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How Exercise Helps with Cravings

If you've ever tried to lose weight you know how important nutrition is in terms of the result achieved.

Part of the challenge is that nutrition may be confusing for many. 

How many calories should you eat? Should you go keto? Or low-fat? Will intermittent fasting help? 

And if all the different approaches aren't confusing enough, add to that the challenge of trying to say no to certain foods and drink. 

Sure there can, and should, be a place for pizza, ice cream or a glass of wine in your plan. But for many the problem isn't that they eat a small serving of these treats once in a while but that they happen too frequently and the portions are too much.

New research gives us some hope as to how exercise can help with cravings, and therefore, achieving a weight loss goal.

The study included 28 rats that were exposed to a light signal and tone when they pressed a lever. The was associated with the dispensing of a high-fat food pellet. So the rats learned that pressing a lever resulted in a visual and auditory cue, followed by food.

The rats were then divided into two groups. One group did high intensity exercise for 30 days and the other group did no exercise. During these 30 days both groups were denied high-fat food pellets.

In terms of the exercise, the rats did this on a treadmill with gradual increments in intensity. At the start of the 30 days of exercise the rats ran on the wheel at 0.5 miles per hour. But day 22 they were at 1.7 mph, and stayed at this speed for the balance of the experiment. Sample workouts included 2x15 minutes (earlier on in the experiment and at lower speed) and 8x2.5 minutes (later in the experiment and at higher speed).

After the 30 days, the rats that had performed the exercise were able to resist the cues for the high-fat food pellet. The rats that did not exercise did not demonstrate this same restraint for food. 

The researchers alluded that exercise helps with the 'incubation of craving'.  They coined this term to describe the fact that the longer something is denied the harder it is to ignore the signal for it. 

Unless you exercise.

Exercise appears to store up restraint and ultimately our success, for weight loss, it tied to will power. 

So it seems that not only is exercise good for weight loss, due to the caloric deficit created, it also help us gain control over our cravings. And for many getting in a workout is less of a challenge compared to saying no to a treat or snack.

A few other comments about this study:

* The subjects were rats. Would a different outcome may be observed with humans?

* The experiment lasted 30 days. Would a similar outcome be seen at 60 days? 1 year?

* The food pellet was high-fat. Would the results differ if the pellet was high-carb?

In any event this is an interesting study and applies to the goals sought by many to lose weight and be healthier. Keep in mind, that the complete restriction of a food doesn't work for everyone. A better approach may be limit the frequency and amount of our treats. And when cravings are ramping up, we can always try to get in a training session. 


Kirkpatrick, G. E., Dingess, P. M., Aadland, J. A., & Brown, T. E. (2022). Acute high‐intensity interval exercise attenuates incubation of craving for foods high in fat. Obesity

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Friday, 01 December 2023