Why Smells Trigger Cravings


Have you ever noticed that smells can spark strong memories? Some smells can transport you back to your childhood days, or to a very special moment in your life. My mood can instantly change when I walk past a theatre popping a new batch of popcorn. Catching a whiff of the hot buttery corn boosts my mood and puts a spring in my step. This smell makes me think of a Saturday night with friends or family catching a flick, which is a positive experience for me. Popcorn smell equals happy experience. This smell-memory connection has long been referred to as the “Proust Effect” after Marcel Proust who first recognized smell and recollection http://www.scentairmena.com/proust.html. He called it involuntary memory. Smells induce memories, automatically taking us back to that particular time whether we like it or not. How about that smell of the perfume or cologne worn by that boy or girl who broke your heart? The intensity can sometimes catch you off guard.

There are many smells that stir childhood memories for me: swimming pools, tanning oil, Vicks Vapor Rub, and freshly baked cinnamon buns. Sometimes smells can bring us comfort and joy, and this can drive us to seek out those particular heavenly scents in order to relive those soothing feelings. Many of these smells come from food which is why we also associate food with memories.

My mother (and many others, I suspect!) showed love for her family through cooking and baking. This may be why I chose to find comfort in food. No blame to my mother, of course, but I developed a love for certain food smells; they just make me feel better – happier, comforted, relaxed. I am not the only one who is affected this way either, which is why our noses are constantly being targeted.

Food companies have grasped this concept a long time ago and discovered that adding flavouring and aroma chemicals to their food products makes them irresistible. Think about why a home-made burger doesn’t quite have the same smell as a processed hamburger patty on the barbeque. These chemicals used in foods are to enhance your experience making you want to come back for more. Food and memory are strongly linked and food companies aggressively market their food with having a good time. The smell of food hits the emotional and memory part of our brain and although taste does play a major role, it is the smell of food that comes before the first bite.

It is important to be mindful that you are being coerced by this sensory input or shall I say by the smelly output. You need to ask yourself, “Am I really hungry or is it that I have a desire to relive a positive memory?” Or maybe you are wanting to replace your current negative situation with a happy long-gone moment. You could be craving the positive warm and fuzzy feelings more than the actual food.

I know a very successful gentleman who LOVES pizza and understands his love for it. “My father withheld his love and affection for us or at least struggled showing it. Every so often he would bring home a large pizza for the family, coming in the door with a big smile on his face. It brought us such joy and happiness! It was always an enjoyable evening as he would joke and laugh with us the rest of the night.” His father passed away a few years ago and he misses him very much. To this day he cannot resist the smell of a pizza.


In order to empower yourself why not try doing a check-in? Write down a list of food smells that remind you of a positive memory. Explore why these smells are triggering a memory or the desire to relive a moment. Usually there are other activities going on during those long-gone moments such as socializing, laughing, dancing, singing, playing cards and games. Try focusing on those activities and value them more than the food that happened to be served at that time. Your memories are your own, so do whatever you can to get the most out of them in the best way possible.


Treena Wynes
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About Treena Wynes

I am a mother, wife, Registered Social Worker, author, health and wellness advocate, and motivational speaker. My goal is to create awareness and generate discussion around the way our thoughts, moods, and feelings have an intense impact on our lives, and the powerful role diet plays in our physical, mental and emotional health.