Abs are made in the kitchen, but exercise might help you avoid the kitchen altogether.
At least according to small study conducted by researchers at Loughborough University in Britain. For the study, researchers recruited 16 fit men and separated them into two groups: one that completed intense bouts of exercise (until they burned 600 calories) and one that completed longer workouts (one for 45 minutes and one for 90 minutes). Afterward, they asked the men how hungry they were, plus gave them a blood test to measure their hunger hormone, ghrelin.
The results reveal that exercise does have an impact on appetite and hunger hormones in men , but only if the workouts are intense or long.
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Of course, this was a small study of men only — another study found that hunger actually spikes when women run, so walking is a better choice for ladies looking to keep their appetites in control while still getting some exercise.
So, the question remains: diet vs exercise, which should be your priority when trying to lose weight?
For weight loss, it’s calories in vs. calories out
In very simple terms, when you eat more calories than you burn in a day, you gain weight. Of course, it’s not always that simple since our genetics, hormones and environmental factors do play a role, but if you consistently burn more calories than you eat (within reason), you will lose weight.
Exercise is a good tool for overall health, but we’re notorious for overestimating how many calories we burn during a workout — and activity trackers and calorie counters on machines are often wildly inaccurate.
“It’s estimated that 80–90 percent of weight loss is rooted in our dietary choices,” Frank Lipman, M.D., wrote in an essay for Well + Good. “The type of nutrition you’re consuming makes a difference. No matter how much you’re burning off in boot camp, what you’re eating will affect the way your body either loses or retains weight.”
So, a calorie is a calorie, but the food containing these calories will have an impact on how soon you’re hungry again — which is why you’ll hear so many people argue that a calorie from one food is different from a calorie from another.
“All calories are not created equal, after all,” wrote Dr. Lipman. “Eating the same amount of broccoli compared to cookies, for instance, is going to have a vastly different effect on your metabolism. With broccoli, you’re getting a nutrient-dense food (and lots of fiber, one of the keys to gut health), while cookies have very few of the vitamins and minerals your body craves. They will, however, give you a sugar high, followed by a crash—and you’ll be ravenous again in no time.”
And keeping a high-stress lifestyle can have an impact on your weight — not directly, but in influencing how hungry you are during the day.
“Despite great efforts in the kitchen, you can derail your weight loss simply by leading a high-anxiety lifestyle—which can result in inflammation, higher cravings for sugar (and potentially a blood sugar imbalance), and sluggish digestion,” said Dr. Lipman.
Can exercise help you lose weight?
Exercise can increase the number of calories you burn a day, so as long as you don’t eat the calories back you’ll, in theory, lose weight. However, it shouldn’t be your first weapon in the fight against body fat.
“There are so many other reasons, irrespective of the effects on appetite, why exercise benefits health,” study lead David Stensel, a professor of exercise metabolism at Loughborough University, told The New York Times.
Both resistance training and aerobic workouts are shown to help decrease risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes — and regular resistance training helps the body build muscle mass that both improves body composition and impacts metabolism.
How much exercise you need is constantly up for debate, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommend at least 2.5 hours a week of aerobic activity, or 1.25 hours of strenuous exercise (running, swimming).
And, as the Loughborough University study shows, exercise may help keep hunger at bay for awhile, but you still have to pay attention to what you eat.
“There’s an ideal way of eating for everyone,” Dr. Lipman wrote, adding that he recommends the Paleo diet, but that it might not be the best choice for everyone.
“It’s up to you to try some [different diet] techniques and fine-tune your food choices,” he added. “I promise that the effort is well worth it — getting to know how your body reacts to different foods and stressors is crucial to keeping it healthy.”