How do you feel about working out? Do you see it as something to look forward, as a welcome break from your daily routine, or as an obligation you have to do but don’t want to? According to a new study, what you think about exercise may impact how much you eat afterward.
Exercise has benefits whether you like doing it or not, but having a healthy attitude towards exercise may indirectly help with weight control by affecting how much you eat. At least, that’s the conclusion of a recent study. In this study, 56 adults took a 2-kilometer walk around a lake. Researchers told one group of adults the walk was for pleasure, a way to see the scenery. The second group was told the walk was “exercise.” Afterward, everyone ate a meal with chocolate pudding as dessert. Interestingly, the group that “exercised” rather than taking a scenic walk ate 35% more chocolate pudding.
The same scenario was repeated in a second study. After taking a walk, 46 adults were offered M&Ms as snacks. The adults who believed the walk they took was exercise ate twice as many M&Ms as those who felt they had taken a pleasure walk. The “exercise” group also felt more fatigued, despite the fact they had done a similar amount of work.
Exercise Attitude: Why Attitude is Important When It Comes to Working Out
It’s not uncommon for people to not experience the weight loss they expected when they begin working out. In some cases, this can be explained by changes in body composition – gaining muscle mass, which weighs more. Another reason is when some people work out they consciously or unconsciously reward themselves with food. Why? They think they deserve a treat because they did something they didn’t want to do.
As this study points out, seeing exercise as a task or drudgery makes it more likely you’ll compensate for a workout by eating something high in calories or eating more to reward yourself. As you already know, it’s not hard to out-eat the calorie-burning benefits of exercise, especially if you make the wrong food choices. Unfortunately, sliced veggies aren’t the snack most people reward themselves with. More commonly, it’s a high-calorie item like a chocolate brownie.
Change Your Exercise Attitude
This study suggests the attitude you have about your workout may help curb gratuitous snacking. Exercise is difficult but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the challenge of exercising. Set goals so you have something you’re striving towards rather than just going through the motions. When you reach an exercise goal, whether it’s lifting 5 pounds more or making it through a tough workout you’ve never done before, you feel a sense of accomplishment. This sense of accomplishment makes exercise more rewarding. Always begin every workout with a larger goal as well as smaller goals you have to tackle to reach the larger one. It’s important to have small goals so you won’t get discouraged. Give yourself something to work towards every time you work out.
The second way to make exercise more enjoyable is to add variety to your routine. With so many types of workouts, there’s an unlimited variety available to you if you choose appropriately. Fire up a new exercise DVD you’ve never done before for a fresh challenge. Try a different one every work or two to shake things up. If spinning or step DVD is your “go-to” workout, switch things up with high-intensity interval training or a boot camp session. Never let things get stale or monotonous. Listening to music during a workout also reduces how hard exercise feels and adds an element of fun.
Give you’re a rest day and at least one light day every week. On a light day, do a low-impact workout or yoga or a stretching workout for a break. Overtraining can take the joy out of working out. It’s important to be focused and disciplined but to practice moderation as well. Everybody, even professional athletes, needs rest and recovery time. Don’t let overtraining take the pleasure out of exercising and lead to burnout.
Reward yourself for working out in ways that don’t involve food. Take a hot bath, get a massage, see a movie, go shopping – but don’t make food part of your reward system. Keep healthy offerings on hand for a post-workout snack – not sugary items. Set aside a certain amount of food for a post-workout snack, don’t give yourself free rein to eat as much as you want.
The Bottom Line?
Think of your workout in a positive light – as a chance to challenge yourself, improve your health and look and feel better. Taking this approach makes it less likely you’ll reward yourself by eating the wrong foods. Set small goals, add variety to your fitness routine and give yourself adequate rest and recovery time. Think about all the positive things exercise does for you and remind yourself of these things before beginning a workout. Your attitude towards exercise is a big factor in how hard you push yourself, how consistent you are with your routines and, ultimately, the results you get. Think positive and keep it fun!
Is it fun or exercise? The framing of physical activity biases subsequent snacking. Marketing Letters, 2014; DOI: 10.1007/s11002-014-9301-6.
The Effects of Music on Exercise? Len Kravitz, Ph.D.