While it’s true that exercising can seem to increase your appetite, recent studies seem to show that it may not be the culprit for your overeating. After a workout, it can definitely feel like you're hungrier than usual. But it turns out that exercise is more likely to help you to stop overeating rather than cause it.
The studies between exercise and overeating
In one study, a group of healthy young women were divided in half. One half created a calorie deficit by eating less, the other group created a calorie deficit by working out1. After nine hours, they found that:
• The women who restricted their food had increased amounts of the hunger hormone ghrelin, which causes you to eat more, and less of the appetite-suppressing hormone peptide YY2.
• At a buffet meal at the end of the day, the low-calorie women ate an average of 944 calories compared to the exercise group who ate 660 calories3. Another study done at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo had participants spend an hour either exercising vigorously or sitting quietly. After the hour, MRI scans measured participants’ brain responses to images of food. Here’s what they discovered:
• In participants who sat for an hour, the food-reward part of the brain lit up when viewing images of food – especially the high-fat and sugary foods4.
• Among participants who exercised for an hour, their brains showed far less activity or interest in images of any kind of food5.
A third study measured the weight loss among obese participants who completed five workouts a week, each designed to burn 500 calories. After 12 weeks, results showed:
• 59% of participants lost an average of 11 pounds6.
• Those participants’ brains showed decreased activity in the food-reward part of the brain after working out7.
What this means for you
The research is still new and scientists are working to understand it better. But there are a few fairly universal truths we can take away and apply to our own lives:
• Depriving yourself of food (and calories) for too long eventually leads to overeating. Your response should be to fuel your body with healthy foods and plenty of protein to combat hunger pangs.
• Exercise will have an impact on your appetite, but the kind of impact will depend on what sort of exercise you do. Working out for an hour is more likely to help suppress your appetite and reduce your chances of overeating.
• Don’t use food as a reward for working out. This only builds a habit of allowing yourself to indulge after exercising, which makes it far too easy to quickly consume the 500 calories you just worked off.
• Diet alone or exercise alone will never be as successful as combining the two. Researchers divided a group of women into 3 groups and followed them for a year. One group dieted, one group exercised, and the third group did both. The diet group lost 15 pounds, the exercise group lost 4 pounds, and the diet and exercise group lost 20 pounds8. Overeating after a workout is not something to fear. Teach yourself good eating habits and get on a good workout routine. The potential benefits of this new healthy lifestyle far outweigh any of the potential “negatives.”
1. Nawal Alajmi, Kevin Deighton, James A. King, Alvaro Reischak-Oliveira, Lucy K. Wasse, Jenny Jones, Rachel L. Batterham, David J. Sensel. (March 2016). Appetite and Energy Intake Responses to Acute Energy Deficits in Females versus Males. http://journals.lww.com
2. Jenna Birch. (April 14, 2016). Exercise Isn’t Make You Overeat, Science Says. https://www.yahoo.com
3. Jenna Birch. (April 14, 2016). Exercise Isn’t Make You Overeat, Science Says. https://www.yahoo.com
4. Gretchen Reynolds. (April 16, 2012). Does Exercise Make You Overeat? http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/
5. Gretchen Reynolds. (April 16, 2012). Does Exercise Make You Overeat? http://well.blogs.nytimes.com
6. Shawn Radcliffe. (n.d.) Does Exercise Make You Overeat? http://www.mensfitness.com
7. Shawn Radcliffe. (n.d.) Does Exercise Make You Overeat? http://www.mensfitness.com
8. Ashley Oerman. (November 18, 2014). Can Exercise Make You GAIN Weight? http://www.womenshealthmag.com