If you're trying to live a healthier lifestyle, it's easy to fall back into old habits. After eating food that's tailor-made to be addictive for so long, a few slip-ups are bound to occur. Like any addiction, something will trigger a craving—a certain smell, or a feeling of stress, perhaps—and it's hard to resist.
However, there's a strategy that's slowly been gathering steam in scientific communities for a while: instead of picking up an order of take-out, pick up a set of the best adjustable dumbbells or lace up a pair of the best shoes for walking. Research has found that intense exercise can curb your appetite, reduce cravings and make the body more effective at fighting them when they do arise.
The most recent research, published April 21, 2022, comes from a team of scientists from Washington State University. Neuroscience researcher Travis Brown wrote: "A really important part of maintaining a diet is to have some brain power -- the ability to say 'no, I may be craving that, but I'm going to abstain.'
"Exercise could not only be beneficial physically for weight loss but also mentally to gain control over cravings for unhealthy foods."
Unfortunately, the study tested rats rather than people, but plenty of science published over the last few years supports exercise as a cravings crutch. One study on healthy young adults, published in the journal Appetite, found "significant main effects were observed for aerobic exercise, resistance exercise and total exercise with an increase in exercise being associated with a reduced difficulty to resist food cravings".
Another study, published in 2014, found that 30 minutes of high-intensity exercise lowered our production of ghrelin, otherwise known as the hunger hormone. When cravings strike, all you've got to do is hold on until you can get moving. And if you exercise enough on a regular basis, you'll be more likely to resist the cravings when they do come up.
As 30 minutes is all you need to suppress that hunger, try this routine from certified trainer Lita Lewis and the SELF YouTube channel. One of the most popular home workouts online, racking up an impressive 41 million views, this 30-minute routine needs no equipment and can be done from the comfort of your own home.
Fair warning: it's a challenging one, working your legs, arms and core and making you sweat while you do so! You'll need some grit (and one of our best yoga mats or exercise mats) to get through it.
In the meantime, you can suppress cravings by keeping one of our best water bottles handy, and making sure you've got an abundance of healthy snacks, such as fruit or our best protein powder for weight loss. A convenient high-protein shake won't take the desire for sugar away, but protein does result in increased satiety in addition to fuelling muscle repair and growth.
Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and News Editor at Fit&Well, covering all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.
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