Food & Fitness

Taste vs. smell: which is more important?

In my weight loss journey, I have been fascinated by how much our senses can impact how we perceive situations. For example, over the past few weeks I have gone to the movie theatre twice. Both times I was a little apprehensive because of the allure of movie theatre popcorn. It doesn’t matter how stale the popcorn might be; it has a very strong smell, and I have always had a special place in my heart for popcorn. Thus, upon entering a movie theatre, I am often faced with the dilemma of how to deal with popcorn cravings.

popcorn with butter

Both times that I went to the movie theatre, my fellow movie-watching companions opted to get snacks while watching the movie. I declined the offer of snacks – and the main reason for my ability to do so was because I had spent the entire day, each time, psyching myself up to have the willpower to say “no”.

And you know what I found? The cravings actually weren’t that bad at all. Because I had so firmly gotten it into my head that I wasn’t going to have a snack, I instead inhaled deeply at the theatre to get the lovely scent of (stale, greasy) popcorn. It smelled wonderful. And I realized that that was all I needed. It wasn’t the taste that I was craving. The taste wouldn’t have suddenly made me happy. It was the smell that I was after.*

I’ve happened across this same phenomenon before. Cake is a big one. I love cake – how can a person not love cake?! But I have found that often cake doesn’t taste as good as I expected from the smell. It really is true that after you take just a few bites, that’s all you need. Often it’s too sweet to actually taste good; your mind is just tricked into thinking that you want to taste more.

I don’t think that we can use smell to win us over every time. It’s pretty difficult to say no to freshly-baked bread every time you smell it, or to always turn down the food you crave the most. But we can use smell to our advantage if we pay attention to the food closely enough. Get a good whiff of it. Chew slowly to really get all the texture and flavour. Enjoy it… and you might just find that you don’t need quite as much as you thought you did.

*My movie-going companions are, by the way, awesome. After they had offered me snacks two or three times, they comfortably munched away and didn’t offer again. That’s exactly the way I like it. I quite like that they offer me the chance to have a bite or two, but I also quite like that they respect my choice if my answer is “no thank you.” The boyfriend is especially helpful in these situations – he knows that I don’t like to eat in the evenings and that I’m trying to stick to smaller portion sizes, so if he makes himself a snack, he offers me a bite of it. A small handful of Popchips or a bite of a locally-made whole wheat cinnamon bun can do just the trick when the evening munchies hit!


  1. Mary Anne in Kentucky

    I cannot relate to your popcorn feeling, since movie popcorn has always smelled dreadful to me, and it’s one of the hundreds of fragrant reasons I don’t go to movie theatres anymore, but it reminds of of my job in the deli. The first two weeks I worked there I lost five pounds. When I first smelled the place, I was afraid I would be hungry all the time, but in fact, the lovely food aromas convinced my stomach it had already been fed.

  2. Angela

    Very interesting. I was reading in a magazine today that smelling popcorn while you work out can help you lose more weight. Maybe I should go to the movies, psych myself up to avoid, and then do some lunges:)

  3. Jody - Fit at 53

    If we can’t smell, can we taste? Always wondered…

    Like Sophia, I love the smell of fresh baked bread.. and my weekend cookie treats of course ๐Ÿ˜‰ BUT, I have learned to master this over the years.. yes, if the bread is a type I really love, I will give in to it but I know I will not overdo & eat too much & I will be right back to it after that.

    I bring my own stuff into movies if I even want a treat.. actually movie popcorn does nothing for my anymore. If it is treat weekend time, I will bring in my cookie!

  4. hydrantgirl

    Saw this part of an article and thought of you (and it explains why I love my sweets – I’m a cave woman!)
    Glucose is the primary fuel for human life. For millions of years, glucose was delivered in complex โ€œpackagesโ€ known as starch. These starches or complex carbohydrates were found in a variety of roots, tubers, fruits and vegetables, and nature developed taste buds, a sensitive mechanism for the detection of starch. Because starch was so important as a fuel supply, the taste buds to detect its sweet taste covered two thirds of the tongue. And therein lies the problem.

    For the hunter/ gatherer, the predominance of sweet taste sensors was a life-saver. Not only did it tip him or her off to the presence of starch (which they desperately needed), but it also gave them information about food safety. Poisonous plants are never sweet.

    Secondly – I need your help – will you ask your readers to vote for me?? I’m up for top 5 canadian blogs on the bloggies!

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