Unwelcome Dieting News: Forcing Yourself to Exercise Will Make You Reach for More Dessert

Photograph by Terry J. Alcorn

Exercise and eat right, we get it. The two go together for anyone looking to get fit and lose weight. But now comes this news: Dutifully forcing yourself to go to that spin class after work might actually interfere with your resolution to lay off the junk food. A study by the Cornell Food and Brand Lab (PDF) found that people who were active for the sake of exercise consumed more desserts and snacks than those who were active for fun.

In the first study testing dessert consumption, 56 adults were led on a 2-kilometer walk around a small lake and then ate lunch. Those who were told they were on an “exercise walk” ate 35 percent more chocolate pudding than those who were told they were on a “scenic walk.”

Next, to test snack consumption, 46 adults were allowed to scoop their own servings of M&Ms into plastic bags after the 2km walk. Those who believed they had exercised took more than twice as many calories (about 206 more) in M&Ms than those who had been told they were on a scenic walk.

In the last study, 231 people chose either a chocolate bar or cereal bar after a run, and were asked how much fun they had had on their run. “Participants who had more fun during the race were more inclined to choose the cereal bar than participants who had less fun,” the researchers found.

For fitness businesses, the results suggest that helping members enjoy their workout routines could encourage food choices that help them meet their fitness goals, which is good for customer satisfaction, if not the gym’s snack bar sales. Moral of the story: Next time you force yourself to go to spin class, also force yourself to believe you’re just thrilled about it.

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