Before heading out to shop this holiday season, steel yourself for an onslaught of tempting aromas that might lure you into a fast-food restaurant.

Food-related cues, like the smell of burgers or eye-catching menu displays, stimulate brain activity. This tempts people to eat more, a new study finds.

University of Michigan researchers conducted lab experiments with 112 college students. The investigators found that food cues made people feel hungrier and led to the consumption of 220 more calories compared with non-cue environments.

“Food-related cues can make people want or crave food more, but don’t have as much of an impact on their liking, or the pleasure they get from eating the food,” said study lead author Michelle Joyner, a psychology graduate student.

The results show that people need to be aware that food cues can increase how much they eat, the researchers said.

“It is hard to avoid food cues in our current environment, but people can try some strategies to minimize their exposure by not going into restaurants and using technology to skip food advertisements in TV shows,” Joyner said in a university news release.

The findings were published in the November issue of the journal Clinical Psychological Science.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians explains how to make healthy choices at fast-food restaurants.