5 ways empty calories hook you and the weird way to break up

Health and nutrition experts offer a lot of advice about how to conquer food cravings for empty calories and eat more healthfully.

Drink more water, they say. Your body is probably just thirsty.

Eat more protein, they tell us. It will make you feel too full for cookies.

Lower your stress levels, get enough sleep, and teach yourself how to tell the difference between cravings and actual hunger.

While all these may be sound advice, there’s one piece of advice, the most logical of them all, that apparently is bad advice.

What should you do when you smell warm cookies or French fries and you really, really want some? Walk away, of course. Stop smelling them and you’ll stop wanting them.

You may find this hard to believe, but one of the best ways to curb your desire for, say, those French fries your friend is eating, is to smell them.

A recent study tells us that you should drive right into that parking lot of your favorite burger joint, roll down the windows, and take a good whiff.

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How aroma satisfies cravings

A marketing expert, not a health expert, has uncovered a unique but simple way to curb your cravings for junk food, especially foods that smell good.

Apparently, as fine-tuned an instrument as your brain is, it can’t always tell the difference between what you taste and what you smell.

Turns out, it’s all a matter of timing.

Related: 5 easy ways to conquer food cravings

This sums up the findings of a new study published by Dipayan Biswas, a marketing professor at the University of South Florida College of Business.

He found that if a person was exposed to the scent of cookies for 30 seconds, they were more likely to want a cookie. But, if they were exposed to the scent for more than two minutes, they no longer wanted the cookie, and selected fruit instead as a snack.

This is due to something known as “cross-modal sensory compensation.” In simple terms, if you smell a for food long enough, it will satisfy your craving for it as much as eating it would, and you’ll no longer have the desire to eat it.

How we get hooked on empty calories

Food companies know exactly what they’re doing when they formulate the sugary, salty foods we crave. Here’s a peek behind the curtain at some of the brain science they apply to “hook” you:

Dynamic contrast. Foods with a combination of different sensations are more appealing to us. Think Oreos, with their crunchy outside and creamy inside. The brain finds these novel sensations stimulating.

Salivation. The more a food causes you to salivate, the more appealing it is to your brain. That’s because salivation is a normal part of the experience of eating and digesting food.

Emulsified foods like butter, chocolate, salad dressing, and mayonnaise promote a salivary response. Foods with sugary glazes and buttery coatings make us want more.

Rapid food meltdown. All those foods that “melt in your mouth”? They just trick your brain into thinking you haven’t had enough of them since they disappear so quickly. Foods like this tell your brain you haven’t eaten enough, even while you’re consuming hundreds of empty calories.

Calorie density. On the other hand, junk foods are high enough in calories to convince your brain that you must be getting good nutrition since you’re eating a load of calories.

Receptors in your mouth and stomach send your brain information about the protein, fats, and carbohydrates in what you eat. Junk food gives you just enough calories to make your brain think it’s nutritious, energy-giving food, but not so many calories that you think, “OK, I’m full now.”

The result: “You can’t eat just one.” Pretty soon, the whole bag of chips is gone.

Memories. When you eat something tasty that releases dopamine, your brain remembers that sensation. Next time you see that food, it triggers that “mouth-watering” craving to eat it again.

Just being aware of these “tricks of the trade” could help you decide for yourself next time you’re faced with that greasy, sugary treat of empty calories. Or, you could just breathe in the aroma for a few minutes and then go eat an apple!

Editor’s note: Being fit and healthy is not as complicated as you might think. In Dr. Cutler’s free report, you can read about 10 easy steps to a natural total health makeover based on just 7 basic fundamentals that cover ALL the bases… My favorite is #7: Indulge occasionally! For the rest, click here!


  1. Fighting the crave for fattening food? Just surround yourself in its scent — University of South Florida (USF Innovation)
  2. The Smell of Healthy Choices: Cross-Modal Sensory Compensation Effects of Ambient Scent on Food PurchasesJournal of Marketing Research
  3. Researchers Identify a 2-Minute Trick That Stops You Craving Fatty Foods — ScienceAlert
  4. What Happens to Your Brain When You Eat Junk Food — James Clear
Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.