Sensa Diet Smells Fishy To Me

sensa-shakerThe latest diet to hit the infomercial scene is Sensa, a “natural weight loss system” designed to help you eat less by changing your sense smell and taste.  It appears to be a reincarnation of “The Sprinkle Diet” that got a lot of press a few years ago.  Now it’s back and coming on strong.  In fact, in Chicago I’ve heard radio ads that sound like they’re recruiting for a clinical trial using Sensa — offering to provide a free supply of the “sprinkles.”  No dieting, no exercise required. Sounds too good to be true, huh?

So here’s how it’s supposed to work.  You buy a month’s supply of the Sensa packets ($59.00) and sprinkle it on everything you eat.  The flavorless “crystal tastants” are supposed to make you feel full faster by stimulating the part of your brain that tells your body it’s time to stop eating.  The product claims to induce something called “sensory-specific satiety.” Sensa creator Dr. Alan Hirsch said it makes your brain think you’ve eaten more than you have and you’ll eat less and lose weight. What you eat doesn’t appear to matter.  The trysensa web site features a big piece of pie a la mode with someone pouring on the sprinkles.  Hmmm…what kind of message does that send?

Known as “Dr. Smell,” the Sensa creator Dr. Alan Hirsch is an interesting guy — he’s a neurologist, psychiatrist and founder of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. Dr. Hirsch has pioneered much of the research on smell, taste and appetite — and his studies were the subject of a Dateline NBC feature several years ago.  It’s worth checking out…

His studies in the ’90s paved the way for Sensa.  The first study was published in 1995 and the second study doesn’t appear to be published (only presented at a scientific meeting in Prague).  Both studies are included on the web site in abstract form. The primary claim — people who sprinkled the tastant crystals on everything they ate lost an average of  30 pounds in 6 months, which was statistically significant more than those who did not use the sprinkles.  The Web site boasts:

Sensa’s results beat Weight Watchers, Atkins and the Zone with more pounds lost in less time.

The product is starting to get more attention, including a recent article in the New York Times:  A Slimmer You May Be A Whiff Away.

So what exactly is Sensa?  The ingredients don’t look so magical.  Actually, the packets contain similar ingredients to what you’d find in many processed foods…

  • Maltodextrin (corn starch)
  • Tricalcium phosphate (“bone ash,” a source of calcium used in supplements and fortification, also acts as an anticaking agent, so it probably helps the crystals not stick together)
  • Natural and artificial flavors
  • Artificial color yellow #5 (the second most widely used coloring that causes allergic reations, according to CSPI)
  • Carmine (the red coloring obtained from insects)SA_STK_GuaranteedLose30_012209_rr_550x550

There are some earlier studies that suggest maltodextrin may offer some satiety benefits (particularly when added to soup), but it surprises me that the sprinkles would have such a dramatic impact on fullness.  People have such a hard time getting in touch with their hunger cues (and certainly don’t always stop when they’re satisfied), so it’s hard to think that the sprinkles can help overcome this.  It’s great that people lost weight with the product, but I have some concerns:

  • What did they learn? Those sprinkles are not helping you learn positive new behaviors, not helping you address the reasons you’re struggling with your weight.
  • What about the quality of the diet? There’s basically no nutrition education involved with the program.  You can eat all the junk you want, as long as you add the sprinkles.
  • How long can this last? The program tells you to eat whatever you want.  What’s going to happen when you stop using the sprinkles.  Will you be sprinkle-dependent forever?  What about long-term results, lifestyle changes?
  • No exercise plan. Sensa proudly declares that you don’t need to exercise.  So there’s no encouragement of daily physical activity.
  • Your pocketbook. An additional $59.00 a month can add up quickly.  I’d rather people spend the money on fresh fruits and vegetables, which have tremendous satiety value — and a lot more nutrients than you’ll find in maltodextrin.

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  • Janet – excellent review! You’re a little nicer than I would be on this product. Anything that does not include exercise and prioritizing whole foods eating based with veggies, fruits, and whole grains is a short-term, short-sighted band-aid. There’s nothing of any remarkable value with this product in my honest opinion.

    Not only could people spend their moohla on better quality food, but they can also afford to buy books written by food and nutrition experts (our wonderful colleagues), attend weight management support groups, or see dietitians/trainers for help that really works.

    My clients will attest to the years and dollars they have wasted on empty promises. Just today my intake form had this: “I have tried more diets than I can count since I was 12 years old. I’m here today waving my white flag and telling you THEY DON’T WORK. I’m done wasting my money. I want to be a healthier person, not just a lighter person.”

    How sweet is that?

  • Janet

    Hi Rebecca,
    I was nice? Ha. I absolutely agree with you. Another new product, another distraction. Definitely more empty promises.
    I hope people won’t waste their money!

  • D H

    I read this article before I started Sensa, and it doesn’t bother me, except the whining…. people on a crusade to change peoples behavior as a mandatory pre-condition to giving them permission to lose weight have a different agenda than me, and are waging a battle they can’t win, anyway….. i am not trying to learn how to exercise or change what I eat, I do well enough at both, but that is immaterial….if any person can do better at one of three things, that is a start, and anything that legitimately facilitates success should be applauded…i am trying to eat less and it definitely works, so far.

    You can’t blame Hirsch for the fact that people eat crap and don’t exercise (though his newsletters do constantly encourage them to change), …various and sundry poor habits don’t negate the value of simply losing weight….that is a goal that can be independent of the others…and i imagine it may frequently lead to other positive changes in a person’s life…

    In the end, if you’re overweight and make no other change than losing weight, that is still a worthwhile accomplishment, and better than NOT having lost the weight….ask any doctor.

    I also watched the Dateline episode, and I think it reflects well on the program, actually….the woman at the end misses the point…Hirsch cant MAKE people exercise, or change their diet ….but he can help them eat less…and I personally believe the program will eventually train a person to eat less as their norm….we’ll see. It has certainly made me much more conscious of quantity.

    Rebecca’s Holier-than-Thou attitude defies an understanding of reality and human nature. Though it is a great goal in theory, you will NEVER change the lifestyles of the majority of people in the way that she suggests…that is incredibly naive…but you can offer a tool to help a lot of them take the first step toward general better health. Personally, I think Sensa does that.

  • Janet

    You make some good points. And I hope Sensa will be helpful for you. It’s true that one positive step often leads to more…and if the sprinkles help you focus on the amount of food you eat — that’s certainly beneficial. I firmly believe the best approach is taking small steps. So maybe Sensa could be the start of something bigger for individuals. Managing portion size and appetite is really important….so if this is a tool for people to be more mindful, then perhaps it could help (was I really whining, though?). I just wish the program would put equal weight (no pun intended) on WHAT you eat. I think the materials go out of there way to say it doesn’t matter, eat whatever you like as long as you top it off with the Sensa sprinkles (the big slice of pie topped with ice cream really reinforced that on the web site).
    But I do wish you success using Sensa. Appreciate your comments.

  • Barbara

    This is 2 days before Thanksgiving 2009. I have been reading here about Sensa. I also have read the information on Nowhere have I found any ONE person who has said that they have LOST WEIGHT due to using Sensa.
    Has ANYONE out there used Sensa for several months and experienced any sort of weight loss because of using it? Thank you very much!

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  • BC

    I don’t know how they can call this a natural weight loss when it contains unnatural ingredients.

  • Kathy Verduin

    I read in this article that Sensa was 59.00! I wish it was…..I will pay 89.00/month for it…..IF IT WORKS!!!!!

  • NW

    Sensa works!!! I know so many people that have lost weight using this product, myself included. It is the easiest thing out there! It makes it so easy to lose weight, and make smart choices concerning your food. I now crave fresh fruit, veggies, etc. before Sensa that wasn’t the case. Sensa is worth every penny! If you are serious about losing weight and changing the way you eat for the better you have to try Sensa! 🙂

  • Sara

    Bravo, DH. So many people preach, and say in frustration that “all you have to do is eat less”! Don’t condemn any method that helps people lose weight. If they need a temporary crutch, so be it. If Sensa helps people lose weight, then it’s a great thing. Success is a great motivator. Once they are starting to lose weight, and feeling better about themselves, people will probably adopt healthier ways of living.

    “. people on a crusade to change peoples behavior as a mandatory pre-condition to giving them permission to lose weight have a different agenda than me, and are waging a battle they can’t win, anyway….. i am not trying to learn how to exercise or change what I eat, I do well enough at both, but that is immaterial….if any person can do better at one of three things, that is a start, and anything that legitimately facilitates success should be applauded…”

  • Hi Janet,

    Fantastic article! Can you do a similar one on Rapid Loss shakes? Their advertising sounds similar to Sensa where you add their product and feel full, they call them “fullness shakes”. I can’t find anywhere listed what is actually in the shakes, and I am not prepared to fork out that much money for something that may also turn out to be maltodextrin. I’m really interested to hear what you have to say.




  • Janet

    Thanks for your comments, glad you enjoyed my article. Although please be authentic and transparent in your post. You obviously work for Rapid Loss shakes, you should diclose that. What do you mean that you can’t find what’s listed in the shakes. You work for the company!
    If you’re interested in what I have to say…I say that you’re not playing fair. Be honest, be transparent.
    I don’t think I’ll be writing about Rapid Loss shakes.

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  • Jon M

    Get doctors to fix my arthritis and I’ll go for a run three times a week and loose forty pound by end of Summer! Everyone is out to make a buck but not to fix a dang thing.

  • Kevin Thompson

    Can Sensa be bought in australia?

  • Peter Lewis

    The above debate lacks a scientific rather than moral critic of Sensa. Has anyone actually tried a study of Sensa versus placebo and shown that it is not effective ? Does anyone have any actual independent, clinic evaluation of the product. I would like to know.

  • charlie

    For ANYONE wanting to buy something on the internet – especially something that may cause your credit card to be charged repeatedly and refunds are hard to get – do what I did – I got a citicards credit card, and you can log in to your account and create a VIRTUAL CREDIT CARD number that is attached to your account – this is a one time use ONLY number – so if you give this number to a company, they will be able to use it once (and the charge goes onto your credit card bill) BUT THEY WILL NOT BE ABLE TO USE THIS NUMBER AGAIN – so you will not get repeated charges on your account – you would have to call in and give them a new number if they wanted to charge your account again and you wanted them to charge you. I use with all my online purchases or purchases where I am not sure about it – so if they charge my card once for something, that’s great – I have given them authorization for that – but they cannot charge me again on that number. It is a one time use ONLY virtual card number – that is the reason I stay with Citicards – I wish all companies offered this. It has saved me a fortune from companies who would normally just keep charging my card.

  • Joy

    I needed to lose 60 lbs and have tried most things on the market. The best one to date for me and many of my friends is actually Green Tea Extract which can be bought over the counter at most health food stores and pharmacies. If you take them 20 minutes after a meal, you are full for about 4-5 hours. If you take them 30 minutes before a meal you can only eat about 1/2 what you normally do. Each tablet is equivalent to about 15 cups of green tea. Forget the gimmicks. Green tea promotes Leptin which in turn helps with appetite and obesity. I have lost 12 lb on these tablets in the last month. I take 2 tabs 30 minutes before each meal with 1/2 cup coffee (coffee helps with the green tea).

  • harry

    My wife bwholeheartedly felt this would help. after two weeks she quit. “I cant get that smell out of my nose”, she said. I got one repulsive whiff as she put it on at a diner. I thought it smelled like febreeze. Febreeze smells OK but not appetizing, you know.

  • marsha

    I’m thinking of trying sensa.I totally agree with DH and Sara.I think it is so easy for people to say you need to eat less and exercise inorder to lose weight;but they are forgetting one important thing and that is people’s metabolism aren’t the same.For me the only thing that ever help me to lose weight is avoiding night eating period! I’ve tried a diet thet included eating 5 small meals per day and exercising and by the end of the day i feel so deprived that i can’t even think.I plan to try sensa with exercise,because i love exercising it’s just the eating part that is a bit difficult.
    It’s really hard for people like me who is overweight.People make awful comments without considering my feelings and if there is a product that works;i’m willing to take the risk.Thank you.

  • Geo.

    Wow, Good article. It appers to me this is a product example of “placebo effect. in conjunction with a the power of suggestion. You just paid $60 – $80 so it GOT TO WORK !
    Plus all the reviews about how many testimonails of just how well it works. So it must be true. Nothing new people, there were snake oil salesman in the old west and they are still around today using their credentials to sell their brand of snake oil today. Now we call it SENSA. Seems quite “Senseless” to me. I just wonder how many others would be willing to admit that the only place they felt lighter using this product was in their wallet!

  • Sensa is a ripoff! If you don’t believe me then check out this review:

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