How to Control Food Cravings with Fragrance
There's no need to deprive yourself when you're trying to diet – in fact, depriving yourself regularly actually makes it all worse.
I'm here to tell you there's an unexpected way to curb food cravings that will actually trick your brain into feeling satisfied. It might sound too good to be true, but burning a scented candle can help you resist temptation. Pretty crazy, right? Read on to find out how this really simple trick can help you reach your New Year's weight-loss goals.
Your Brain and Food Cravings
Unlike hunger, which is a pretty direct physiological process, food cravings can be very complex biologically. The most important take-away here is that psychology is typically the root factor. You see, your brain absolutely loves dopamine - the "feel-good" chemical - and food is often a fast way to get some.
The first dopamine surge we get from an experience is usually the strongest. Your brain forms a memory of that pleasurable stimulus and will actively seek that experience again. Sound familiar? This is how addiction starts.
Psychology comes into play when you take into account the memories created. When you are stressed/sad/tired/sick your brain will basically tell you, "Hey! Remember that one time we ate that one thing and felt super awesome? DO IT AGAIN. You'll feel so much better, I promise!" The thing is that we don't feel awesome afterward, do we? If we are trying to lose weight, we feel guilty and then guess what happens next: Your brain feeds you the same false-promise again. It's a vicious cycle and can be very hard to break if you don't know what will help or how to do it.
Your Nose is Your Secret Weapon
As candle-lovers, we have all heard at some point about the benefits of aromatherapy. However, what you might not have heard is how fragrance can be linked to weight-loss. Sounds a little far-fetched, right? Great news - it's not!
We talked a little about how scents linked to memory affect mood and mental health in a previous blog post. Important to note here is that positive memories - whether related to food or not - will trigger a visit from our BFF dopamine. So what does this have to do with fighting food cravings?
Fragrance is linked to memory, good memories trigger dopamine, and dopamine satisfies our brain's demand for a reward.
Research Says Stop and Smell the Roses
There have been multiple research studies performed on food craving aversion and how our olfactory senses are related. Basically, you can trick and train your brain's reward center into feeling satisfied through smell rather than taste. Even better than that, it really is as easy as it sounds!
Here's what scientists have to say about it:
- Mental images of food can be disrupted by competing images and activities (Kemps & Tiggemann, 2015)
- Stimulating the DLPFC [part of our brain's reward circuit] can reduce hunger and food cravings (Ester & Kullmann, 2021)
- Dopamine promotes our behavioral response to reward-cues (Nicola et al., 2005)
- Prolonged exposure to sweet fragrances like vanilla and lavender was shown to decrease appetite, reduce cravings for sugary foods, and assist with weight loss (Society for Neuroscience)
How to Make This Work for You
Now that we know our brain is pretty much an over-entitled and demanding toddler with a dopamine addiction and zero patience, we can more objectively address the situation. Whenever you feel the urge to go make a bowl of brownie batter and head to chow-town (I may or may not be speaking from experience...), here's what you should do instead:
- Ask yourself if you have had enough water today. If you feel thirsty in any measure, you are dehydrated - this is a fact. A lot of times people think they are hungry when their body is actually in need of hydration. Grab a glass of water, drink it slowly, and reevaluate your hunger afterward.
- Grab your favorite candle, wax melt, or room spray and let the fragrance lift you up. Remember the first time you smelled your favorite scent? Your brain does. Ride that dopamine train to your happy place!
- Choose scents in opposition of your current state of mind. Feeling stressed? Choose a candle or room spray with relaxing fragrance notes - lavender, chamomile, vanilla, jasmine, ylang-ylang, basil, peppermint, or rose. If you're feeling down, tired, or sick, go for more invigorating fragrances - orange, lemon, grapefruit, spearmint, rosemary, cinnamon, coffee, or ginger.
- Avoid bakery fragrances. These will just make your drive to dive-in to a heaping plate of chocolate chip cookies stronger. Avoid these scents when cravings hit.
- Disrupt the craving with a different activity. After you have selected your olfactory weapon of choice (your candle, room spray, wax melt, any combo thereof), distract your brain further by interrupting its focus on that one cheeseburger from your favorite neighborhood grill. Maybe binge some Netflix (I recommend The Witcher, Grey's Anatomy, and Manifest) or finally putting to use that yoga mat you bought last month because "New Year, New Me". If you like coloring, do that. Have a hoard of dachshunds? Go play with them. Do literally anything else.
Want to Learn More?
If you find yourself interested in the brain areas discussed here and would like to know more about the roles they play in cravings and avoidance, I am here to help!
Here is some interesting research:
Ester, T., & Kullmann, S. (2021). Neurobiological regulation of eating behavior: Evidence based on non-invasive brain stimulation. Reviews in endocrine & metabolic disorders, 10.1007/s11154-021-09697-3. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11154-021-09697-3
Kemps, E., & Tiggemann, M. (2015). A role for mental imagery in the experience and reduction of food cravings. Frontiers in psychiatry, 5, 193. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2014.00193
Nicola, S. M., Taha, S. A., Kim, S. W., & Fields, H. L. (2005). Nucleus accumbens dopamine release is necessary and sufficient to promote the behavioral response to reward-predictive cues. Neuroscience, 135(4), 1025–1033.
Here are some informative articles about findings in this area of study:
Why do we crave? The science behind food cravings: https://brainworldmagazine.com/crave-science-behind-food-cravings/
Science of scent: https://www.health-vitality.com/weightloss/article.htm