I confess that I keep little chocolates in my desk drawer at work. Each piece has fewer than 45 calories…but when cravings surge, who can eat just one? Doing the math, I’m forced to acknowledge that nibbling on four miniature chocolates (1.2 ounces in total) per workday could translate over the course of a year to about 12 extra pounds of body weight! I’m not going to let that happen, of course. So I was happy to read about a simple step for cutting back on consumption of this all-too-enticing candy—by just taking a short walk. Sounds wacky, but it works. The tip comes from chocolate researcher Adrian Taylor, PhD, professor of exercise and health psychology at the University of Exeter in England. The skinny on Dr. Taylor’s new study…
Participants included 45 women and 33 men who habitually ate at least 3.5 ounces of chocolate daily and reported frequent chocolate cravings. They did not know that the study was about chocolate—instead, they were told that the focus was on how exercise affects thinking. The participants were randomly divided into four groups. Those in groups one and two walked briskly on a treadmill for 15 minutes. Then, for 15 minutes, they worked at a computer (in a setup similar to what you’d find in an office), with group one performing an easy task…and group two performing a difficult task. Groups three and four rested for 15 minutes instead of exercising, then worked on either the easy task or the challenging task. Key element: Each participant had a bowlful of small chocolate candies next to his or her computer and was “casually” invited to have some. Afterward, researchers weighed the bowls to see how much chocolate each person had eaten.
Results: Among participants who rested before their task, the average amount of chocolate consumed during the 15-minute work period was 28 grams (about one ounce)…whereas participants who walked before working ate only 15 grams, on average, or nearly 50% less. Surprisingly, the ease or difficulty of their task did not significantly alter how much chocolate the participants ate.
Dr. Taylor’s earlier research showed that exercise dampens chocolate cravings. But this is the first study to show that simply walking reduces the amount of the treat people actually eat—perhaps because exercise releases endorphins that leave you feeling more content and less in need of comfort food.
Bottom line: Up to 97% of women (and 68% of men) get food cravings, most commonly for chocolate. So unless you’re part of the 3% who are immune, try taking a quick walk before settling down to work—it could help keep chocolate cravings and consumption under control. How briskly should you move? Dr. Taylor suggested walking at a pace you might use if you were late for an appointment but not so fast as to leave you breathless.