Whether you’re a fan of salty, savory snacks or have a sweet tooth that never seems to be satisfied, we all have a weakness when it comes to junk food. Even if you’re strong enough to deny yourself those cravings and choose more nutrient-rich options on a regular basis, chances are you still find yourself caving into your favorite guilty pleasure every now and then. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with allowing yourself to stray from healthier options every once in awhile. But for those who find themselves opting for savory fast food or sweet confections more often than not, there may be new hope for finally kicking the junk food habit.
A study published in a January 2019 edition of Journal of Marketing Research claims the answer is in our noses. More specifically, the study makes a case for smelling the aroma of junk food like pizza, hamburgers, donuts, candy, and fried food as a way to satisfy the cravings just as well as actually eating them. That might sound counterintuitive to anyone who’s ever caught a whiff of deliciously salty or sweet food and found themselves immediately ordering those items for themselves. For example, smelling the buttery scent of fresh popcorn at a movie theater almost always makes us want to grab a big bag to snack on during a film. (Even just reading about it might have made a few mouths water now, too.) But according to the study, if you linger around the lobby to take in the scent for more than two minutes, your craving just might disappear entirely. The same can be true for the scent of any other junk food you find yourself tempted by.
The researchers conducted multiple studies in different settings before coming to this conclusion: a supermarket, a middle school cafeteria, and in their lab. In the middle school, only 21 percent of students who were exposed to the smell of pizza made unhealthy choices when purchasing their lunch. That’s down from the average 36 percent reported on a regular basis. In contrast, when they were given the aroma of a healthy option, like apples, the percentage of unhealthy choices rose slightly to 40 percent. The other environments had similar responses, leading the researchers to believe that smelling the junk food scent for longer than two minutes would curb the decision to actually eat that type of food.
The study also acknowledges that smelling the aroma of junk food for less than 30 seconds had the opposite effect on their participants — otherwise known as our knee-jerk reaction to fulfill those cravings. The next time you find yourself about to give into the aroma of unhealthy food, try waiting a couple minutes longer to see if you’re inspired to make a healthier choice instead.