Do Weight Loss Products Pass the Sniff Test?

by DavalosMcCormack on June 30, 2009

Do you remember that old “Jefferson Airplane” song “White Rabbit. It’s about Alice in Wonderland and there’s a line that goes “One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small.”

I was reminded of that when I read about new weight-loss methods that use smell to help you cut back on eating, to feel fuller sooner and to avoid eating too much. Some of those products use smell to help you find foods less pleasant so you eat less. Others make foods really lovely but trigger the brain to say ‘enough’ sooner. They both use smell but in different ways, yet the end result is supposedly the same; you eat less and lose weight.

On first glance it sounds great. But upon closer examination something made me smell a rat!I read about these approaches in the New York Times. The article featured a number of different products and companies, including Compellis Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They reportedly have some nasal sprays that can help curb your appetite by interfering with your sense of smell. It’s based on a pretty simple notion; the less delicious a food smells the less likely you are to eat it, and the stinkier a food smells the less likely you are to eat it. So, just before you eat you spray this stuff in your nose and you aren’t hungry.

To be honest, if I sprayed vinegar, mustard or spicy salsa in my nose I probably wouldn’t feel much like eating. So I can’t see why you need to spend a lot of money on fancy sprays. But then again maybe I’m just cheap.

On the other side of the equation is a product called Sensa that makes food smell even lovelier than it ordinarily does, like sprinkling salt to enhance the flavor of food. The idea is that by adding extra olfactory elements to the food (that’s just a fancy $5 word for making it smell nicer) you trigger the brain into feeling fuller sooner, so you eat less.

So, basically. Make stuff smell worse and you eat less. Make stuff smell nicer and you eat less.

In theory it sounds wonderful and makes a lot of sense. But in theory bumble bees can’t fly and yet somehow they do. So theory does not always equal reality.

The big problem with this smell stuff is that there’s no really good evidence, or even halfway decent evidence that it works. No good studies, no good research. In fact some of the studies seem to suggest that even if it works for a while, like anything else, our bodies adapt, so that within a relatively short time even squirting the stinkiest of nasal sprays up your nose will lose its ability to dampen your appetite.

Like anything else we do to lose weight, our bodies are much smarter than we think. Even our noses.

Which brings me back to that Jefferson Airplane song. Another line in it, the one immediately after how one pill makes you big and one makes you small,  runs, “And the ones that Mother gives you, don’t do anything at all.”

They may have been on drugs when they wrote that song, but they really nailed it. Some of those pills really ‘don’t do anything at all’. Stinks don’t it!

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: