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A stiff whiff can cut your raving craving

Ellen Warren

Shopping Adviser

2:07 PM EDT, October 19, 2011

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Of course smell is important when it comes to eating. When we walk into a movie theater, our sense of smell is why we're instantly dying for some popcorn — preferably drenched in butter.

It's why Cinnabons are so hard to resist as their seductive scent wafts through malls and airports.

If glorious smells make us want to eat, is there a scent that could have the opposite effect and actually reduce our urge?

Yes, there is, says psychologist Bryan Raudenbush, a professor at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia.

It's peppermint.

His study showed that volunteers who sniffed peppermint scent every two hours were not as hungry as nonsniffers and — even better — they ate 2,800 fewer calories in a week. That's enough to lose close to a pound.

The peppermint, he says, "is distracting you from your hunger pains, and you don't feel as inclined to eat as much."

(Eating peppermint candy or chewing peppermint gum doesn't work as well.)

Raudenbush's earlier studies showed that athletes perform better if they sniff peppermint. "They were able to go longer at the gym, able to push themselves, were more motivated, less fatigued and felt like they had more energy."

The study also concluded "another implication would be that peppermint scent could be used to curb individuals' false hunger cravings, i.e. emotional eating."

Peppermint oil is available online and can be dabbed on a wristband, for example, for easy sniffing. Raudenbush's study used packaged peppermint inhalers available in nutrition stores or for $9.99 at sportsinhaler.com.

Got a bite-size tip on diet, exercise, well-being? I want to hear from you at ewarren@tribune.com.