Cravings cure – snack on exercise

Are food cravings crippling your weight loss attempts? Online personal trainer Andrew Cate looks at how snacking on short bouts of exercise instead of food might be an unexpected solution.

Food cravings and your weight

One of the biggest factors determining the success or failure of managing body fat levels is how you deal with food cravings. If you have been successful in reducing your kilojoule intake, it’s only natural that the body will respond by increasing your level of hunger. It’s one of the ways your body tries to defend its current level of body fat. Increased cravings, or urges to snack, are also more likely to occur if you experience stress, negative moods, fatigue and boredom. The foods people seek out when experiencing low energy levels or high levels of tension may include chocolate or other energy rich snacks that are not ideal nutritionally if you are trying to reduce body fat. This has led to considerable interest in the role that exercise can play in regulating hunger and eating behaviour.

The research

Researchers, in a study published by the journal Appetite, deprived chocolate lovers of chocolate treats for two days, and randomly assigned them into groups who either exercised or were rested, and who then performed easy or demanding tasks. After participants either performed a 15 minute brisk walk or rested quietly, they were instructed to eat as much chocolate as they liked while performing computer based cognitive tasks that were either easy or demanding (simulating workplace stress). It was discovered that the group who took a brisk walk ate about half the chocolate compared to the non-exercisers, regardless of whether the task was demanding or easy. These findings support other studies cited by the researchers, where even five minutes of brisk walking was found to reduce the urge to snack (and even the urge to smoke or to drink alcohol). The researchers concluded that short bouts of low to moderate intensity physical activity may lead to enhanced self-regulation of eating.

Practical implications on how to prevent food cravings

Just as you might look for a small snack to give you an energy boost or improve your mood; why not use exercise to do the same? If you experience hunger or a food craving, try going for a short. brisk walk. Participants in the study mentioned above walked for 15 minutes at a moderate level of intensity. They were instructed to move as if late for a bus or appointment, but not to the point of breathlessness. Even just five minutes of brisk walking may reduce the urge to snack. Whether your day is stressful or boring, short bites of activity such as walking can distract you from temptation, and may help keep hunger pangs at bay. And remember that increasing your activity levels can place extra demands on your body’s fluid needs, so have an extra glass of water afterwards.

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