You don’t have to live next door to a bakery to know that your sense of smell has a powerful influence on your appetite. Even when you’re not hungry, just a whiff of good food cooking can stimulate cravings and entice you to eat.
You might not know, however, that certain pleasant scents can have the opposite effect on your appetite. Recent research indicates that aromas such as peppermint, citrus, and vanilla may help control your appetite and alleviate cravings, making them good scents for weight loss. And although further research is certainly warranted in this area, there’s certainly no harm in adding these scents to your life. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Do you have awesome scents wafting through your home?
Here are our seven favorite scents for weight loss:
The science: Study participants were asked to sniff peppermint oil every two hours for five days, according to a report published in the medical journal Appetite. For the next five days, they sniffed a placebo. The subjects consumed 1,800 fewer calories during the time when they were exposed to the scent of peppermint than when they were exposed to the placebo.
How to use it: You can put peppermint oil—available in many grocery and drug stores—in an aromatherapy diffuser or burn a candle made with real essential oils. Even easier, brew yourself a cup of mint tea when you feel hungry between meals. You can just hold it in your hands and inhale, but don’t hesitate to sip it—the tea has zero calories and it even helps soothe your digestive system.
2. OLIVE OIL
The science: At the German Research Center for Food Chemistry, study participants ate the yogurt that had added olive oil, butter, lard or canola oil as a supplement to their normal diet. The subjects who had the olive oil-infused yogurt reported the strongest feelings of fullness. Although scientists weren’t surprised, considering that olive oil has fatty acids that create a sense of satisfied appetite, they were surprised that those eating the canola oil (which has the same fatty acids) reported feeling less full. Even more shocking, though? In a follow-up study, the scientists compared the appetites of subjects eating yogurt enhanced with just the smell of olive oil to those eating plain yogurt. Even without the oil’s fats, those eating the aroma-enhanced yogurt consumed fewer calories throughout the day than the control group and had more serotonin—a chemical associated with satiety—in their blood.
How to use it: Olive oil (actually, all cooking oils) is categorized as an Extra on the Nutrisystem program because while oils are full of healthy fats, they are also high in calories, so you should be careful to have no more than the recommended serving of one to three teaspoons in your daily diet. Give your salad a spritz or two of olive oil from a spray bottle—that’s enough to give you a healthy whiff and bring out the flavor in the vegetables.
The science: When 27 subjects were exposed to the scent of strawberries before drinking sweetened milk, they reported feeling more satisfied after the drink than when they weren’t presented with the fruit’s aroma, according to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition. The strawberry scent also diminished the study participants desire for sweets.
How to use it: When you feel a strong craving for sweets, slice up a few strawberries and eat them. If the fruit isn’t in season, add thawed frozen berries to a smoothie or hot cereal. Strawberry isn’t just one of the great scents for weight loss, it’s also one of our favorite fruit options!
The science: The scent of limonene, a component of grapefruit oil, activated fat-burning in laboratory animals, says a study published in the journal Neuroscience Letters. The aroma works, the researchers theorize, by stimulating the sympathetic nerve system, which tells your body to burn fat. They determined that 15 minutes of exposure to the oil three times a week reduced the subjects’ food intake and body weight.
How to use it: You can eat whole grapefruit, a SmartCarb that is high in fiber and other nutrients. Most of the limonene, however, is in the rind. Squeeze a piece of skin gently to infuse the air or a glass of water with the colorless oil. You can also buy limonene or simple citrus oil to use in an aromatherapy diffuser.
The science: In a study at St. George’s Hospital in London, England, 200 overweight people wore skin patches with one of a few different aromas on the back of their hands for two weeks. Those wearing patches with vanilla consumed fewer sugary foods and beverages than the people with patches containing other scents. The subjects in the vanilla-patch group also lost an average of 4.5 pounds during the study period.
How to use it: Many perfumes and other fragrance products contain vanilla, so you can dab a bit on and sniff it throughout the day. Vanilla extract is a low-calorie, fat-free flavoring that you can add to hot cereal, smoothies and other foods. Its versatility makes vanilla one of our absolute favorite scents for weight loss.
The science: A group of 67 women in a study reported in the journal Appetite were shown colorful photographs of chocolate desserts. They were then asked to breathe in one of three odors—green apple, jasmine, or water. The group sniffing jasmine reported significantly lower chocolate cravings than the people in the other two groups.
How to use it: Jasmine is a beautiful plant with fragrant white flowers. You can grow it inside your home or workplace and take a whiff whenever you’re craving chocolate. Or, buy a jasmine soap or candle. You can also buy jasmine essential oil at drugstores or health food shops and use it in an aromatherapy diffuser. There are also countless jasmine tea varieties out there. Brew a bit pot and you won’t just enjoy your whole home becoming filled with one of our favorite scents for weight loss… you’ll get a tasty zero-calorie drink out of it, too!
The science: Lavender has long been used as a natural remedy for stress, which is a common cause of eating when you’re not hungry. In a study published in the journal Archives of Oral Biology, researchers documented that the scent of the herb reduced stress among students solving complex arithmetic problems. Those that were exposed to the airborne organic essential oil of lavender had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva than the control group.
How to use it: Add a few drops of lavender oil to your bath to soothe your nerves and ward off cravings. You can also find lavender-scented soaps and skin creams that envelop you in their lightly floral fragrance all day. This is one of our favorite scents for weight loss since it’s versatile and comes in many forms!