Subscribe via RSS or e-mail      

Can a Little Exercise Make Hunger Go Away?

Strategies and goals


I’ve been getting fitter over the past few years: these days I’m 42 pounds lighter and much stronger than I was at the beginning of 2006. I still have about 10-15 pounds to go, though, before I’m at the weight I think is ideal, so my weight loss is still in progress. After reading (and posting about) how useful rules can be recently, I decided to experimentally adopt a rule of only eating at designated times of the day. It has been working well, but–no big surprise–sometimes I’m hungry when it’s not time to eat. To distract myself from the hunger, from time to time I’ll try some quick exercise, usually push-ups or crunches. To my surprise, I noticed that I usually don’t feel hungry after just a few minutes of that kind of effort. It was an unexpected side benefit–but was it real? And if so, what was happening?

So I did a little research, and began coming across articles like “Influence of resistance and aerobic exercise on hunger, circulating levels of acylated ghrelin, and peptide YY in healthy males”  and “Exercise-induced suppression of acylated ghrelin in humans”  . Gleaning a little information from these without being a physiologist or an endocrinologist took some doing, but these and other sources suggest that physical exercise can actually reduce hunger, at least in the short term.

This sounds as though it’s in conflict with some of the research mentioned in the Time magazine article I recently complained about, where the author claimed that exercise isn’t particularly useful for weight loss–actually, though, this idea is compatible with that research. The research in the Time article talks mainly about people concluding that they can eat more food because they exercise or rewarding themselves after exercise with food, so that often the extra food adds more calories than the exercise takes away. These have to do with our thinking. The exercise and hunger research I’ve seen deals with the release of hormones like ghrelin and peptide YY, which are physiological triggers that regulate hunger.

RealAge has a tip here where they say that exercise can make you feel less hungry if you do a combination of aerobic and strength exercises, but they don’t cite their sources, so I don’t know where their information comes from, and in any case this seems to be a bit different from the research I’ve come across. That’s not to say I think it’s untrue: I just can’t back their claims up.

Just reflecting on my own experience, I wonder if this isn’t why I tend to feel hungry more often when I’m sitting down to do something than when I’m active. In any case, my experience so far is that exercise seems to be at least a temporarily effective way to ward off hunger some of the time as long as it’s not used to promote unhealthy eating practices.

I haven’t read all of the research on this subject, and it would be long hours of work to understand what I’d read if I had, so don’t take this as gospel. On the other hand, there seems to be meaningful scientific support for the idea that eating a few push-ups for a snack can be surprisingly … satisfying.

Photo by Teecycle Tim



  1. Bakari  •  Aug 25, 2009 @12:19 am

    On a personal level I find that when I exercise my hunger doesn’t tend to lessen (light or heavy exercise) but my focus on eating healthier increases.

  2. Luc  •  Aug 25, 2009 @9:09 am

    Thanks for the additional perspective, Bakari. I hope that over time some more details about this will emerge. I’d be interested in hearing others comment on their experience, too.

    Do you feel like your focus on healthier eating lasts for a while after exercise, or is mainly short-term? I’m interested in how one good choice might influence other good choices down the line. In a general way, it seems as though we can get into a kind of groove with either bad or good habits, but I’m sure there’s more that could be learned about how that specifically works.

  3. vg  •  Mar 28, 2010 @6:44 am

    My experience over the last 16 years – There are times when I have felt extremely hungry before my gym time and used to wonder if I should eat and skip gym – but would decide to eat after 20 minutes gym. While at gym, I would finally end up doing more than an hour and at the end, feel refreshingly, surprisingly very energetic with no trace of hunger pangs. I never had an answer why so – but it works perfectly fine for me.

Leave a Reply

Allowed tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

%d bloggers like this: