Golden hot chips. Bubbling cheesy pizza. Crispy chicken. Heartwarming hamburgers. We know they're bad for us. But just one whiff of their smell is just so compelling.
Turns out, that's the key to the problem. And the solution. Smell.
A team of researchers from the University of Florida have published their findings in the Journal of Marketing Research.
It all comes down to using your nose. And a little bit of willpower to hold off that initial compulsive urge to eat.
Simply let your senses linger over that enticing fatty-food smell for two minutes, and you'll suddenly find you've sated your appetite.
Yes … you'll feel satisfied, without the calories!
And your tummy will stop rumbling.
Put simply, a quick smell primes our brain to taste it. A longer smell ends up being as satisfying as eating it.
The researchers say their study indicates that all we actually need to trigger the reward centre of our brain is a little extra exposure to the aroma.
"Ambient scent can be a powerful tool to resist cravings for indulgent foods," study author Professor Dipayan Biswas says. "In fact, subtle sensory stimuli like scents can be more effective in influencing children's and adults' food choices than restrictive policies."
And it's all because our brain's aren't smart enough to tell whether the sensory pleasure is coming from the nose or the belly.
Smell: A double-edged sword
The study's authors say their findings have useful applications in turning our attention towards the fresh fruit aisle.
A series of tests were conducted using hidden nebulisers in a school canteen and a supermarket. Some gave off healthy food aromas, such as strawberries and apples. Others introduced the smell of not-so-healthy items, such as biscuits and pizza.
Those smelling the biscuits and pizza for lest than 30 seconds experienced a craving, and were more likely to choose such foods. But those who inhaled the greasy smell for two minutes ended up choosing more strawberries and apples.
Fruit has a smell. But, in modern society, it's usually not been connected to the reward centres of our brain. Which is why it has little impact in compelling us to make a purchase.
Fatty food is programmed into our reward centres. But, the study says, it can quickly be overloaded.
"In essence, if reward structures and areas representing craving in the brain can be satisfied with olfactory inputs instead of actual gustatory consumption of unhealthy foods, this can help with fighting food urges," the study reads.
By implication, it appears the recent downturn in business among several high-profile fast-food outlets may be the result of their own cleverness — deliberately pumping 'ambient' aromas of their foods into restaurant atmospheres.
It sounds like a winning marketing strategy.
But, if the wait in their queue is longer than two minutes … they may be losing sales.