Here’s How Smelling Your Food Can Make You Gain Weight, According to a Study

The delectable smell of that freshly cooked roast dinner wafts across the room and you take a deep satisfying breath in. You can't fight it; you can't wait to dig in. And yet, according to a new study, smelling your food could lead to weight gain!

Image of pretty young woman sitting in kitchen while eating and smells fish and tomatoes. Eyes closedPhoto: Shutterstock/Dean Drobot

Before you even lift your knife and fork to start eating, you lean forward and breathe in the deliciously tempting aromas coming from your Sunday supper, just like Mom used to make. Smelling your food is a major part of the dining experience; it gives you a small hint of the enjoyment that’s to come. However, a new study suggests it could be the very thing that makes you overweight, too.

What Did the Study, Well, Study?

Recent research from the University of California, Berkeley, studied mice that had lost their sense of smell and compared them to those that hadn’t. The results showed the animals that could no longer take in the smell of their food, gained less weight than healthy mice. Shockingly, this was true even when they ate the same high-fat diet.

What’s more, the researchers looked at mice with a heightened sense of smell and dubbed them so-called “super-smellers.” Not only did this group gain weight, but they also ate even more high-fat foods than regular mice. The takeaway is that their sense of smell encouraged them to over-eat and had an odd effect on how the body processed the food they consumed.

So, What Does This Mean for Our Diets?

Well, these results suggest that the better an animal’s sense of smell, the more they will eat and the more fat their body will store. If the same notion can be applied to humans, our sense of smell can have a direct effect on how our bodies process calories and, ultimately, how many pounds we pile on regardless if we have bad eating habits or not.

“Sensory systems play a role in metabolism. Weight gain isn’t purely a measure of the calories taken in; it’s also related to how those calories are perceived,” says senior author Andrew Dillin, the Thomas and Stacey Siebel Distinguished Chair in Stem Cell Research. Since many people who lose their sense of smell, due to disease or old age, become grossly underweight over time, this theory could have yet more evidence. Smelling your food could have more to do with weight gain than any of us knew. The researchers also believe that this result could lead to a breakthrough in how we handle obesity and boost metabolism.

Dillin proposes, “If we can validate this in humans, perhaps we can actually make a drug that doesn’t interfere with smell but still blocks that metabolic circuitry. That would be amazing.” The drug would help our bodies to process calories better, leading to less weight gain overall. Keep an eye out for more studies in this exciting area of research.

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Charlotte Grainger
Charlotte Grainger is a creative feature writer, with a flair for food, health and lifestyle pieces. Her work has been seen in a number of national publications including Beyond Words Magazine, Reader's Digest and Psychologies. When she’s not typing away, you can find her trying out new recipes or binging Netflix shows— sometimes simultaneously.