Why forcing yourself to exercise makes you eat more dessert

I read an article recently that just made perfect sense to me.

“Forcing yourself to exercise will make you reach for more dessert”

I’ve always preached that exercise needs to be something you want to do. Yes, there will be days when you don’t feel like getting up early or putting in the effort, but on a general scale, exercise should be a positive experience.

It’s the same with healthy eating. If you force yourself to eat boring salads and boiled chicken every day, it’s going to be really hard to enjoy the experience. But when you take the time to cook nourishing meals that are healthy and taste good, “dieting” isn’t so hard.

So what happens when you force something? You need a positive experience afterwards to “lift” you up. It’s not that we’re flawed or need more willpower, I really believe it’s a coping mechanism. Think about what happens after you’ve had a hard day. You come home, immediately change into comfortable clothes, pour yourself a glass of wine, and turn on a funny show. It might not look exactly the same for you, but everyone has some sort of uplifting routine that they turn to after something negative.

Forcing exercise turns it in to a negative experience

That negative experience conditions you to associate exercise with negativity. You start dreading the gym and thinking of ways you can get out of it. And because you don’t want to go and force yourself to, it becomes a never ending circle of shame, negativity, and unpleasantness.

The researchers in the article I referenced took two groups of people on a walk. The leader either referenced the walk as an “exercise walk” or a “scenic walk.” The participants who went on the scenic walk took less of an offered dessert afterwards than those who went on an exercise walk.

The same researchers also took a different group of study participants on a run. Afterwards, chocolate bars and cereal bars were offered. The researchers asked the participants how much fun they had and those who said they had fun were more likely to take a healthier cereal bar than a chocolate bar.

So what do these studies tell us? That exercise needs to be something you want to do, something that’s positive. People who enjoy it are more likely to make healthier choices because they don’t feel deprived.

The “So What?”

There’s been a lot of talk on the internet about not “dieting.” We can call it whatever we want, but if you’re on a quest to lose weight and are eating less because of it, it’s still dieting.

The same goes with exercise. But what we need to do is find ways to make it a positive experience. If you hate the gym or dread working out in your living room, try doing it with a friend or taking it outside. Find a sport or more activities that you enjoy to add in.

When you sit back and think about it objectively, it’s almost a no-brainer. When you force yourself to do something, it becomes unpleasant. As much as you might want weight loss or body changes to happen, it won’t be fun, enjoyable, or sustainable if it’s forced.