Fueled by Treats
Exercisers Frequently Reward Themselves with Food

Exercisers often reward themselves with unhealthy treats after a workout

In order to resist unhealthy foods after a workout, make your workout fun

Why do dieters start exercise programs and gain weight? It may be because they give themselves permission to eat afterwards.

A new ETH Zurich and Cornell University study analyzed exercisers’ eating behavior. While some rewarded themselves for a good workout with chocolate or pastries, others overate believing they were “building their strength,” said Simone Dohle of the Department of Health Science and Technology, ETH Zurich.

These findings – published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health – add additional credibility to recent discoveries that exercisers can eat as much as 44% more dessert afterwards and 32% fewer vegetables!

“If you want to avoid being an overeating exerciser,” said co-author Brian Wansink, author of Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life and Professor and Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, “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.” “Anything that brings a smile is likely to get you to eat less,” he added.

Exercise and Food Compensation Exploring Diet-Related Beliefs and Behaviors of Regular Exercisers

Just thinking about exercise makes me serve more food. Physical activity and calorie compensation  

 

ntroducing a new exercise routine may not result in the desired weight loss because people engage in more indulgent eating behaviors as a means of compensation. In this study we went a step further to explore if merely the thought of exercise could induce increased consumption in food. Furthermore, we wanted to determine if framing exercise as a fun activity would reduce this effect.

To test this, we recruited 94 adults at a mall under the guise that it was a study about shopping attitudes. There were three conditions. In the “exercise condition”, participants were asked about their exercise habits, and then were told to read a scenario describing a 30-minute run and how tired it made them feel. After reading the scenario they were asked to answer a few more questions. Once they were done and as a token of appreciation they were offered two types of snacks (Chex Mix and M&M’s) of they could serve themselves as much as they wanted. This procedure was repeated for participants in the “fun condition” except they were asked questions about their music habits and then asked to read a scenario describing a 30-min walk where the person was listening to music through their MP3 player. In the “control condition” participants did not have to read a scenario or answer any additional questions. All participants were asked to estimate the calories in the amount of snacks they had taken.

Overall, reading about physical activity caused participants to serve themselves a significantly more snacks. In the fun or exercise condition, participants poured 58.9% more M&M’s and 51.9% more Chex Mix. Although not statistically significant, results indicated that participants in the two exercise conditions were more biased in their calorie estimates.

This study has important implications for health professionals whose advice can be easily compromised by the potential impact of compensation. Perhaps presenting exercise as a critical way to tone one’s self as opposed to weight loss, may decouple the compensation link between exercise and eating.

STRESSFUL EATING ENVIRONMENT

Stress has been found to impact certain behaviors, including overconsumption of foods. The purpose of this study was to investigate how a chaotic environment impacts eating behavior, since environmental chaos is a source of stress for many individuals. This study also took into account the mindset of individuals in the chaotic environment, and sought to assess how differences in feeling in or out-of-control impacts eating behavior.

101 female students participated in the study, and were placed in either a standard clean kitchen condition or in the same kitchen when it was “chaotic:” disorganized and noisy. Participants were then assigned to one of three writing tasks. One writing task had participants write about a time where they felt out of control, another asked participants to write about a time they felt in control, and the last task had participants write about the last lecture they attended. The writing tasks were meant to manipulate the mindset of the participants.  After completing the writing assignment, participants were asked to taste and rate cookies, crackers, and carrots. Differences in consumption for the two kitchen conditions and the different writing tasks were measured.

The results of the study showed that participants in the chaotic condition ate the most cookies when they wrote about being out of control, and the least when they wrote about being in control. The writing tasks did not impact cookie consumption in the standard kitchen condition.

The results of this study suggest that the environment and an individual’s mind-set influence food intake.  If individuals maintain an in-control, organized mindset in chaotic environments, they may prevent overconsumption of foods, particularly indulgent foods.

Beating Your Mindless Eating Habits!
Small Easy Changes can Lead to Sustainable Weight Loss and Healthier Eating Habits

Keep counters clear of all foods but healthy ones

Avoid eating directly from a package- always pre-portion food

Eat something hot for breakfast within the first hour of waking up

Avoid going more than 3-4 hours without eating something small

Put your utensils down between bites to slow down your eating

Beating Your Mindless Eating Habits!

Small Easy Changes can Lead to Sustainable Weight Loss and Healthier Eating Habits

Keep counters clear of all foods but healthy ones

Avoid eating directly from a package- always pre-portion food

Eat something hot for breakfast within the first hour of waking up

Avoid going more than 3-4 hours without eating something small

Put your utensils down between bites to slow down your eating

Previous research conducted by Dr. Brian Wansink through the Food and Brand Lab has shown that making small easy changes to our eating habits on a consistent basis can lead to sustainable weight loss. The challenge lies in figuring out which changes work for each individual and how to stick with them long enough to make them second nature. To find answers to these questions, Cornell University researchers launched the National Mindless Eating Challenge (NMEC), an online healthy eating and weight loss program which focused on simple eating behavior changes, instead of dieting.

Upon signing up for the NMEC, participants were asked a series of questions about their eating goals, background, and well-being. Based on their answers, they were sent three customized tips to follow for a month. All tips were founded on research and based on Dr. Brian Wansink’s book “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More than We Think” (Bantam, 2006). Participants could download a checklist to track their adherence to tips and receive email reminders to keep them on track. At the end of each month they were expected to send in a follow-up survey.

Of the 2,053 people who initially signed up for the NMEC, 504 complete at least one follow-up survey. Most of them (83%) had weight loss as their goal. The rest wanted to eat healthier (10%), maintain weight (5%), or help their family eat better (2%). Over the course of the program, more than two thirds of participants either lost weight (42%) or maintained their weight (27%), and weight loss was highest among people who made changes consistently. Those whose adherence was 25+ days per month reported an average monthly weight loss of 2.0 pounds, and those who stayed in the program at least three months and completed at least two follow-up surveys lost on average 1.0% of their initial weight. Common barriers that prevented people from making changes included personally unsuitable tips, forgetting, being too busy, unusual circumstances such as vacations, and emotional eating.

These results confirm that small, consistent changes in our daily eating behavior can result in gradual weight loss and developing healthier eating habits. However, they also show that it is a challenge for many people to stick to a program for a long period of time. So what does this mean for someone wanting to lose weight or eat healthier? It means that finding an initial set of tips that are relevant and doable for you can be enough to learn the general principle, later come up with your own changes and succeed at reaching your goal!

Check out the tips that NMEC participants thought were the most effective:

  • Keep counters clear of all foods but the healthy ones
  • Never eat directly from a package – always portion food out onto a dish
  • Eat something hot for breakfast within the first hour of waking up
  • Avoid going more than 3-4 hours without having something small to eat
  • Put down your utensils between bites to slow down your eating

 

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