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.

Fit & Fabulous Winner Jennifer Lee Gilbert: In It To Win It

Fit & Fabulous winner Jennifer Lee Gilbert

For Fit & Fabulous winner Jennifer Lee Gilbert,living healthy hasn’t been simple. It hasn’t involved that no-nonsense formula you hear over and over again of eating less and exercising more. For Jennifer, it’s involved doctor visits, multiple conditions…and maintaining an “In It To Win It” mindset.

“In November of 2011, I noticed after successfully keeping my weight off, I was picking up weight,” Jennifer said. “After a blood test, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. After consulting with an endocrinologist, I was placed on medication. I thought this was the solution to my problem. However, I noticed that my stomach was growing at an alarming rate, I looked pregnant! I had an ultrasound & learned that I had a uterus the size of woman who was 5 months pregnant due to fibroids. I had a hysterectomy & couldn’t work or exercise for 8 weeks. Finally, 5 months later, I feel normal! I still have more weight to lose, but I’m able to work out to the level I was before. I feel so much better!”

BDO had the honor of talking with Jennifer and learning more about her, her health struggles, and how she stays motivated.

BDO: What’s your health mantra? What’s something that drives you to stay healthy?

JLG: My father died at 50 from diabetes complications. I was a gestational diabetic. I’ve always been cognizant of this, and super-paranoid about all the complications from diabetes I witnessed because of him. I actually started having diabetes symptoms at 34. I remember starting an exercise program, and saying “God, I will be a health-junkie if you’ll let me not be diabetic. I’m 41 now, and not a diabetic.

BDO: Have you always tried to be healthy?

JLG: I’ve had to work at being healthy. When I started exercising, I actually hired a trainer. At this time, as I was making the commitment to be healthier, I also had a new job, and had discovered that I weighed the same amount as when I was pregnant. My next step was getting the food under control. People don’t realize, if you don’t have the food right, you won’t lose a pound. I went to this guy called the Fat Doctor – he doesn’t do anything special, but he was very effective. He was rude, very to the point, very much like a Weight Watchers coach. Now I work out like a mad woman.

BDO: What are some of your challenges to being healthier?

JLG: If I don’t eat healthy all the time, I will gain weight. I’ve lost 110 pounds. When my thyroid went out, I was like “What are you trying to say…why all these obstacles in my way? Don’t you want me to be hot?” I started bootcamp, worked out 8 to 10 times a week, and still gained weight. I realized that something wrong wrong, and told my doctor I needed a blood test. I’m was sure something is up. Turns out, I had an under-active thyroid. I saw an endocrinologist, had to take medications, needed to get blood testing. Thank goodness, it’s finally leveled off. But I have to continue watching this for the rest of my life.

BDO: What are your favorite healthy foods?

JLG: I’m not a big cook. If I was, that would help me more. One important thing for me is to always have a basic plan. For example, I have to say “I’m goingto eat eggs for breakfast, meat and veggies for lunch and dinner.” For work, I always make sure that for catered events, there are healthy options available. I also love apples! This is my favorite time of year because honey crisp apples are in season. I eat them everyday. I stick with seasonal things, such as apples and grapefruit, and peaches and grapes in summer. Fruits really drive what I’m doing.

BDO: What are some of your favorite guilty pleasure foods?

JLG: Two of the most delightful things in the world are blueberry pancakes and pizza.

BDO: How often do you work out now?

JLG: I work out 5 times a week, but two of those days are doubles.

BDO: What’s your favorite exercise?

JLG: Kickboxing!!! It makes me feel like I can beat somebody’s ass. Boxing makes me feel like I’m really tough.

BDO: What’s your least favorite exercise?

JLG: Squats…I do bunches of them ’cause I’m I’m a black woman with a big butt. But I hate ’em!

BDO: What’s a health condition that really concerns you?

JLG: Diabetes. Underactive thyroid. Those two, but especially diabetes, since, as I already mentioned, it can lead to so many other things. It’s a constant thought in my head.

BDO: What would be your message to someone reading an article about you who has yet to, or has just begun, their own healthier living journey?

JLG: If you find something you truly love, it’ll seem less like work. Find a partner to help with. When I first started training, I did it with two friends. I think that would definitely be a good movitating factor, plus, my friends were younger and smaller than me. I’m super competitive!