Each afternoon, do you find yourself sitting at your desk, daydreaming about something sweet, gooey and chocolaty? Try taking a brisk walk around lunchtime—and I don’t mean in the direction of your coworker who keeps candy on her desk! New research has proven scientifically that a short bout of moderate exercise may prevent you from craving chocolate in the first place. This particular study was based in a simulated workplace environment, but I suspect that its findings may hold true anywhere.
The study, done at the University of Exeter in the UK and published in Appetite in January 2012, was designed to see whether exercise affects this particular high-calorie snack habit that is the downfall of many an office worker’s efforts to eat right and stay trim. The lead researcher was Adrian Taylor, PhD, professor and director of research for the department of sport and health sciences at Exeter.
To keep the 78 male and female subjects, average age 26, from knowing what was being studied, researchers told them that the research was about how exercise affects cognitive function. First, some participants spent 15 minutes resting while the others walked briskly on a treadmill for the same period of time. Then, for five minutes, each participant sat quietly at a desk in a mock-up office. The researchers had placed a bowl of unwrapped chocolate candy (milk chocolate “buttons” and milk chocolate-covered malted milk balls) on the desk. After the five-minute break, each participant was asked to execute a series of tasks at the desk that took 15 minutes—either easy tasks or challenging ones. The easy tasks were only a little stressful, while the challenging tasks were intended to be very stressful. While performing a task, the participant was “allowed” to dip into the candy bowl as much as he or she liked. The contents of the bowls of candy were weighed before and after the tests were taken.
The results: It turned out that those who had exercised ate, on average, about half as much as those who had relaxed (15 grams, the equivalent of a small, “fun-size” chocolate bar, vs. 28 grams). And it made no difference which task (easy or stressful) was being performed—the only thing that made a difference was the 15 minutes of exercise.
WHY EXERCISE CUTS CRAVINGS
So what explains the results? Researchers don’t know for sure, but it’s possibly hormonal, said Dr. Taylor. Exercise produces endorphins which are associated with feeling good. In other words, exercise makes you feel less hungry and more emotionally satisfied, making you less likely to eat more of something sweet.
Dr. Taylor told me that while this study looked only at how 15 minutes of brisk walking affected chocolate consumption shortly afterward, he thinks that any brief bout of any type of moderate exercise may reduce cravings for a sugar fix. Now, of course, you can’t just go for a walk every single time you get a craving…but if you notice that your cravings tend to happen around a certain time each day, you can plan to scoot out for a 15-minute errand before the craving hits. After you break a sweat, you may not even want the chocolate anymore.