“I gutted it out on my run today; I deserve this extra scoop of chocolate fudge brownie ice cream.” Sound familiar? Using exercise as a license to indulge — or to eat with abandon — is very common. And, yes — I do it too, sometimes.
After a hard, sweaty workout, it feels natural to reach for a treat — or, as researchers call them, “hedonic snacks.” We want to reward ourselves for big efforts, whether it’s cracking open a cold beer or enjoying some chocolate-y goodness. We’ve earned it, right?
Maybe… I mean, all work and no play is no way to live. But if your goal is weight loss or maintenance, excessive post-exercise snacking — or choosing less nutritious snacks — could frustrate your efforts. A trio of recent studies sheds light on how to turn things around.
- Subjects were told to complete a 1-mile walk; for fun, or to listen to music and rate the quality of it along the way. Those who completed the walk framed as “fun” ate less dessert than the other subjects.
- Researchers sent another group of subjects out on a walk, described as sightseeing to one group, or with a task to complete. As a reward, they were given small bags to fill with as many M&Ms as they wanted. Guess who took more candy? The subjects whose walk was framed as a task.
- Finally, runners completing a marathon relay were asked to rate their levels of enjoyment during the race. Those who had more fun chose a healthier post-race snack compared to those who rated the race as unpleasant.
Researchers concluded that when we think of exercise as… exercise instead of something fun, we tend to feel a need to reward ourselves with a pleasurable snack. But if we actually enjoy being active, we’re far less inclined to reach for the treats — or we eat less of them.
You already know that simply getting to do your favorite things is rewarding. That’s the key — finding a handful of sports or fitness activities that are just plain fun for you. Here’s a short list of my summer faves:
- Day hiking. Nothing beats getting out into the mountains, soaking up the glorious greens and blues, and climbing past waterfalls, alpine meadows, and other soul-stirring scenery.
- Kayaking. Paddling along just on top of the water makes me feel like a low-flying bird.
- Water activities. Indoors or outdoors, getting wet brings out the kid in me — even during a hard-core lap-swim.
- Dancing. Whether I’m busting a move to Beyoncé in my kitchen, or doing the foxtrot with my husband, getting my groove on NEVER feels like exercise to me.
- Trail walking. My family loves to go down to the local trail for leisurely after-dinner walks. Hanging out together in a natural setting, visiting, and spotting blue herons and bald eagles is a fun way to enjoy beautiful summer evenings.
What types of sports or fitness activities you enjoy most, and what do you love about them? We’d love to hear from you.
Beth Shepard, MS, ACSM-RCEP, ACE-PT, has a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Arizona. Beth is an expert in fitness and health promotion and a certified wellness coach, helping people thrive by adopting sustainable lifestyle changes. She and her family love to hike, bicycle, and try new sports.