Is Working Out Making You Overeat?

black woman with free weights
When most people finish a workout, they want a reward for all that hard work, which usually involves food. This makes sense, right? After burning a ton of calories, you’ve earned a treat, right.

Actually, wrong.

Moderate-intensity aerobic training can actually decrease your appetite, according to recent research. And when people do reward themselves with food, they tend to overdo it, increasing the calories they consume and destroying their weight loss efforts.

“Exercise can definitely suppress hunger,” says Barry Braun, PhD, director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who has co-authored multiple studies on the subject.

How, why, and for how long afterward is something researchers are still working out. They do know that workouts trigger changes in the hunger hormone, acylated ghrelin, and the satiety hormones, PYY and GLP-1—though research has yet to establish the exact relationship.

But if sweat sessions make you want to eat less, then why aren’t exercisers everywhere losing weight like crazy? “In most studies, there is a poor correspondence between appetite and actual food intake,” says Braun. In other words, just because you may not feel as hungry as normal, it doesn’t prevent you from eating too much after a workout anyway.

So what can you do to avoid post-workout binging?

1. Stop rewarding yourself with food. You don’t want to train your brain to expect a treat every time you burn some calories.

2. Keep a log. For one week, write down everything you eat. Studies show that simply logging your meals can make you eat less. And remember: That energy bar, that handful of peanuts or square of chocolate counts, too.

3. Don’t skip the gym. “Exercise gives you benefits that dieting alone cannot, such as increased fitness, decreased stress, and increased muscle mass, which helps you burn more calories and fat at rest, ” says Kym Guelfi, associate professor at The University of Western Australia, and co-author of the Metabolism study.

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