Exercise protective factor against diet lapse, study finds


Researchers from the Center for Weight, Eating, and Lifestyle Science (WELL Center) at Drexel University in in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania found exercise to be a protective factor in a study where participants in a weight loss program, who were following a reduced-calorie diet, engaged in exercise in their real-world environments. The study was published in the journal Health Psychology.

Following a dietary weight loss program can be difficult. Many factors trigger diet lapses, which can lead to weight loss failure. Experts disagree on whether physical activity increases risk or protects against diet lapses. While some studies show exercise leads to overeating by increasing appetite or a person’s justification for eating, other studies show exercise regulates hunger and may help reduce overeating.

The study found that exercise was protective against overeating. When participants did not engage in exercise, the risk of overeating in the following hours was 12 percent. Whereas when participants engaged in 60 minutes of exercise, the risk of overeating was cut by more than half, to 5 percent.

For every additional 10 minutes of exercise a participant engaged in, the likelihood of overeating decreased by one percent in the few hours following exercise.

Researchers collected data from 130 participants using novel methods, like ecological momentary assessments, or brief surveys, that were delivered to participants’ smartphones multiple times a day to measure overeating and hip-worn fitness trackers to measure exercise.

The authors cautioned these findings represent patterns observed across the sample. A goal for future research is to investigate if the effect of exercise on eating behavior differs from person to person. The results also hinted that the effect of exercise on eating behavior may depend on the intensity of the exercise, with light, versus moderate-to-vigorous, physical activity showing the strongest protective effects against overeating, though more research is needed to support this finding.