Craving junk on a diet? Exercise makes you less likely to cave, study

Craving junk on a diet? Go a run: Study claims strenuous exercise makes you less likely to cave

  • US study on rats found those who exercised better resisted fatty food cravings 
  • Scientists say the findings could help human dieters struggling to keep healthy
  • Obesity is large issue in the UK and US with some 25-50% of people overweight

It’s probably the last thing you want to do while starving on a diet.

But going an intense run could beat those junk food cravings during a calorie deficit, a study suggests.

In an experiment on rodents, scientists found strenuous physical activity curbed their desire to eat high-fat pellets after a month on a restricted diet.

Hormonal changes that occur when we do high intensity exercise is known to have  an appetite-suppressing effect in the short term.

The researchers said exercise could help people resist cues to consume fatty foods especially if they’ve been on a diet for a while and the cravings are starting to build.

Dr Brown, a neuroscientist at Washington State University who led the study, said: ‘We’re always looking for this magic pill in some ways, and exercise is right in front of us with all these benefits.’

A US study in rats found those who followed an intense exercise regime were better able to resist the siren song of a fatty food binge 

Obesity is a growing problem in the UK, with about a quarter of British adults and children classified as too fat.

The issue is even greater in America where about half of adults are considered obese. 

Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of body fat based on your weight in relation to your height. 

Standard Formula:

  • BMI = (weight in pounds / (height in inches x height in inches)) x 703

Metric Formula:

  • BMI = (weight in kilograms / (height in meters x height in meters))


  • Under 18.5: Underweight
  • 18.5 – 24.9: Healthy
  • 25 – 29.9: Overweight
  • 30 or greater: Obese 

The latest experiment, published in the the journal Obesity set out to test a phenomenon called ‘incubation of craving’.

This is theory that the longer something is deprived from someone, the more they crave it. 

The researchers trained two groups of 14 rats to pull a lever which when activated turned on a light and emitted a musical tone before dispensing a high-fat food pellet.

After the training, the researchers established a baseline of how frequently the rodents would press the lever to get a pellet.

They then split the rats into two groups, one of which underwent an intense exercise regime and other group did not as a control.

Both groups were denied access to the lever and the high-fat pellets for a month after which  all of the rodents where given access to the lever again.

Scientists found the rats who exercised in their 30 day abstinence period pulled the lever significantly less than those who did not go on the workout regime. 

Dr Brown said this indicates exercise helped curb the cravings for fatty foods in the rodents.

He said the team now plan to test how different levels of exercise influence this type of craving, as well as work out how exactly physical activity produces this resistance to cravings in the brain itself.  

Dr Brown said whether food can be addictive the same way as drugs can is still an unsettled question for researchers, noting that ‘no one binge eats broccoli’.


To stay healthy, adults aged 19 to 64 should try to be active daily and should do:

  • at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or brisk walking every week and
  • strength exercises on 2 or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms)


  • 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity such as running or a game of singles tennis every week and
  • strength exercises on 2 or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms)


  • a mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity every week – for example, 2 x 30-minute runs plus 30 minutes of brisk walking equates to 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity and
  • strength exercises on 2 or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms)

A good rule is that 1 minute of vigorous activity provides the same health benefits as 2 minutes of moderate activity.

One way to do your recommended 150 minutes of weekly physical activity is to do 30 minutes on 5 days every week.

All adults should also break up long periods of sitting with light activity.

Source: NHS 

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