The New York Times published a piece on various scented weight loss or appetite suppressant products this week: A Slimmer You May Be a Whiff Away. These products purport to reduce hunger, or help you feel satisfied for longer.
But, is there any science behind these claims?
The article quotes a couple of studies by Dr Hirsch, a neurologist, psychiatrist and the founder of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. His study of 3,193 patients, had them inhaling an aromatic scent whenever they felt hungry. He says that they lost an average of 5lbs a month - a weight loss rate that many dieters would be very happy with!
A later study by Dr Hirsch involved 1,436 patients and scent granules later marketed as Sensa. Again, there was an average weight loss of around 5lbs per month.
If you've ever had a heavy cold with a bunged-up nose, you'll probably have experienced how different things taste when you can't smell! There clearly is a link between our sense of taste and our sense of smell. So, Dr Hirsch's Sensa and other similar products on the market, could be helping people lose weight. But, the science behind them remains uncertain.
The University of Pennsylvania's Dr. Richard Doty, director of the Smell and Taste Center in their Medical Center, explained that:
There's been a theory around for a number of years that if you saturate your sensory system that you'll not be as hungry. There needs to be more research done.
I wondered on reading about this, whether the impressive weight-loss effect was not due to the smells themselves, but more to do with the habit of stopping and taking action other than eating when the urge to snack or eat arose.
Perhaps those few seconds inhaling a scent gave patients a mental breathing space to reconsider whether they wanted to eat or not. The reminder that they were trying to lose weight may also have been enough to encourage them not to go back for seconds.
You could establish a similar habit for yourself without forking out for pricy products. How about always going for a ten minute walk before you snack on anything? Or writing down everything you eat before you eat it?
I won't be rushing out to buy any weird and wonderful smells just yet, but I will be thinking about how to eat more consciously.