with the management staff to diffuse cookie and strawberry scents on separate days. The customers were only told to submit their receipts for an ongoing survey in exchange for a $10 gift card.

Both test results matched the findings of the first test. Additionally, those who smelled the cookie scents only for a short period of time were about twice as likely to pick unhealthy food than those who smelled the same scent for more than two minutes. The study also revealed those participants who have a better sense of smell are more likely to be affected by scents.

“In essence, if reward structures and areas representing craving in the brain can be satisfied with olfactory inputs instead of actual gustatory consumption of unhealthy foods, this can help with fighting food urges,” the researchers concluded in their report. They also suggested that their findings could be used to help people make better food choices, especially kids at school.