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A SENSE-ble Look at Healthy Living: Smell

“Memories, imagination, old sentiments, and associations are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

people in line at the bakery

The science is very direct behind why this fourth sense is so powerful, bringing forth intense memories. Smells bypass the thalamus and go straight to the olfactory bulb, which is the brain’s smell center. This explains why a smell immediately triggers a vivid memory or intense emotion. It also explains why favorable smells may cause an instant reaction to eat even you aren’t hungry.

Do you find this hard to believe? Take a moment to reflect on what happens to you or what you remember when you come across these common odors:

• The scent of lemons
• The smell of coffee
• The smell of flowers
• The smell of fresh-baked goods
• The smell of a cold, crisp day

Each smell may bring similar memories for all of us, such as lemons reminding you of cleanliness or flowers causing a romantic memory. However, we all have specific memories where a smell can seemingly transport us back in time. The smells of pine shavings and flowers are two examples of odors when I use the sense of smell to control some of my cravings. This may seem odd; however, this is a Refracted Friday blog.

The smell of flowers remind me of my first visit to a funeral home as a young child. The odor of flowers was overpowering, and I didn’t want to be there. Therefore, the smell of flowers is a negative memory for me.

The smell of pine shavings remind me of a chicken house. One of my many jobs growing up was cleaning and prepping chicken houses. I worked for a man who later would become my father-in-law. Yes, the smell of cleaning out the chicken house used by over 35,000 chickens was repugnant, but when we prepped for the new flock by spreading pine shavings, it was a refreshing smell. Therefore, the smell of pine shavings brings a positive memory of the long, enjoyable days I spent talking with my future father-in-law.

These are two powerful, vivid memories brought on by common odors. I soon realized the power of this effect. Now, when it comes to controlling certain food cravings, I use the mighty sense of smell to quell the urge to indulge. Yes, I have “trained” myself to be satisfied with smelling something good (or not-so-good for me, when counting calories) to hold back a craving. I can now walk into a bakery and inhale deeply, taking in all the aromas. When the baker asks what I want to buy, I simply say, “I hope there’s no charge just to smell all the goodies,” and walk out.

Now, this doesn’t always work, and it took a long time to perfect. Nevertheless, I ask what are you doing to control your cravings? Ask for support to get you through tough times, and you will smell the sweet smell of success.


This is part 4 of the multipart series, “A SENSE-ble Look at Healthy Living.” In my next blog, we’ll look to the human sense of equilibrioception.

Missed the beginning of our journey through the human senses? Check out the rest of A SENSE-ble Look at Healthy Living.


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