Evolutionary Psychology 101: Exercise Is Key

by Angela (Oh She Glows) on September 21, 2009

Good evening!

Check out some fun OSG and GMM things on the WWW:

1) Mmmm. Another Peanut Butter and Jam Glo Bites spotting! This time all the way in the Netherlands!! You can check it out here.


2) The Green Monster Movement website is updated with more green monster recipes. This time, featuring a delicious looking Caramel Apple Green Monster.

3) Oh She Glows was picked as one of the top beauty websites for boomer health. [Really??]

Evolutionary Psychology 101: Exercise Is Key

In Part 1, I spoke about Why Diets Fail according to the Evolutionary perspective.

According to the evolutionary perspective, exercise is the key to losing weight and keeping it off.

Despite what many people believe, moderate amounts of exercise will actually reduce your caloric intake and curb your hunger.

Research shows that sedentary people eat more than active people!

People who are sedentary (very low activity/exercise levels) have actually been found to eat more and have higher hunger levels than people who are active.

I actually experienced this myself when I was injured in the Winter and was off exercise completely for 2 months. And by off exercise, I mean I didn’t even do stretching or light walking. Zip, nadda, zilch!

I thought to myself, “Oh it won’t be so bad, I am sure that I just won’t be as hungry as when I was working out for 1 hour a day. It will balance out!”

During this time without exercise, I expected that my hunger would decrease and I would be consuming fewer calories since I was not active.

Well, to my dismay I did not find this to be the case at all! I actually was just as hungry, if not more hungry, as I had been when I was getting 1 hour of moderate to heavy exercise each day. I couldn’t believe my body had betrayed me like that!

All along I thought that exercise had been making me more hungry, but I actually had direct proof that it hadn’t been.

If you think that you will start eating too much if you start working out, you are probably going to be pleasantly surprised when you find out that your hunger may be reduced up to a certain intensity of exercise.

Now, that is not to say that people will not use exercise as an excuse to eat way more calories than they burned. In this regard, exercise can actually be a dangerous ‘I deserve it’ trap that leads people to gain weight. That is always going to be a possibility. I think we have all fallen into this trap once and a while. For the most part though, I find that I actually have a much easier time at eating healthy on the days that I have worked out.

Keep in mind that the evolutionary perspective is referring to what our bodies are naturally programmed to do, should we choose listen to them.

It is true that heavy amounts of exercise will increase your hunger (I can attest to this when training for my half marathon!); however, research shows that it will only increase your hunger at most to make up for the calories that were burned during exercise.

If you are truly listening to your bodies hunger signals (and not simply using your activity as a reason to overeat), you should not be consuming more than your burned through exercise. I find that with intense exercise of a long duration, it is very hard for me to eat enough calories to make up for all that I burned. I just am not hungry enough to fully make up for the full caloric deficit that was obtained.

The moral of the story is that we need consistent and regular exercise to lose and maintain our weight. Unfortunately, only 50% of people report using both exercise and caloric reduction as a means to lose weight, while the other half simply cut back on food intake without exercise. We really need both methods to be successful for the long-term.

Now that I have maintained my weight for a couple years now, I strongly believe that exercise is the key to weight maintenance. For the past 3-4 years, I have been working out for 45-60 minutes 5-7 days a week. It seems like a lot, but it is the only way I have found that I can maintain my weight, eat reasonable amounts of food, and not feel that I need to deprive myself to stay at this weight.

Exercise will help reduce your hunger in moderate amounts, boost your metabolism, and will also give you more calories to ‘play around with’, allowing you to eat more without gaining unwanted pounds. Not to mention the fact that exercise has huge health benefits too.

It is really a win-win situation to introduce exercise as a regular part of your lifestyle. As long as you don’t use it as a reason to overeat, exercise will likely help you maintain or reduce your current weight.

Tonight’s questions:

How do you feel about exercise and hunger levels? Does exercise increase it, decrease it or does it depend on the intensity and how much you do?

Do you currently use exercise as a way to lose weight or maintain your weight?


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{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah @ The Foodie Diaries September 21, 2009 at 6:14 pm

Exercise reaaaallly decreases my hunger. I can’t run now because of a hip injury, but whenever I used to run, I would have to force myself to eat afterward. I think that we all have days–exercisers and non-exercisers alike–when we are particularly ravenous, perhaps because we’ve deprived ourselves or it’s that time of the month haha… But, generally, I don’t buy the exercising makes you eat more shpeal.



jen September 21, 2009 at 6:22 pm

i find that exercise decreases my cravings for unhealthy foods, i find after i workout i’ll tend to make better food choices than if i were to just sit around and watch tv (watching food network probably doesn’t help me make good food choices either haha)

i workout for about an 60-75 min 6 days a week, which maintains my weight but also allows me to eat whatever i want. but i make sure i get in all my veggies first before i indulge. i’ve never taken more than a day or so off a week, so i’m not sure what my hunger would be like if i didn’t work out regularly, but right now, i eat about 6 small meals a day, which i find works much better for me than 3 larger meals.


Chloe September 21, 2009 at 6:40 pm

Exercise definitely increases my appetite, but I think it also evens it out and keeps me more balanced. For instance, on days when I work out hard I know exactly what I want to eat to fuel my body, and when I’m not working out I’m more prone to snacking or mindless eating.

It also helps keep my mind happy and my muscles in shape! I definitely fluctuate between working out 5-6 days a week and not at all, but I do incorporate exercise into my daily routine, it just might not be every day.

Bottom line: I like to eat whenever I can ;)


Becky September 21, 2009 at 6:52 pm

I find that exercise decreases my appetite, for me especially when I exercise longer. When I was training for my marathon, on my long run days, my hunger was barely there. I think it evens out though as I was hungrier the next couple of days. I HAVE to exercise, for both mental and physical reasons. I also eat better when I have exercised because I don’t want to ‘undo’ what I just did! I work out 5-6 days a week, but even on rest days I like to go for walks. It feels good to just move :)


Madelin @ What is for breakfast? September 21, 2009 at 6:54 pm

For me, I see a definite increase in hunger and I really have to fight the “I deserve it” mentality, especially when I have done an intense run or something with a high calorie burn. But having said that I am still a big believer in using both methods to lose weight – plus I like to feel toned and fit so exercise will always be part of my life.


Lynna September 21, 2009 at 7:07 pm

I also think that exercise decreases my hunger and as Jen said, decreases my cravings for unhealthy food. After I exercise, I don’t want to have a huge slice of chocolate cake, instead, I want an apple or something else nourishing.

Though I am sometimes prone to the “I deserve it” mentality, I find that when I don’t exercise I do a lot more mindless snacking out of boredom. Exercise gets me out of the house and gives me an activity. Even if it can sometimes be hard to get motivated, the results are definitely worth it.


cara September 21, 2009 at 7:13 pm

I exercise to maintain my weight and to make myself feel great.
If I am not exercising for any length of time I just feel crappy about myself and my body. But when I am exercising it totally changes my outlook on everything and I feel so much more confident and happy with myself for what I achieved


Whitney @ Lettuce Love September 21, 2009 at 7:23 pm

Exercising in the morning totally decreases my cravings for unhealthy foods. My body craves fruits and veggies. My appetite decreases when I exercise a lot. Sometimes I eat after running I eat just because I know that I will be hungry later on during work even though my stomach isn’t hungry yet. Like Becky mentioned, I also need to exercise for mental and physical reasons. I feel so much better and happier when I can work out and sweat a little. I feels great to get moving!


Angela (Oh She Glows) September 21, 2009 at 7:27 pm

It is really interesting reading about everyone’s unique experiences with exercise and hunger!


chipped nails & all September 21, 2009 at 7:58 pm

I’ve definitely noticed a decrease in hunger levels now that I’ve started exercising more regularly…maybe it’s cause I eat more snacks or maybe it’s cause I’m tired from working out, but I don’t have much of an appetite at meal times.

I’m currently using exercise to lose weight, to become healthier and as a stress reliever.


maria September 21, 2009 at 8:31 pm

This is something I realized over the summer when I was running a ton… it isn’t so much how much I am eating, but if I am exercising enough to compensate.


Bronwyn September 21, 2009 at 8:35 pm

My experience with exercise is that it doesn’t really change how I eat. Back in high school I was always trying to eat as little as possible, so I was never listening to my body.

Then in university when the light bulb turned on and my attitude changed, I didn’t really notice a direct affect, at first, on my hunger. Recently though, I have really noticed a difference. For instance, yesterday I went for a long run 13.9k, and I wasn’t any more hungry than normal. In fact I didn’t eat more than normal. Even today I haven’t felt especially hungry.

I haven’t had a period of real sedentary time in a while, so I don’t really have anything to compare with to see if I’m hungrier or not…


Molly September 21, 2009 at 8:40 pm

For me, a college cross country runner, I’ve found that I am hungriest on my rest days! I always expect that since I’m not fueling for a run I will have lighter meals or something, but I am hungrier on those days!
Also, my hunger is much more “readable” on the 6 days a week I run. I know when I’m hungry, and I know when I’m full. But on my day off, I have trouble gauging how full I am.
The bottom line is, exercise is good for you. :)


Madeline @ Greens and Jeans September 21, 2009 at 8:54 pm

It totally depends on the weather for me. If it was a hot, muggy run I am pretty much uninterested in food the rest of the day. However, if the weather was gorgeous, chances are I am going to be the snack queen the rest of the day!


Nikki September 21, 2009 at 8:58 pm

Great Post Angela- I like these Psychology lessons!
I would say that my hunger level depends on the intensity and the amount of exercise I do. So far, my top running distance is 5km, so I’m not doing any super intense training yet…
When I get home from a run or from any other work out I will sometimes drink a small glass of chocolate milk, but if I don’t feel hungry I won’t eat a full meal.
At this point I’d love to use the exercise I’m doing to lose a few pounds, but in the long run I’m just maintaining my weight. I have had a pretty stable weight for the past 2-3 years and I think that my body is happy there. What I need/want to do it TONE- hence the Kettlebells workouts!


Jess (Fit Chick in the City) September 21, 2009 at 9:30 pm

Exercise increases my hunger levels, but so does being sleep deprived. I know that when I’m training and teaching a lot of group fitness classes, my hunger levels sky rocket. When I’m not working out I’m not as hungry.

Yes, I use exercise as a means of maintaining my weight. However, I wouldn’t say that its my main reason for working out.


Alicia September 21, 2009 at 9:41 pm

I really didn’t realize how much exercise suppresses my hunger until I started working out in the late afternoon before dinner. Many nights I don’t feel like eating dinner at all, but know I want to eventually. For the 30 minutes right after working out I really don’t want anything in my stomach.
When I was working out earlier in the day I really felt the boost in my hunger, but I think that’s because I wasn’t eating a full breakfast and thus was running around hungry all day.


Kerry September 21, 2009 at 9:49 pm

I have found that exercise increases my hunger in general. I had a very difficult time losing weight while marathon training – not that it’s easy now, but when I am exercising less my hunger seems more predictable somehow.


Cynthia (It All Changes) September 21, 2009 at 9:50 pm

I love this principle. And I’ve totally seen it at work in my healthy life patterns. When I’m exercising regularly I eat moderately (for the most part) and am not always hungry. Now that I’ve taken the last 2 weeks off for my hip injury I’ve definitely been more hungry. Its been more work to not overeat. I think it is such a strange thing in today’s mindset but for our ancestors who had to hunt to survive of course their bodies would be hungrier if they thought they needed to store more fat because they were getting sedentary because of injury, weakness or age.

Thanks for the fun food for thought.


Deva (Voracious Vorilee) September 21, 2009 at 10:05 pm

I have found that when I exercise, I’m less hungry overall, and that my hunger cues are more easily recognised. When i don’t exercise, I find that I’m a snack queen – I’m a grazer normally, but I mindlessly eat on non-exercise days more than I do on exercise days.


Lara September 21, 2009 at 10:22 pm

Exercise definitely increases my hunger. I am injured now and not able to workout and my hunger is waay down. So many people gain weight when training for longer endurance events, some of it might be a “deserve to eat” mentality but I don’t think it is true that the body only wants to eat back that what it burned. I think if that was the case people would have an easier time maintaining/losing weight.


[email protected] September 21, 2009 at 10:25 pm

For about two hours ater exercising, my appetite is zero, but then when I am ready to eat, I definitely eat more and am hungry more often. I listen to my hunger because I need fuel for the next run/work/outing. I know for example that I will not lose weight training for a marathon because I get ridiculously hungry, and I honor that.
I exercise to stay fit and able to keep up with my busy life!


WholeBodyLove September 21, 2009 at 11:03 pm

I also believe strongly in exercise for weight maintenence. But, using your hunger signals is key. So many of us have gotten caught in the “I deserve it trap”. We need to think more about what is really going to refuel our bodies after exercise not what “we deserve”.


liane September 21, 2009 at 11:13 pm

I am training for my first half marathon, and I swear I have never been so hungry the days after our long runs (15K+) than I’ve ever been in my life!
I tend to choose healthy foods though, unless I haven’t preplanned, which I really try and avoid. The day before my long runs I will do meal prep for the next 2-3 days so that I have lunches for work done and all my veggie snacks will be cut and put into containers.
If I don’t, I am reaching for anything I can find!


Salina September 22, 2009 at 12:35 am

Liane, I can really relat to this.. I used to go to the gym 5-6 times a week, but only concentrate on exercising, and not bothering to prepare any healthy meals for afterward.. I remember so many sessions ruined because i went home and binged on biscuits cause it was the quickest and easiest thing to eat! I find that when I exercise I’ll eat more because i’m hungry, but if I don’t I’ll eat WAY more because I’m bored..

Ange, thank-you so much for these research posts! I have kinda been missing them… (not to put any pressure on you or anything :o)


Jolene September 21, 2009 at 11:16 pm

I am not too sure how exercise affects my hunger … hmmm, I need to start paying more attention I think :-)


Devan September 22, 2009 at 12:21 am

I found your blog, and I really enjoy reading it :)
i struggle with an Eating disorder.. so its hard to desifer when I want/need to work out.. and want/need to eat. its a tough battle. but am definatly wroking on it.


Leah @ Simply Fabulous September 22, 2009 at 2:09 am

“For the most part though, I find that I actually have a much easier time at eating healthy on the days that I have worked out.”

Yep, I definitely agree with this. When I work out, it gives me that extra push to eat well too – so I know that I am doing double-good for my body and mind.

What I also have found (just recently, as in the past two weeks) is that I don’t have to spend a LOT of time doing cardio, but weight training has helped me a ton. Splitting my workouts into half cardio/ half weights has really helped me see the big picture that I don’t have to spend ages on the tredmill everyday because I am building lean muscle that keeps me metabolic rate soaring. This doesn’t make me dread my workout so much some days.

Really like these Psychology posts Ange! Brings me back to first year Uni at Guelph haha. In some ways, I wish I would have stuck with it!


Oxidaisy September 22, 2009 at 2:54 am

Ever since I went from 3 to 5 days of exercise a week my hunger increased a lot! But I have also been watching my portions and therefore I eat smaller plates now. I also noticed that after really intense workouts I am not hungry at all. But usually as soon as I start eating, my hunger skyrockets!
I can totally relate to being more hungry when you don’t work out. On my days off I tend to eat more! It’s like on those rest days my body wants to inhale more nutritients or something to recuperate better.

I really like the psychology lessons too! I have a MSc in psychology but in a different field, so it’s all very interesting.


Tay September 22, 2009 at 3:17 am

I really find that intense exercising definitely increases my appetite. Especially running. When I stopped running 30-40 mpw, and went to just 30 minute gym sessions a few days a week, my appetite dropped like crazy. I was no longer hungry for snacks or as big of meals as I was before. But I’m still hungry enough when I’m sedentary, that I have to watch what I eat in order to maintain my weight. While running, I could eat until satisfaction, make healthy choices, but still eat reasonably what I wanted. Once I stopped, I had to be more mindful. I definitely use exercise as a way to maintain my weight, but also as much more!


Naomi September 22, 2009 at 5:16 am

exercise def makes me more hungry, BUT it decreaes my want to eat unhealthy food. Whenever I weight train, this really revs up my hunger levels as well, due to the BMR of the post calorie burn afterwards. with this said, I still make extremely healthy choices and even healthier on the days I don’t exercsise. your body certainly becomes more aware of what you put in your body when you do not exercise!

great question : )


mmclaughlin September 22, 2009 at 6:00 am

I work out in the evenings, and exercise definitely decreases my hunger initially, so that I barely want any food when I finish, but the next morning I am more hungry than if I didn’t exercise the night before. However, I do crave a healthy, large breakfast, which gets me going for the whole day.

I do find that my biggest issue when working out/running intensively is getting enough food! I tend to under-eat (although not intentionally) and have a hard time losing weight because of it. :( That’s currently my focus now…exercising more, but making sure I get enough calories.


MizFit September 22, 2009 at 6:40 am

Ive found that Im pretty much the same now whether I workout or not.
I took 5 months off from exercise (I know. Story there.) and ate the same (clean lots) anyway.

I didnt find I was more or less snackyhungry.


Susan September 22, 2009 at 7:11 am

Interesting thoughts! I took 2 months off running, and close to a month off all exercise when I injured my hip. Except, I actually noticed my hunger levels go down. It was actually off-putting! I wanted to eat, but my tummy was just like “meh, not now.”

I do however credit exercise to helping me maintain a 30 lb weight loss for almost a year now. Like you said, working out 45-60 minutes a day, 5-6 days a week, has allowed me to eat what I feel is a normal and satisfying amount while keeping my weight off. Plus, I’ve been setting a lot of fitness goals for myself over that time, so it motivates me to workout beyond just the desire to burn a few calories off.


Paige @ Running Around Normal September 22, 2009 at 7:50 am

I think that yes, exercise increases hunger levels, but like you, I still think it’s key. It’s been getting this rep lately that it doesn’t help weight loss. I think that’s due to people thinking they can eat anything they want just because they exercised for 30 minutes that day.


Shannon September 22, 2009 at 8:03 am

It’s interesting how everyone seems to have different experiences with hunger and exercise. For me, exercise dampens my appetite. The more intense, the less of an appetite I have. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I ran a half marathon the other day and I had to force myself to eat afterward because I knew I needed to. Go figure!

I exercise to maintain my weight and because I feel better when I do. I try to be active everyday in some way or other.


leslie September 22, 2009 at 8:15 am

interesting post! when i was doing intense cardio, i never had any appetite the day i exercised, but the day after my hunger would be out of control. so i can see how this would apply back when i exercised every day – it suppressed my appetite day in and day out. i’m not sure it’s always necessarily a good thing though – it can be very easy to fall into the trap of not eating enough.

i think, for me, it comes down to exercising and eating responsibly. if you choose to exercise on a regular basis, it’s important to eat for that lifestyle, which means both not eating carrot sticks for lunch, and not eating half of an entire cake for dessert. it’s all about finding a balance! i definitely agree that exercise is key to a healthy lifestyle – especially since, as many commenters said, it motivates people to make healthier choices in terms of food.

love this series angela!


allijag September 22, 2009 at 9:26 am

I am loving this evolutionary psychology – thank you so much for sharing! I went home last night and had a big discussion (read: I talked mike’s ear off) for an hour about it! :)


Claire September 22, 2009 at 9:26 am

I always find it hard to eat after I exercise.I feel like my body needs a little break.However,my body does crave water.I sometimes feel people associate working out too much with losing weight.It’s also great for mental health and all around health.cc


Amanda September 22, 2009 at 9:28 am

I would say that I probably eat the same amount whether I exercise or not. However, I find that my attitude towards eating is much more positive if I have been exercising. I know that my body needs food as fuel, and I do not feel guilty for giving my body what it needs. I will also eat more balanced and complete meals to replenish my energy. Exercise causes me to approach food with a much better mindset.


Matt September 22, 2009 at 9:35 am

Great post! I love evolutionary perspectives about anything; I don’t know why but it’s just so fascinating to see explanations of how we act and how our bodies work, based on nature selecting what is the very best thing for surviving and thriving. So often the right thing to do is listen to your body.


natalie September 22, 2009 at 10:35 am

When I exercise I am not as hungry. When I am working out really hard or even twice a day I can tell when my body needs more food.
I use exercise as a way to stay in shape and keep my body healthy and active. Loved both these posts!


Nikki T September 22, 2009 at 11:21 am

I’m still trying to find time to make these Glo Bites…they look so yummy every time I see a pic of them!


Andrea (Off Her Cork) September 22, 2009 at 11:33 am

Hunger depends on the intensity level for me. Tuesdays and Thursdays I am starving! I run in the mornings and have Muay Thai in the evenings. That’s a lot of working out, so come dinner time my bod would like me to stuff my face please. But I keep it real whole foods. I don’t go to town on a bag of chips, or processed foods. It’s real food all the way! What’s the point in fueling your body if you’re only going to give it crap?


cali September 22, 2009 at 12:03 pm

i do believe that exercise increases my hunger – especially when i work out in the morning. i am hungry for lunch and snacks sooner that i normally would be.

i also believe that exercise is a key element in maintaining weight loss, but i don’t think it’s that important for losing the weight initially. spending hours at the gym won’t help you lose weight if you overeat or eat foods that are not nutritious. i truly believe that losing weight is all about diet change.


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