Researchers from the Center for Weight, Eating, and Lifestyle Science in the College of Arts and Sciences at Drexel University found that participants in a weight-loss program who exercised regularly had a lower risk of consuming an excessive amount of calories.
“Almost all behavioral weight loss programs prescribe exercise because of its health benefits and because it expends energy or ‘burns calories,’” Rebecca Crochiere, a graduate student in the College of Arts and Sciences and head author of the study, explained. “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.”
Data was collected from 130 adults who were either overweight or obese, using methods such as surveys that measured overeating. Fitness trackers were given to participants to monitor exercise.
The participants engaged in a fitness regimen for one year, which consisted of 250 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a week. Each participant was assigned a daily calorie limit, based on their BMI.
The study found that exercise was a preventive factor in overeating. Study participants who did not partake in exercise had a 12% risk of overeating in the following hours, while participants who exercised for 1 hour only had a 5% risk of overeating. And for every 10 additional minutes that the participant exercised, their risk of overeating decreased by 1% a few hours after their workout.
“These findings can help researchers to better understand when participants who are seeking weight loss are at risk of overeating,” said Crochiere. “It can inform the development of treatments that prevent overeating and facilitate weight loss.”
Surprisingly, light physical activity showed the greatest benefit against overeating, compared to moderate to vigorous physical activity. Light activity, according to the US Department of Health, includes walking at a leisurely pace, while moderate activity would be more of a brisk walk. An example of vigorous activity would be running.
Experts are still not sure if physical activity increases or decreases risk of overeating. On one hand, one might be tempted to grab a donut after an intense workout, and their justification would be “I just burned a lot of calories, I’ve earned this!” This type of reasoning can lead to gaining more weight than you’ve lost, because people often underestimate their calorie intake and overestimate their calorie loss.
On the other hand, some find that their appetite is no longer there after a particularly hard workout session. The scientific consensus is still not clear. Body type, genetics, and psychological factors may play a role in this.
But as far as weight loss goes, this study shows that light to moderate exercise in conjunction with a low-calorie diet can be a good solution.