Essential Oils for Weight Loss
Can essential oils really help you lose weight?
Dieting was never easy, but I always managed to maintain my weight well enough. Then I hit my mid-40’s. I gained a few pounds. I tried to eat a little healthier, and I gained a few more. I tried to count my calories and added a few more pounds. I tried to exercise more religiously, and you guessed it a few more pounds. Three years later I was 30 pounds heavier and had still not found a way to reverse things. Since I used essential oils in other parts of my life, I wondered could I use them to help me lose weight? I had seen books on Kindle making that claim, but frankly I was skeptical.
Being a researching sort, I set out to find out if there was any truth to the claims that essential oils can help with weight loss.
First, essential oils are not miracle drugs. There is no oil that I can find that if applied regularly, will magically result in weight loss without changing any other of your habits. Essential oils can assist with weight loss and will likely work best for you if you are able to identify the reasons you can’t lose weight. This article will look at some of the ways essential oils can support weight loss.
Why do people fail to lose weight?
The average length of time I stick to most diets is 3 days. I am not alone. Cynthia Sass reports that 2 out of every 5 people will quit within the first week. What are some of the reasons?
- Hunger & Cravings—your body wasn’t designed to starve. In fact, it was designed to protect you from starving, slowing your metabolism to conserve resources when you don’t take in enough fuel.
- Emotions—While some cravings are physical, others are emotional. After a few days of dieting, we feel cranky. Throw in a bad day at work and we say screw it, I want pizza. Pizza will make me feel better.
- Depression—After the pizza, we see the dress in the closet that we still can’t fit into and regret the pizza. There is a vicious cycle of wanting to lose weight, and not wanting to give up the foods that make us feel comforted. This cycle can trigger depression. If I eat, I will stay fat. If I don’t eat, I will be miserable. It feels like a lose-lose situation, except when it comes to weight, we gain.
- Time management—Have you ever noticed that there really only is one diet? Every diet book tells you they are different and revolutionary and so easy you won’t even realize you’re dieting!! But when they get to the actual rules or meal plans of the diet, it is the same thing. Eat mostly vegetables, a little fruit, lean meats or protein, and a little bit of whole grains. The problem is, when you are at the beginning of the diet you may prep some veggies and salads for a couple days, and then you get to the middle of the work week and you don’t want to spend a half hour of your evening prepping veggies for the next day. It takes time and work to eat clean. All it takes is one evening where we have a convenience meal to just derail the whole diet.
- Lack of patience—we want quick results. The diets that produce the quickest results are the most restrictive. About 15 years ago when my metabolism was more cooperative, I ate about 1600 calories a day (reasonable, right?) and exercised for 30-45 minutes three times a week. I lost 10 pounds in a year. I would do anything to be able to have that work again. That is sustainable. But often we want results yesterday and we lack the patience to stick to these smaller changes because it takes several weeks to see progress.
Now, I am not aware of any essential oils for patience or time management, so we will focus on the first three factors:
Hunger and Cravings: Essential Oils and Appetite Suppression
Dr. Alan Hirsch, the inventor of the now defunct Sensa flavor crystals, conducted research on over 3000 overweight people. In an oft quoted study he gave 3000+ of them inhalers which had either the scent of peppermint, banana, or green apple. He rotated the scent once a month. After 6 months, those inhaling the oils had lost about 5 lbs. per month.
Why might this work? If you have dieted for any length of time you know that sometimes just having a small bite of something you are craving can be enough. By extension, sometimes you can merely smell it and you will feel satisfied. If you can smell a food smell instead of eating it, it will trick your body into thinking it is satisfied and you will crave food less and therefore eat less.
Inhaling essential oils may be effective in curbing cravings for another reason. The olfactory bulb, which registers scents, is connected to the limbic center (which controls emotions) and the hypothalamus, which is responsible for feelings of fullness (satiety). The scent goes straight to these parts of our brain and acts on them.
In theory then, any of the food based scents (e.g. herbals and spices) should work to help you feel sated. Yet, in Schiller’s 500 Aromatherapy Recipes, they state that anise, caraway, chamomile, cinnamon, fennel, ginger, peppermint, spearmint, or thyme can actually increase appetite. You will need to experiment a bit and test which oils work best for you from the ones suggested below.
Which oils have been studied for weight loss?
A 2014 paper reported that inhalation of grapefruit oil affected the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal glands of rats. This increase led to increased lipolysis (the breakdown of fats), thermogenesis (heat production) and a decrease in Vagus nerve activity (controls the smooth muscles of the digestive system). By contrast, Lavender had the opposite effect.
Another study used inhalation of citronella in rats fed a high fat diet. The rats who were exposed to the citronella ate less. These results support the use of grapefruit oil and citronella for your weight loss inhaler, but you should probably avoid lavender.
A 2016 study observed the effects of inhaling essential oils on the chocolate cravings of college females. Participants were asked to rate their cravings after being shown a series of chocolate foods. When the participants inhaled a fresh scent (Slique—a Young Living blend of grapefruit, tangerine, lemon, spearmint, and ocotea) they had fewer cravings. When they inhaled a sweet scent (vanilla) their cravings increased. This is further support for using citrus oils, and possibly mint oils (or, citrus and mint make a nice combination).
How can you use this?
Prepare a few nasal inhaler sticks with essential oils and sniff them several times a day. Rotate through the oils you use. Grapefruit is high in limonene, however Wild Orange, Lemon, and Lime are too and can be alternate choices. Dr. Hirsch does not recommend diffusing the oils as it works better in small doses with breaks in between rather than a longer continuous exposure. Other oils to try in your rotation include Ginger, Black Pepper, Peppermint, Clove, Basil, Spearmint, and Fennel. If any of these make you feel hungrier or bring on cravings, try a different oil.
Stress and Emotions:
Stress can affect our weight loss in two ways. Stress increases levels of cortisol, which in turn suppresses the digestive system (Source).
Stress also ebbs away at our willpower. When we feel stressed, we are more likely to reach for comfort food as a quick fix. Finding ways to manage stress such as deep breathing, yoga, or other exercise should be part of your diet plan. Stress is also a great excuse to get a massage, even if you can only afford a short chair massage.
How can essential oils help control stress?
Several essential oils are useful when you are feeling stressed. You can use these in an inhaler, or run them in a diffuser. You may even run a diffuser while you are doing yoga or meditation. Some of the best oils to inhale for stress include bergamot, lavender, geranium and clary sage. A 2016 study found that lavender decreased blood cortisol by 69%!
Preparing a bath oil or bath salts with stress busting oils can be another great way to relax.
Balancing oils such as ginger or fennel may also help even out hormonal swings and keep you from falling into the emotional eating trap.
Of course, other natural methods of stress reduction are important too, such as getting enough exercise, enough sleep, engaging in hobbies, and spending time with family and friends.
As I mentioned earlier, more and more I find myself fighting feelings of depression related to repeated failures to lose weight. Several essential oils are also noted for assisting with depression. Now, I want to be clear that we are talking about transitory, mild depression. If you have thoughts of harming yourself, find yourself crying a lot, or feel depressed for more than a day or two you should see your doctor. Depression can be serious.
Now, if you just feel down in the dumps occasionally because you fell off the diet wagon yet again, then using the following essential oils may be beneficial. Diffusion or inhalation is my preferred method of administration. You should combine their use with other efforts to improve your overall health and well being such as exercise and spending time with friends and loved ones.
Try Lavender, Bergamot or Lemon blended with Geranium, Jasmine, Rose, Ylang ylang, Clary Sage, Neroli, or Chamomile.
Other ways essential oils can help with weight loss:
Up until now, we have mostly discussed the emotional aspects of eating (or not eating): cravings, stress, and depression. There are a couple of ways that essential oils can help physically. Namely, water retention and cellulite.
Many diets have a quick start phase that is more restrictive. Dieters usually lose a few pounds in the first few days. The bad news is that this is usually water weight. The good news is it makes us feel like we are doing something right and motivates us to continue. Usually losing the water weight also reduces bloat and our clothes fit a little better almost immediately.
A few essential oils are also thought to reduce water retention. They include fennel, juniper and grapefruit.
Dilute a blend of these oils in a carrier oil and massage into your skin. You could also blend a few drops in a bit of carrier oil and add to ½ c. to 1 c. of epsom salts. Add to a bath and enjoy.
Cellulite is a dimpling of the layer of fat just below the skin. You do not need to be overweight to have cellulite. Anyone who has it though is self-conscious of it (at least come summer time). Essentials oils that can help improve the appearance of cellulite include juniper, grapefruit, lemon, fennel, cypress, rosemary, and patchouli.
You can make your own bath salts by blending a few drops of essential oils into a teaspoon of carrier oil and then adding it to ½ to 1 c. of epsom salts, or you can dilute in coconut oil and massage into affected areas. Dry brushing before bathing or applying a massage oil can also improve the appearance of cellulite.
Digestive enzyme production may slow down as we age. Oils that stimulate the digestion may be one way to improve this (Source). Supplements are available (e.g. HCL) that help to replace enzymes. Improper digestion may be a factor in the inability to lose weight despite eating healthy. Grapefruit and Ginger are digestive stimulants. Use them in a nasal inhaler, or apply diluted in a carrier oil onto your abdomen.