Q:

How Can I Stop Craving Fried Foods?

I cannot resist a French fry, and I often put myself in situations where I am around French fries. This habit is doing nothing but bad things to my waistline. How do I break this vicious cycle?

    Photo: Elena Shashkina/Shutterstock

A:There is a simple solution to your problem: exercise!

Harvard researchers have recently linked exercise to reduced cravings for savory foods including cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and yes, French fries. And the relationship seems to be linear; the more you exercise, the less you’ll want high calorie, high fat fare.

Thirty-seven healthy adults aged 18 to 45 participated in the study. They filled out questionnaires about their exercise habits, then underwent brain scans to see which areas of the brain were activated when looking at high-calorie, low-calorie (salads, vegetables, fruits, fish), and control images (rocks, flowers).

Researchers had previously linked several areas of the brain to appetite regulation, including the insula, and medial orbitofrontal cortex. In all of the research subjects, exercise was negatively correlated with responses in these areas of the brain. In other words, the more a subject exercised, the less his brain powered up its gimme-a-french-fry desires.

Lead researcher Dr. William D.S. Killgore believes increased leptin sensitivity may be one factor behind this result. Leptin is a hormone that makes people less hungry. So if exercise makes the brain more sensitive to leptin, people who exercise should not crave high-calorie foods.

This healthy response isn’t limited to a few hours post-workout. Researchers believe exercise may alter parts of the brain involved in pleasure and reward seeking, leading to long-term desires to eat more healthy food.

There are still a few things researchers need to figure out. This study looked only at self-reported weekly hours of exercise, not what type of exercise was performed (cardio or weights), or at what intensity. But just one hour of exercise a week was linked to a decreased desire for calorie-dense food.

“Exercise tends to make people hungrier,” Killgore says. “But it gives them more control over their ability to not eat the bad stuff.”

The bottom line: Don’t tease yourself with Burger King’s new “Satisfries.” (Good advertising, still bad for you at 270 calories and 11 grams of fat in a small serving.) It’s possible regular exercise can help you decrease those fry cravings, so get moving.

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