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Can having fun help quell your appetite?

It’s great to perceive of physical activities as an enjoyable thing, but it seems quite a stretch to conclude that thinking about exercise as fun will lead you to eat less when you’re done.
By STEPHEN PRESCOTT AND ADAM COHEN, For The Oklahoman Published: July 22, 2014

Adam’s journal

While riding my stationary bike, I like to do things to distract myself from the huffing and puffing. One morning not long ago, in the midst of such a diversion, I came across the following headline: “Is your exercise work or play?”

The accompanying article talked about new research that showed that if you perceive of an activity as fun rather than fitness, you’ll eat less once it’s over. Is this for real?

Dr. Prescott prescribes

Well, there is such a study. A group of researchers published their findings in May in a journal called “Marketing Letters.” In it, the authors propose that you’re more likely to indulge post-workout if you feel like you earned a calorie-laden reward for activities we deem exercise rather than enjoyment.

But when you hear the details of the study, I’m not so sure you’ll agree with this conclusion.

The researchers relied primarily on two experiments. In the first, they gave two groups of women instructions to go on a 30-minute walk. While researchers told one group that the purpose of the activity was exercise, they gave the other group MP3 players and instructed them that the walk was intended “to do something fun.”

Once the women finished walking, the researchers treated them to a free meal at an all-you-can-eat buffet. But, as we all know, there is no such thing as a free lunch. In fact, this meal was the scientists’ sneaky way to study how much the women ate.

When it came to entrees, both groups ate similarly. But for desserts and beverages, the “exercisers” consumed more calories than their “fun” counterparts — an average of 134 calories versus 94.

In a second 30-minute walk experiment, the researchers again told women that the activity was intended to be either exercise or fun. At the conclusion of the walk, to thank them for taking part, the scientists allowed the participants to fill baggies with as many M&Ms as they wanted. Once more, the fun folks took less candy.

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