When you think about some of your favorite comfort foods, what comes to mind? Do you love fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, pound cake, doughnuts, cheeseburgers, or anything smothered in gravy? Hey, who doesn't like to indulge in something decadent every now and then?
As you already know, these are the kinds of foods that can completely wreck your diet and have you tipping the scales faster than you can say, "Can I get fries with that?" Well, there is some good news that you probably didn't realize was a secret weapon in resisting the urge to splurge. Exercise actually reduces cravings for fatty foods!
In a Harvard Medical School study conducted by William Killgore, Ph.D., he compared the level of reaction in the brain that sedentary and active exercisers had to high calorie meals. Killgore concluded that regular exercise actually changes the way that the brain reacts to certain foods. He offers two explanations for how this happens. One is that exercise makes the body more sensitive to leptin. Derived from the Greek word leptos, which means "thin," leptin is also referred to as the "satiety hormone." This protein is found in fat cells whose function is to control your appetite. Leptin regulates the amount of fat stored in your cells by sending signals to the brain which indicate that you are full.
The second effect that exercise has on your cravings is more psychological. Many of us eat for comfort when we are anxious, sad, or even angry. There is also a link between what we eat when we are with family and friends as food can become a social experience where we find ourselves engaging in a lot of mindless eating. Exercise allows the body to release "feel good" hormones like endorphins and serotonin. The more that we feel good naturally, the less likely we are to reach for sugary or fatty snacks to lift our moods.
So the next time you find yourself ready to partake in a delectable edible, hit the gym instead. If you still want to indulge after that, at least you have created a calorie deficit first!