Enjoying your workout could be key to eating less

Enjoying your workout could be key to eating less

Many people engage in physical activity to justify a reward later, usually dessert or other sweets, but new research from the Cornell Food and Brand Lab shows enjoying your workout may eliminate this desire to indulge in unnecessary calories.

The research included three studies to determine how perceiving exercise affected food consumption. The findings showed that when individuals thought of their exercise as a fun activity, they ate less food for the purpose of enjoyment and pleasure after a workout.

The first two studies manipulated how participants perceived a physical activity.  After completing the activity, which was described either as exercise or fun, researchers measured their food consumption.  Participants in the first study freely consumed as many calories as they wanted while participants in the second study served themselves M&M’s™. Researchers compared the number of hedonic calories consumed by each group and found the exercise group consumed significantly more empty calories.

The third study asked runners in a race how much fun they had while running.  Researchers gave the runners a choice between a hedonic snack and utilitarian snack, food consumed out of need, and found runners who rated the race as fun were more likely to make the healthy snack choice.

The study authors said framing exercise as a fun activity reduces an individual’s urge to indulge by diverting his or her attention away from the effort required by the activity, which may reduce the feeling of “entitlement” for a food reward.

“Do whatever you can to make your workout fun.  Play music, watch a video, or simply be grateful that you’re working out instead of working in the office,” Brian Wansink, author and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, said in a news release. “Anything that brings a smile is likely to get you to eat less.”

Dr. Jennifer DeBruler, an internal medicine physician with Advocate Medical Group in Libertyville, Ill., said she agrees exercise may give people the “erroneous permission” to eat more.

“It is important that calories in ‘need’ to be less than calories ‘out’ to lose weight, exercise or not,” Dr. Debruler said.  “A 500 calorie deficit per day will lead to 1 pound per week weight loss.”

The United States Department of Agriculture has these suggestions for incorporating physical activity into your daily routine without it seeming like a chore.

  • Join a neighborhood walking group
  • Push the baby in the stroller
  • Go for a family bike ride
  • Walk along fields while watching kids play
  • Take the dog for an afternoon walk
  • Drive less – walk, cycle or skate more
  • Do exercises, run on the treadmill or ride a stationary bike while watching TV
  • Spend time gardening
  • Play outside with the kids
  • Exercise with a workout video

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  1. Hmmm, I’m looking at this suggested list, and what I see here are largely recommendations for people with families. Here’s a thought: there are more single women living alone than ever before, and lots of them are over 40. No kids, no spouse, no roommates, and probably a job that keeps you busy more than 40 hours a week (maybe even a job that you have to do from home because you’re one of those people who got downsized during the Great Recession and haven’t been rehired yet, so you’re freelancing). If you’re living in an apartment or condo, that also means no dogs and no garden. You probably don’t even know your neighbors, either, because you don’t have kids in school that would put you in a position to know the parents of other kids. And your friends probably live across town and/or have famillies of their own to keep them busy most nights. Oh, and you may also be caring for a parent who may or may not live with you. That eats up a lot of what little free time you have.

    I live in SW suburban chicago, about 10 minutes from Advocate Christ. I’ve actually tried to find a walking club around here. No dice. then I tried to start one. It’s harder than keeping a book club going (and my last book club lasted for two meetings before people figured out how busy they are and that they couldn’t commit after all)! People with kids are too busy for a walking club in the evening, the elderly either aren’t interested or can’t keep up with someone 20 years younger, and yes, my friends are all at least 45 minutes away by car. Even the park district gym costs too much. Doesn’t leave me a lot of choices, does it?

    So: how many of your suggestions fall away for single women over 40, in that case, and what’s left? Going to the gym and using exercise videos at home, both of which can be boring as hell? People who were stuck in the library in college and were never runners or on varsity teams aren’t suddenly going to become athletes in middle age. Think more about this segment of your patient base, people, and how to get us into interesting forms of exercise, because there are a lot of us out there with not a lot of discretionary funds for ski trips or gym memberships — and there are more of us as we age — and we, too, would like to be fitter and healthier than we are.

    Maybe an outreach person from the hospital should be working with, say, someone at the local library branches to start walking groups for non-retiree adults – ? Exercise makes your brain work better, so I’m sure that people who read would appreciate that. Just saying: there are ways to get at this group of adults if you think a bit more creatively. Ball’s in your court.

  2. Sounds like a lot of excuses! More people, men & women, workout by themselves than with kids, a group or even one other person. Most everything on the list can be done alone.

    If you live in an apartment forget the gardening and double up on some of the other activities. If you don’t have a dog go for a walk by yourself… No kids so you can’t push a stroller… Focus on what you can do. As Nike says, “Just Do It!”

  3. This makes sense. My friends have been really loved zumba and cycling classes!

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.