When you’re trying to shed a few pounds, your nose is your ally. Research shows that certain smells — whether from scented candles, essential oils, or the real deal — may curb your appetite, boost your energy, and improve your mindset. And while you still have to do your part with healthy eating and regular exercise (there’s no fragrance that’ll make the pounds magically melt off), these scents could help you hit your weight-loss goals.
Green Apples or Bananas
You’d think these sweet smells would kick your sugary cravings into overdrive, but the opposite may actually be true. Alan R. Hirsch, MD, the neurological director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, found that people who sniffed the aroma of green apples or bananas when they were hungry ended up eating less and losing weight. “The hypothesis we came up with is a phenomenon called Sensory Specific Satiety,” Dr. Hirsch. He explains that since the olfactory bulb in the brain is connected to the satiety center, simply smelling these fruits could fool your brain into thinking you’ve eaten them.
An Ohio State University study found that the smell of lemon oil significantly improved the mindset of participants. So if you find yourself in a workout funk, a whiff of lemon could give you the mood boost needed to get back on track. Aromatherapy experts also believe the scent can improve digestion, which may help to prevent mindless munching. “Often, when we’re dealing with appetite, it has a lot to do with stress and emotional eating,” says Amy Galper, the Executive Director and founder of the New York Institute of Aromatherapy. “Lemon oil will stimulate the digestive system in a way that’s positive.”
Stress can hinder your weight-loss efforts in several ways, from throwing off your schedule to ramping up your cortisol production. But cucumber may work wonders in calming you down. “The smell of cucumber reduces the degree of anxiety,” Dr. Hirsch explains. “By reducing anxiety, it potentially could help reduce the desire to eat as a stress reliever.”
Really, what can’t peppermint do? The herb is found in everything from toothpaste to tea, and studies have shown it can soothe an upset stomach, increase alertness, and improve athletic performance. So it’s no surprise that it helps with weight loss, too. Research has shown the scent is a natural appetite suppressant, and it may even make your workout more effective — a study in Iran found that participants who inhaled the minty scent before exercising had better respiratory function, lower blood pressure, and more endurance than those who didn’t.
Cypress trees have a few potential benefits — Hinoki cypress leaf oil has been shown to improve relaxation, and Kashmir cypress was found to have antioxidant properties. And while your mileage may vary, aromatherapists believe cypress oil could also help you get your head in the game before trying a new skill or tackling a daunting challenge: “It’s very clearing for the mind, so it keeps us sharp and focused and attentive,” Galper says.
There’s a reason this is the go-to scent for sleep masks — the gentle, floral aroma is a proven stress reliever that can soothe your body and mind. “When our bodies are feeling really tense due to emotional stress, lavender is great for soothing it,” Galper says. The scent also combats anxiety, which is helpful if you’re trying to psych yourself up to try that Tabata class.
Aromatherapy experts believe this scent helps you breathe deeper, which has several benefits — not only can it relieve stress and speed up metabolism, but according to a study at the University of New South Wales, when fat is broken down during exercise, most of it leaves your body through your lungs. Of course, you can’t shed fat without diet and exercise — but, like stretching or meditating, deep breathing is a healthy habit to get into. “When we can breathe easier, our minds are calmer,” Galper says. “We’re able to make more of that mind-body connection.”