Science Finds Exercise Can Positively Change Your Relationship With Food


The relationship you have to food is an extremely personal one. How you feel about food and the way you nourish your body is different for every individual. As is exercise.

A new study out of the University of Leeds in England looks at the connection between exercise and food. Researchers found that when beginners take up exercise, it can change the way they feel about food, as reported the The New York Times.

The research, which was published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, asked a group of 61 people (a mix of men and women) who lived sedentary lifestyles about their feelings towards food.

Most of the participants were middle-aged and all were either considered overweight or obese. To begin, the researches gave the group detailed questionnaires and tests to fill out. These detailed food preferences and behaviours and questions about bingeing and overeating.

The participants were then split into two groups. 15 people were used as a control group and asked to continue with their normal lives, while the other 46 started an exercise regime.

The regime included working out five days a week for 12 weeks at the university gym facilities.Each session had to last for roughly 45 to 60 minutes, or until 500 calories had been burned. While researchers controlled the group’s exercise, the participants could still eat whatever they wanted at home.

After the 12 weeks, all 61 study volunteers were asked to return in order to repeat their original tests. Everyone was also asked to weigh-in, with most of the exercise group losing a bit of weight. Some of those in the control group had gained weight.

For the 46 participants who engaged in exercise, researchers found that their thoughts around food had changed. Their reactions to fatty foods were different and these foods no longer seemed as inviting.

According to the researchers, those in the exercise group found “reduced wanting scores for high-fat foods and trait markers of overeating in individuals with overweight/obesity compared to non-exercising Controls.”

Meanwhile, the 15 control group members showed minimal change in their feelings about food. What is interesting is that while the exercise group still used high ratings on their “liking” of high-calorie foods, they didn’t have the same need to seek this food out.

Kristine Beaulieu, a dietitian who led the study, highlighted the link between movement and fewer instances of binge eating.

“Exercise might improve food reward and eating behavior traits linked to the susceptibility to overconsume,” she said.

While the results of this study are fascinating, it also has its limitations. The food consumed by the exercise group at home wasn’t monitored, so certain participants could have changed their eating habits without the knowledge of researchers. If this did happen, the change could affect the study outcomes.

Another point of interest was the way certain people displayed way more disinterest towards fatty food than others, which can’t really be explained. As The New York Times noted, it could come down to genetics, lifestyle or many other factors.

Despite the need for more research in this area, these results are still something to celebrate.

“People still liked high-fat foods to the same extent, but they wanted to eat them less, which we view as a favorable outcome,” said Dr Beaulieu.

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