Hirsch can't say why exactly the odor tubes worked. Originally he thought that the aromas made you feel fuller faster by tricking the brain. Now he's not so sure.
"It may have nothing to do with that at all. It may have just acted as a displacement mechanism, so instead of grabbing the doughnut you grab the inhaler," he says. Also, aroma might help satisfy cravings, or the sniffing might remind people on diets not to eat.
Regardless of how it works, the idea of sniffing a tube all day isn't very practical, which is why Hirsch shifted his attention to developing crystals that people can sprinkle on foods before eating. Hirsch says people don't even notice a difference in the way their foods taste when using the crystals, which range in flavor from cheddar cheese and horseradish to mocha and strawberry -- there are 12 in all.
And the Survey Says ...
Findings from a large study of the flavor crystals -- Hirsch is hoping to enroll 9,000 participants -- won't be available for several years, but preliminary findings are somewhat promising. Over six months, crystal users lost an average of about 35 pounds overall, while traditional dieters had an average weight gain of about one pound. The study was small, however, involving only about 110 people.
Still, some experts question whether the crystals can really be effective over time.
"Obesity is now the second leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.S.," says Fred Pescatore, MD, author of The Hamptons Diet. "That's never going to go away if we continue to look for tricks or gimmicks to help people lose weight."
Most people would agree that you need to take a well-rounded approach to weight loss and shouldn't rely on something like flavor crystals alone to reach your goals. "Any tricks that work for people are important, but to predicate an entire dieting program on sprinkling your foods with crystals is difficult to buy into." Instead, he says, exercise and healthy eating are the best ways to lose and maintain weight -- facts most dieters just don't want to hear.