Move Your Feet to Kick Food Cravings

As veteran dieters know, it’s hard to resist temptation when it comes to our favorite treats. For many, women in particular, chocolate is our kryptonite. Scientists have measured this vulnerability to such sweet enticement in terms they call “attentional bias.” It describes how biased attention focused on one particular object may compromise judgment. Though often unconscious, attentional bias can be countered by deliberate actions. And when it comes towards a bias for chocolate, new research suggests that moving your feet can help put distance between you and the object of your desire.

In a study recently published in the journal Appetite, British researchers used images of chocolate to measure the attentional bias and chocolate cravings of 20 normal weight and 21 overweight women assigned to either rest or 15 minutes of brisk walking on separate days. Compared to resting or “passive” conditions, exercise reduced chocolate cravings by 42.2%, and passive conditions reduced chocolate cravings by 6.3% for the whole group. Chocolate cravings in the exercise group were still significantly lower than the passive group 10 minutes after exercise. And this effect was not different between the normal weight and the overweight group.

Previous research has suggested that the simple act of delaying snacking may reduce the amount of food you eventually consume. It’s also possible that activity in and of itself helps moderate consumption. For example, tensing muscles was found to increase willpower by 140%. Employing chopsticks, though not exactly “heavy lifting,” was found to encourage more mindful eating, as was switching to a non-dominant hand (right-handers eating with their left, or lefties with their right).

Walking also offers many additional benefits; as one study observed seniors who walk may rebuild the aging brain. An hour of brisk walking three times a week can significantly boost aerobic capacity, especially among the elderly. By wearing a pedometer and aiming for 10,000 steps a day you’ll actually end up walking more than you would by simply setting a time goal.

Published April 1, 2014