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Exercise Reduces Cravings For Sugar?



sharma-obesity-exercise2I have long postulated that the benefits of exercise in weight management have little to do with burning calories. Rather, I am pretty sure that when people lose weight with exercise, they do so because of the impact that exercise may have on their food intake (I call it exercising to ruin your appetite!).

Thus, I am happy to acknowledge my affirmation bias in paosting about the recent study by Larissa Ledochowski and colleagues from the University of Innsbruck, Austria, published in PLOS One on the outcome of a randomised controlled trial of brisk walking on cravings for sugary snacks.

The study was conducted in 47 overweight volunteers who reported habitually consuming a fair share of sugary snacks. Following 3 days of “chocolate abstinence” subjects were randomised (using a within-subject design) to a 15-min brisk walk or passive control.

On each occasion, subjects were then stressed using the Stroop color–word interference task after which they reported their urges for sugary snacks using the State Food Craving Questionnaire [FCQ-S] adapted for sugary snacks.

Compared to the control situation, brisk walking resulted in a significant and relevant reduction in the urge for sugary snacks and attenuated the increase in sugar-cravings under trigger conditions (stress).

Although the authors are careful about not over-interpreting their findings from this acute study (that did not actually measure sugary-snack intake), they do make the following speculation regarding clinical relevance,

“This study adds to the increasing evidence that physical activity can somehow help to regulate the urge to consume snack food. It may be easy for overweight people to fit in short bouts of low-moderate intensity physical activity, instead of being sedentary, to elevate affective activation and valence and reduce high energy food cravings which may be triggered by stress and the presence of snack foods.”

While I am certain that more intense exercise may well trigger a hunger response, it appears that even a short bout of brisk walking may help dispel those cravings for sugary snacks (let me know if you have experienced this).

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB

2 Comments

  1. Once again, researchers needlessly pick on fat people:

    “It may be easy for overweight people to fit in short bouts of low-moderate intensity physical activity, instead of being sedentary, to elevate affective activation and valence and reduce high energy food cravings . . .”

    Sugar is BAD for everyone, regardless of weight. Exercise is GOOD for everyone, regardless of weight. So why do they recommend that only “overweight people” fit in short bouts of exercise? Because they are operating from the mythology that weight loss is the goal, not weight management or health improvement. Moreover, thin people are assumed healthy, even if they don’t exercise and eat tons of sugar, because their size magically makes them healthy. This is dangerous mythology for all concerned.

    To fix the above sentence, one need only drop the word “overweight.”

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  2. I have experienced this effect, so I think its true. I’d add that the effect is temporary i.e. a couple of hours at most, (but that may be all you need) and you need to walk before the craving starts, i.e. plan ahead for your most vulnerable times, like 2:00 PM for me. Once you are already craving candy, nothing seems to help.

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