Can Working Out Inspire Healthier Eating Habits?
If you struggle with maintaining a healthy and balanced diet each day, you are most certainly not alone. It can be really hard, especially when you’re trying to balance work, family, friends and your personal life - watching everything you eat can be a little overwhelming.
However, a new study published in the International Journal of Obesity might have good news for you...finally!
The new study asked 2,680 young adults between the ages of 18-35, who weren’t exercising regularly, to start doing aerobics for 30 minutes, three times a week for a span of 15 weeks. Researchers asked participants to keep track of their daily diets, but didn’t want them to make any dietary changes.
However, a majority of the participants’ diets changed, regardless of the instructions. Over the course of those 15 weeks, as participants worked out more and for longer periods of time, they began eating more fruits, vegetables and low-fat foods, while cutting down on soft drinks, fried and processed foods over time. They also ate less over the course of the study. From this particular study alone, it’s unclear exactly why this happened (we’ll get to this more in a minute). However, if past studies are any indication, the findings suggest exercise could stimulate the production of appetite-regulating hormones.
Of course, there could be plenty of reasons for the dietary changes. As we mentioned before, the study doesn’t make the cause of the participants’ diet changes clear. Perhaps those who work out regularly don’t want unhealthy foods to hinder their abilities in the gym, or render their workouts useless. Oh, and there’s also this documented phenomenon known as the transfer effect, which describes how new skills or attitudes learned in one behavior can carry over to another.
No matter the cause, the correlation between routine exercise and a healthy diet is pretty clear at this point.
"The process of becoming physically active can influence dietary behavior," stated Molly Bray, chair of the Nutritional Sciences department at UT Austin and a pediatrics faculty member at Dell Medical School and corresponding author of the paper. "One of the reasons that we need to promote exercise is for the healthy habits it can create in other areas. That combination is very powerful."
Participants in the study were mostly college-aged students; many never gave much thought to creating an intentional exercise or diet plan.
"Many people in the study didn't know they had this active, healthy person inside them," Bray states. "Some of them thought their size was inevitable. For many of these young people, they are choosing what to eat and when to exercise for the first time in their lives."
Overall, the study revealed exercising regularly was generally followed by healthier eating habits in most of the participants. College-aged students were selected for the study since many young people gain weight during this period in their lives, which increases their risk for obesity later in life. They expanded the study to include a range of ages, to see if the dietary changes observed depended on the participants’ age. Important healthy eating habits are formed at this period in life.
However, even more interestingly, the study also shed light on patterns between the length/intensity of workouts and what participants chose to eat. Researchers were able to track these changes in eating patterns by describing and defining some common dietary patterns, such as:
Western: corn, soft drinks, cheeseburgers, steak, bacon, butter, hot dogs, pizza
Prudent: tuna, non-fried fish, fruits, coffee, peanut butter, eggs, tomatoes, greens
Ethnic: refried beans, pinto beans, tortillas, tacos, salsa
Snacking: cookies, salty snacks, ice cream, sake, 100 percent juice, donuts
Milk and Cereal: Two percent or whole milk
Longer workouts were associated with restraint from the snacking and Western dietary patterns, while higher intensity workouts were associated with a preference for the Prudent dietary pattern. Unsurprisingly, the study also revealed that participants who didn’t stick closely to their exercise routine were less likely to make changes to their diet over the 15 weeks.
This study sheds a lot of light on the relationship between exercising regularly and eating healthier to achieve balance. However, the researchers involved with this study warn against drawing too many conclusions from these results. Namely because participants self-reported data; participants were self-selected, so they may have already had an interest in improving their health behaviors; and the researchers didn’t follow up with participants after the study to see whether their dietary changes persisted.
Nevertheless, for whatever unknown, underlying reason, the participants ate healthier when only asked to exercise regularly.
If you’re inspired to change your eating habits, start right now. buy some Beardy Boys!
Our healthy, organic pecan spreads are delicious and high-quality, packed with protein and healthy fats to keep you going all day.