January 22, 2019
For everyone still going strong with their New Year’s resolutions, intentions, promises or whatever you may call it, kudos to you! If, however, you’ve been struggling to stick with your resolution to avoid junk foods, a science-backed trick might help.
New research published in the Journal of Marketing Research says that basking in the aroma of junk food for at least two minutes can actually help you make healthier food choices. So, the next time you’re out at happy hour with friends and a steaming-hot plate of nachos walks by your face, sit in that smell for a few moments and your craving for them might just subside, in light of healthier options.
Researchers found a surprising relationship between “ambient scents” and food choices. Time after time, they found that people who sniffed indulgent foods — like pizza, French fries or cookies — were actually less likely to choose or purchase unhealthy foods than those who smelled nutritious options, such as apples and strawberries, TIME reports.
Researchers were able to confirm this phenomenon by using a nebulizer to pump scents into a variety of environments, including a middle school cafeteria, a grocery store and a laboratory. The results showed that students purchased fewer unhealthy items when they smelled pizza versus apple.
Newsweek reports that in the supermarket experiment, researchers filled a chain store with the scent of indulgent chocolate chip cookie and a non-indulgent strawberry with a gap of an hour between so the smell of each could fade. Receipts were used to determine whether shoppers chose healthy (fruits, for example) or unhealthy products (such as cakes) during their trip. When the shoppers encountered the smell of chocolate chip, they were more likely to pick healthy items, while the reverse was found when they smelled strawberry.
But these findings are dependent upon the time a person experiences the indulgent scent. Almost 45 percent of people who were exposed to the cookie scent for less than 30 seconds said they would choose the treat over strawberries — but only 22 percent of those exposed for longer than two minutes opted for the indulgent choice, TIME reports.
Science Daily notes that non-indulgent foods don't give off much of an ambient scent, nor are they typically connected with reward, therefore they have little influence on what we order.
Using a series of surveys, the study showed that participants better at recognizing the smells were also more likely to be affected by them and fall into the temptation, Science Alert reports. It's almost as if a quick sniff of something tasty and indulgent primes the brain to taste it, whereas breathing in an aroma for longer is as good as eating it.
“We propose that this occurs because scents related to an indulgent food satisfy the reward circuitry in the brain, which in turn reduces the urge for actual consumption of indulgent foods,” the researchers state.
So maybe a seat in the back of the restaurant, near the kitchen, might just be the trick to sticking with your diet. Or maybe investing in a variety of those (horrid) cookie and pie-smelling candles could be your at-home hack.