Reducing cravings: An added benefit of exercise

There’s no getting around the fact that exercise is a vital part of any weight-loss strategy.

But can it actually help you resist the foods that will sabotage your weight loss efforts?

This is the question that scientists recently explored. Their findings helped to clarify and expand the role that exercise has in losing weight and controlling obesity.

And make no mistake: obesity is an epidemic in this country that kills nearly three million people a year.

So, can exercise help us control cravings for the foods that could lead to our becoming part of that statistic?

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Strenuous exercise slashes cravings

A new study by researchers at Washington State University and the University of Wyoming indicates that intense exercise may help us resist cravings for high-fat and high-sugar foods.

In this experiment, 28 rats were trained to push a lever and dispense high-fat food pellets. Then the rats were split into two groups: one underwent high-intensity exercise on a treadmill, while the other had no additional exercise other than their normal activity.

Both groups were denied food pellets for thirty days. Then, when they had access to the food-dispensing lever, no pellets were dispensed.

In short, the rats who had undergone intense exercise pressed the lever significantly fewer times, indicating to the researchers that their craving had been reduced.

Past research has hypothesized that when body heat goes up, as with intense exercise, the brain is signaled that appetite should go down — since additional calories are not needed.

Of course, the present study was conducted on rats, not humans. In the future, the researchers plan to conduct additional studies with humans that look at the types of cravings that exercise may reduce, as well as what exactly is going on in the brain when the desire for certain types of food is suppressed.

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Why else is exercise good for weight loss?

Few of us are big fans of strenuous exercise, but if it can pull double duty by helping you give up cravings for foods that cause weight gain — while also helping to shed pounds — well, there’s much less to dislike about it.

In the meantime, we already know of several other ways in which exercise can play a role in weight loss…

Stress control. Even moderate physical activity is a real stress-buster. Chronic stress produces too much cortisol, which causes the deposit of fat around the abdomen. Excess cortisol also interferes with normal thyroid function and impairs production of growth hormone and testosterone, all of which add up to excess body weight.

Changes white fat to brown fat. There are two types of fat in your body, and exercise helps you rid your stockpile of white fat by browning it.

Brown fat is what your body uses to burn energy and stay warm. Brown fat helps you use up the calories you eat each day. So obviously you want more of it.

White fat, on the other hand, is the kind you don’t want more of. It’s a “stockpile,” if you will. It’s there to keep you from starving when there’s not enough food, and cushions your internal organs.

Burns calories. You’re probably most familiar with this role that exercise plays in helping you lose weight.

When you increase your physical activity, your body burns more calories. Combine this with reducing the number of calories you eat, and you have a “calorie deficit” that results in weight loss.

But where exercise is really important is in maintaining weight loss. Research shows that engaging in regular physical activity is really the only way to keep the weight off once you’ve lost it.

For all these reasons — reducing your cravings, burning calories, and keeping stress at bay — a regular exercise program is one of the most important components of wellness.

It doesn’t need to be over-the-top strenuous. In fact, exercise “snacking” can be the best way to start a lifelong habit.

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Cravings may be reduced by intense exercise, study suggests — Integrative Practitioner

Acute high-intensity interval exercise attenuates incubation of craving for foods high in fat — Obesity

Obesity — World Health Organization

Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.