Exercise makes it easier to maintain a healthy diet, doesn’t cause increased appetite

PHILADELPHIA — Weight loss diets are rarely easy. In pursuit of the perfect beach body, or perhaps just a few less pounds, dieters do their best to stay away from sweets, treats, fried foods, and carbs. Exercise is, of course, another integral aspect of getting in shape, but the debate surrounding exercise’s influence on dietary habits has raged on for quite some time. Some believe working out leads to an increased appetite, while others say it helps regulate appetite and reduces overeating. In a win for exercise enthusiasts the world over, a new study finds that physical activity helps dieters stick to their rigorous meal plans.

Researchers from Drexel University tracked a group of people participating in a weight-loss program, and exercise proved to be a “protective factor” that enabled the dieters to persevere through their reduced-calorie regiment and avoid overeating.

“Almost all behavioral weight loss programs prescribe exercise because of its health benefits and because it expends energy or ‘burns calories,’” comments lead author Rebecca Crochiere, a graduate student in the College of Arts and Sciences, in a release. “Interestingly, our study suggests that exercise may also aid in adhering to a reduced-calorie diet, perhaps through improved regulation of appetite or eating behavior. It adds another reason to engage in exercise if one is seeking weight loss.”

When study participants didn’t exercise on a particular day, they had a 12% risk of overeating over the following hours. However, when they engaged in at least one hour of exercise, that risk percentage dropped by more than half to just 5%. For every additional 10 minutes of exercise, that risk percentage decreased by another 1%.

In total, 130 dieters took part in the research. Their eating and activity habits were tracked via a number of methods, such as surveys and hip-attached exercise trackers.

“These findings can help researchers to better understand when participants who are seeking weight loss are at risk of overeating,” Crochiere adds. “It can inform the development of treatments that prevent overeating and facilitate weight loss.”

Researchers noted that the study’s results suggest exercise may have more a prominent influence on eating habits depending on the intensity of the workout. Light exercise actually displayed the strongest protective effects against eating too much.

In the future, the study’s authors would like to investigate if exercise’s influence on eating patterns fluctuates from individual to individual.

The study is published in Health Psychology.