Ithaca, NY — Data from a trio of studies indicate that when physical exertion is seen as exercise rather than fun, individuals are likely to select a decadent snack rather than a healthy one.
Conversely, when participants are distracted when exercising — by music or by believing that they are on a tour, for example — they not only eat less afterward, but they also are less likely to reach for high-calorie foods. In addition, they found their activity more exciting than the exercise group, and their perceptions were unaltered by the amount of calories burned or amount of effort expended.
Results from experiments conducted at Cornell University and New Mexico State University and an observational field study from Grenoble Ecole de Management correlate the finding that the desire for a hedonic reward — whether dessert at mealtime or a snack — is activated when physical effort is presented as work or exercise.
Further, the effect carried over into undisguised exercise situations: When runners perceived a race as enjoyable, they were more inclined to reach for a cereal bar than those who saw it as a workout. The authors of all three studies suggest health care practitioners and fitness centers not only advise clients to engage in enjoyable physical activity, but also warn them about compensating for exercise with food rewards.