To Eat Less Later, Think “Fun” When Exercising

By Sandy Todd Webster
Sep 16, 2014

If clients could meaningfully impact ingrained eating behavior by subtly fine-tuning their thinking patterns about exercise, would you try to help them do that? Consider these new findings from the Cornell Food and Brand Lab as an opportunity to move people in the right direction.

Research published recently in Marketing Letters showed that if participants thought of exercise as “fun” or a “well-deserved break,” versus a “workout,” it significantly changed the way they approached postactivity food consumption. Those with fun top of mind ate less than those who viewed exercise as a workout.

In the first study, adults were led on a 2-kilometer walk around a small lake; some understood they were taking an exercise walk, while others were told it was a scenic walk. Fifty-six adults completed their walk and were then given lunch. Those who believed they had been on an exercise walk served and ate 35% more chocolate pudding for dessert than those who believed they had been on a scenic walk.

In the second study, 46 adults were given midafternoon snacks after their walk. Those thinking they had taken an exercise walk ate over twice as many M&Ms (124% more, or 206 more calories’ worth) compared with those who had been told they were on a scenic walk. “Viewing their walk as exercise led them to be less happy and more fatigued,” said lead author Carolina Werle, PhD, professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management in France.

Together, these studies point to one reason why people in exercise programs often find themselves gaining weight. According to Werle, the notion is that some exercisers have a tendency to reward themselves by overeating after a workout.

For beginning or veteran exercisers, the bottom line is this: “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,” said Brian Wansink, PhD, coauthor and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. “Anything that brings a smile is likely to get you to eat less,” he added.

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Sandy Todd Webster

Sandy Todd Webster is the editor in chief of IDEA’s award-winning publications. She is Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified and is a Rouxbe Certified Plant-Based Professional cook.

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