I can resist anything except temptation.
Do you turn to comfort food when you are “hangry” — both hungry and angry? What about when you are stressed? Stress and cravings for unhealthy food often go hand in hand. When stress enters the picture, glazed donuts, salt-and-vinegar potato chips and chocolate chip cookies go from tempting to irresistible.
Even self-induced stress like watching an action movie leads to mindless overeating. In fact, people who watched an action packed blockbuster, like Michael Bay’s The Island, consumed 65 percent more calories than those who watched a Charlie Rose interview. Does that mean watching Charlie Rose is the cure for obesity? Not exactly.
In the three days before the study, the participants were asked not to snack on any of their usual comfort foods. The idea being that by the time of the study, they would be really craving a snack. In the lab, half the participants spent 15 minutes on a treadmill, while the other half had sat quietly. They then were given a difficult psychological test that made them stressed. This was to cue up their food cravings. They were then given sugary snacks to unwrap, but only ‘handle’. The results showed that those who’d been on the treadmill had much lower food cravings than those who sat quietly. Exercisers also showed lower physiological arousal to handling the sugary snacks.
Having the participants handle their favorite treat seems particularly challenging (and sadistic) and makes the finding all the more impressive. The fact that a brief walk dampened the urge to gobble down a “go to” comfort food right in front of their nose is striking. Best of all, this simple strategy can be easily adapted to your own life.
Next time you feel an irresistible craving taking over, go for a walk. Odds are it will make it resistible. Just make sure you pick up the pace as you pass the bakery.
I wish you all the best,
Dr. Samantha Boardman