By Megan Reece Thomas
There is a lot of bad health-related information out there. A few examples: picking your foods based on your blood type, believing hoodia extract is a miracle weight loss drug and vitamin C cures colds. But here’s a doozy –– physical activity will make you fat.
My head just about exploded when I read the Time magazine article making this claim. You can check it out yourself at http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1914857-4,00.html.
The author (John Cloud) has no education in the health field but did some “research” on his own and now claims to know that physical activity not only doesn’t make you lose weight, but that intense activity actually makes you gain weight. For starters, he’s wrong, but you deserve some explanation as to why.
The claim here is that intensive exercise makes you so hungry that you end up overeating and then gaining weight. But Cloud’s research is weak. First, a representative from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM,) the gold standard for exercise physiology research responded to Cloud’s article. “A vast amount of research has definitively proven that exercise, when combined with a healthy diet, results in both weight loss and maintenance of a healthy weight,” this representative wrote. And she’s right. The latest research on this topic — and yes, there’s been plenty — from the journal Appetite shows that physical activity tends to have an appetite suppressing effect.
The reason for this is hormonal. Our bodies utilize many hormones that control our appetites and we tend to respond to them accordingly. After intensive exercise, polypeptide Y (a hormone that makes you feel less hungry) is increased in the blood. The direct effect is that you do not feel physically hungry for about two hours after activity. Of course, your stomach may growl after your morning gym visit, but that’s likely not due to the actual exercise, but to the fact that it’s simply time for you to eat. And research shows that you will likely eat about the same amount of food whether you’d exercised that morning or not.
Some more recent research from the Journal of Endocrinology even shows that activity can put you into negative energy balance, meaning that you have burned calories with exercise, but have little desire to add those calories back in with food intake. Of course you are going to get hungry again, but your hormones are working over time after activity, and this should be a physical reminder to not overdo your post-workout snacking.
That’s where Cloud’s article hits on some truth. A lot of people feel they should reward themselves after a long workout. That reward often constitutes food –– most often high fat food –– that can lead to weight gain. Scientific research backs this up, too. An article in the journal Physiology and Behavior suggests that people feel an emotional hedonic desire to overeat after a workout. The separation here is between emotional and physical hunger. If you always get a Starbucks muffin after your 30 minutes on the elliptical, ask yourself this; are you eating that because you’re really hungry for that much food, or because you feel you deserve it?
Physical activity is a foolproof way to stay trim, healthy and fit. Don’t let misinformation get the best of you, especially when logic screams against the claim.
Want to eat after exercise? Here are a few good choices that won’t undo your hard work:
-An apple or banana with 1 tablespoon peanut butter
-A single serving bag of microwave popcorn
-A cup of low fat yogurt with fruit or nuts
-One leftover piece of veggie pizza
-Half a peanut butter or turkey sandwich
-Celery and carrot sticks with 3 tablespoons of hummus
-A cup of vegetable or tomato soup
And remember to separate your emotional desire to eat from your physical need to eat. Definitely avoid hitting up a coffee place for a 1200 calorie refueling break. That won’t get you very far.