Thinking About Excercise Makes Me Hungry: Physical Activity and Calorie Consumption
Werle, Carolina O., Brian Wansink and Collin R. Payne (2011), “Just Thinking About Food Makes Me Serve More Food: Physical Activity and Calorie Compensation,” Appetite, 56:2 (April), 332-335
24 Pages Posted: 13 Jan 2016
Date Written: September 21, 2009
Exercising regularly and adopting a balanced diet are the basis of most obesity prevention campaigns and are largely recommended by doctors, nutritionists, and public health agencies (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2008). The solution appears clear and simple, why is it so hard to adopt these two activities? One reason may be because the two work counter to each other.
Both exercise and dieting demand a high degree of effort from most people, and especially from those with habits diametrically opposed to these recommendations, as is the case for most obese people. Furthermore, people may compensate the anticipated energy expenditure due to exercising by increasing their energy intake, adopting a compensation mechanism based on the lay beliefs such as ‘food is a reward for exercising’ and ‘exercising increases appetite’ (King 1999). This raises the question, how does light exercise influences subsequent food intake?
The basic idea behind physical compensation has preliminary evidence supporting it (King and Blundell 1997; Martins et al. 2007). What is less well understood is the psychological dimension of compensation. Although these studies manipulate exercise or physical activity, what they do not manipulate is the perception of exercise – holding the actual level of exercise constant. If a person perceived an upcoming two kilometer walk as onerous exercise would that anticipation make them hungrier than if they were anticipating it more positively – say as scenic walk or as a chance to enjoy fresh air?
This research investigates whether the way in which physical activity is anticipatorily framed in a person’s mind – as exercise or as fun – alters how much food they snack upon. In the context of food, these results here indicate simply the anticipation of exercise leads people to snack more than if they instead frame the same amount of physical activity (walking two kilometers) as a scenic walk. This research offers both conceptual and empirical contributions. Conceptually, it sharpens our understanding of compensation. Empirically, it sharpens the evidence surrounding psychological-dimension of compensation, separating it from the potentially confounding physiological-dimension. It shows that psychological framing can lead a person to overeat – even in the absence of actual exercise.
After describing past research in compensation, an experiment is described which investigates how framing an anticipated physical activity (a two kilometer walk) as either exercise or as a sight-seeing walk influences what and how much snacks a person eats. The implications of these findings are conceptually relevant to researchers and practically relevant to dieters and health professionals.
Keywords: energy intake, food balance, exercise, obesity, food selection, mindless eating
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