There are a million gimmicky diets on the market, most of which tell you to exercise more and avoid eating certain foods. Nowhere in the weight-loss literature are we told to avoid smelling certain foods, unless such advice is meant to help keep your willpower in check.
But a new study find there's good reason for even the strongest dieters to avoid walking past a Cinnabon at the mall. Using mice in a test lab, they found evidence smells may be making us gain weight.
(I know, right?)
UC Berkeley researchers published a new study that concluded mice bred to not have a sense of smell could eat a high-fat diet and maintain a healthy weight, while their normal sniffing littermates ballooned up to twice their size when exposed to the same foods.
Weird, right? They ate the same amount of fatty foods, yet only one of them got fat. (Sounds like "lunch with the girls" to me.)
Scientists blame this phenomenon on a connection between the olfactory (or smell) system and regions of the brain that regulate metabolism. What that means is something like, "If you can't smell your food, you may burn it rather than storing it."
(Well, they obviously haven't met my neighbor, because she eats like a horse, can detect a pickle from three blocks away and still manages to squeeze her ass into a Size 0 without holding her breath. (Bitch. #justkidding).)
"This paper is one of the first studies that really shows if we manipulate olfactory inputs we can actually alter how the brain perceives energy balance, and how the brain regulates energy balance," Céline Riera, a former UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow now at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said.
Weight gain isn't purely a measure of the calories taken in ...
In other words, sensory systems play a role in metabolism and how we burn energy.
"Weight gain isn't purely a measure of the calories taken in; it's also related to how those calories are perceived," Andrew Dillin, senior author of the study, said. "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."
Yes, that would be amazing.
"Though it would be a drastic step to eliminate smell in humans wanting to lose weight, it might be a viable alternative for the morbidly obese contemplating stomach stapling or bariatric surgery, even with the increased noradrenaline," Dillin said. "For that small group of people, you could wipe out their smell for maybe six months and then let the olfactory neurons grow back, after they've got their metabolic program rewired."
Sounds like one big step for obesity, but what about those trying to maintain a healthy body weight or suffering from eating disorders?
From what we gather, there may be a legitimate form of odor eliminating pills in the works, but scientists haven’t quite worked out all the kinks. For example, people who lose their sense of smell because of age, injury or diseases such as Parkinson's often become anorexic, but no one knows why since loss of pleasure in eating also leads to depression, which itself can lead to loss of appetite.