Exercise & Your Appetite: The Truth

The formula for weight loss (exercise + diet = pounds off) sounds easy enough, but if it really were, we'd all look like Miss Svelte Stair Sprinter.

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| September 27th, 2011

Beware the Exercise Halo

A great sweat session can make you feel like a health angel—for good reason, given its life-enhancing power. "But we can feel so virtuous that we reward ourselves with some not-so-healthy habits," warns Susan Bowerman, R.D., assistant director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition. Don't fall for these self-sabotaging thoughts:

My metabolism is higher after a workout, so this bite will burn right off.

Ah, the afterburn effect. That's when your body uses energy to return to a resting state. "It sounds great, but even very intense exercise lasting more than 45 minutes burns less than 100 extra calories," says Philip Clifford, Ph.D., professor of anesthesiology and physiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

The bottom line Skip the cool-down nibble: Doing it five times a week saves you up to 500 calories—the equivalent of a Spin class you don't actually take!

I melted mega calories this morning. I can eat what I want today.

Define mega. Research shows we grossly overestimate our sizzle. People who burned 200 calories by walking briskly thought they had burned 825 in a study at the University of Ottawa. "And they later overate by about 350 calories based on their miscalculations," says study author Eric Doucet, Ph.D.

The bottom line Don't just guess your calories burned; tally them in a reliable way using our calculator. For most women, a brisk walk zaps 5 calories per minute (225 in 45 minutes).

I kicked boot camp booty. I deserve a treat after my hard work.

True, but reward yourself with food and you're likely to stall your slim-down. "Run 40 minutes at a 9-minute-mile pace and you'll burn about 470 calories; grab a Starbucks Venti Caramel Frappucino afterward and you'll replace those calories plus an extra 20," Braun says.

The bottom line "It's incredibly easy to negate the weight loss effects of exercise with a single food item, so find other ways to indulge yourself," Braun says. Try inedible rewards such as a relaxing pedicure or new songs for your workout playlist.

Candy bar pre-workout? Why not! Those will be the first calories to go.

Step away from the junk food: Women who ate high-glycemic-index foods (candy, white bread, sugary cereal) before exercising burned 55 percent less fat than those who had low-GI foods (oatmeal, yogurt), a study in the Journal of Nutrition found. "High-GI foods raise insulin concentrations, suppressing the body's ability to burn fat; low-GI ones don't," says study author Emma Stevenson, Ph.D.

The bottom line Sweets are best in moderation—and not before the gym.

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