Opinion: Is exercise the enemy?


It’s easy to think you have “earnt” a sweet treat, after a hard work out. But if you are looking to lose weight, this is a false economy, says Dr Claire Badenhorst.



Dr Claire Badenhorst from the School of Sport,
Exercise and Nutrition.

By Dr Claire Badenhorst

Research has repeatedly demonstrated the benefits that regular exercise has on our health. It plays a large role in reducing the incidence and risk of lifestyle diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and other age-related ailments. We often see individuals who participate in physical activity, either structured or unstructured, in more social environments - something that is of benefit to one’s social well-being and psychological health.

For some, a New Year means a new you. While many will have adopted new exercise strategies as part of their resolutions to lose some holiday weight, exercise scientists and dietitians are often questioned about the influence exercise uptake has on your appetite - in particular, does exercise increase your appetite and therefore reduce the effectiveness of you achieving your health or weight goals?

The short answer is, exercise and appetite are not the issue, but rather food choice. It’s easy to think you have “earnt” a sweet treat, after a hard work out. But if you are looking to lose weight, this is a false economy.

Of the research that has investigated appetite and exercise, some did observe an increase in food intake following exercise, however, an overall negative energy balance was still achieved. Because the energy expenditure during exercise was greater than the increase in food intake in the period following exercise. So, this would still be beneficial for your weight loss.

If people are struggling to lose weight, it is more likely a result of their food choices. It’s easy to reach for the high kilojoule, high sugar foods after hitting the gym, but if you are looking to drop the kilos, these types of foods should be avoided -  soft drinks, chocolate, takeaway foods and alcohol - in the immediate post-exercise period and during your everyday diet. You may also need to be aware of non-hungry eating, like when you’re bored or as a form of procrastination

The selection of food or the motivation to eat is affected by previous eating behaviours, culture, social and family environment and this will all have an impact on whether the energy balance following exercise remains negative (equalling weight loss), staying equal (maintaining your weight) or positive (gaining weight).

If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s important to remember to be patient and kind to yourself - results will not happen overnight. Long-term success requires long-term solutions. Because of this I am very wary of fad diets that eliminate whole food groups. If you can barely go two days without a food group, the likelihood of you sticking to a diet that aims to eliminate something is probably not going to work!

One bad meal will not kill you, just like one good meal won’t fix things either - the most effective results are those that are long term and sustainable. 

Dr Claire Badenhorst is a lecturer in exercise and sport science, from Massey University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition.

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