We’re al­ways try­ing to out­run our bad food choices

Good Health (Australia) - - Be Energized -

Is there any­thing bet­ter than box­ing your stress away, run­ning in the great out­doors or hik­ing up a moun­tain? For some of us, the an­swer is yes – any­thing’s prefer­able to that. Some of us view ex­er­cise as a chore but does this per­cep­tion also im­pact our con­sump­tion of cake? Ac­cord­ing to sci­ence it might. A 2014 study, ‘Is it fun or ex­er­cise?’ ex­plored the link be­tween ex­er­cise per­cep­tion and sub­se­quent snack­ing. In the ex­per­i­ment, par­tic­i­pants were of­fered a de­li­cious dessert post-walk. Those who walked for ex­er­cise, and not fun, in­dulged in more cake than those who walked for plea­sure. “It’s quite com­mon for peo­ple to ex­er­cise to ‘burn off’ what they’ve eaten,” says di­eti­cian Natasha Mur­ray. “I’ve heard a lot of wa­ter-cooler talk about the time needed in an ac­tiv­ity to coun­ter­act the kilo­joules con­sumed in a treat.” Natasha notes that the prob­lem with this is that it cre­ates a per­pet­ual cy­cle. We’re al­ways try­ing to out­run our bad food choices. But, when we do phys­i­cally run, we re­ward our­selves with food for our ef­forts. The higher we per­ceive our ef­forts, the big­ger the re­ward. A sin­gle serve of choco­late just doesn’t hit the spot, so we scoff the whole bar. “The risk of this is that we can end up eat­ing just for the sake of eat­ing and, when that eat­ing is un­healthy, it can neg­a­tively im­pact our health,” ex­plains Natasha.

Plea­sure and guilt

Psy­chol­o­gist and per­sonal trainer, Leanne Hall echoes this. She knows how a neg­a­tive per­cep­tion and ex­pe­ri­ence of ex­er­cise can sab­o­tage health goals, and how food re­wards can quickly lead to an un­healthy ‘ad­dic­tion’. “High sugar and fatty foods light up the plea­sure cen­tre of our brains,” she says. “This dopamine ‘hit’ teaches us that the only way to feel ‘good’ is to eat un­healthy foods, as op­posed to other strate­gies such as go­ing for a walk, med­i­ta­tion or talk­ing to a friend.”

Many of us re­late to this. How­ever, the good news is that, with some con­scious ef­fort, it’s pos­si­ble to change a neg­a­tive per­cep­tion of ex­er­cise. But, like hav­ing only one bite of that choco­late bar, that’s eas­ier said than done. So, what ap­proach does Leanne sug­gest? “To change your per­cep­tions of fit­ness, it’s im­por­tant that you’re kind to your­self and set re­al­is­tic and achiev­able fit­ness goals,” she ad­vises. “Set­ting the bar high and fall­ing quickly won’t con­vince you it’s fun. “De­pend­ing on your fit­ness level and abil­ity just aim to move for 20 min­utes a day,” she says. “Start small so you can feel a sense of achieve­ment and re­mem­ber ev­ery­one pro­gresses at dif­fer­ent rates. Stay fo­cused on your in­di­vid­ual goals and don’t com­pare your­self to oth­ers.”

Strat­egy for suc­cess

Leanne says that the best way to start is to find an ex­er­cise you’ll en­joy or look for some­thing you can do with friends. “This has mul­ti­ple ben­e­fits be­cause you’re more likely to have fun, eas­ily in­te­grate it as part of your life­style and set your­self up for suc­cess by build­ing in mo­ti­va­tional strate­gies,” she ad­vises. How­ever, as with any­thing, suc­cess doesn’t hap­pen overnight. Don’t ex­pect to fall in love with work­ing out im­me­di­ately. Like­wise, don’t ex­pect to en­joy the first thing you try. An un­co­or­di­nated at­tempt at aer­o­bics may not get your heart and pas­sion pump­ing. Sim­i­larly, your love af­fair with a spin bike may go nowhere fast. So, be con­scious to give things time. “It takes sev­eral weeks to cre­ate a habit and rou­tine,” ad­vises Leanne. “Com­mit to an ex­er­cise for four to six weeks and if you still don’t en­joy it, con­sider try­ing some­thing else. “In that time, avoid be­ing locked in to any con­tracts. That way you can change your mind and won’t be tied to some­thing you dis­like and don’t do.”

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