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Exercise and Food Compensation: Exploring Diet-related Beliefs and Behaviors of Regular Exercisers.

Simone Dohle, Brian Wansink, and Lorena Zehnder (2015). Exercise and Food Compensation: Exploring Diet-related Beliefs and Behaviors of Regular ExercisersJournal of Physical Activity and Health. doi: 10.1123/jpah.2013-0383

How exercise and diet relate to weight loss, is a subject for which there is much research but little is known about people’s diet specific beliefs and behavior regarding exercise. These beliefs and behaviors are important for identifying psychological factors that may influence eating and food choices in response to exercise. The goal of this study was to use focus groups to identify beliefs and behaviors related to exercise and diet.

In this study, 27 participants between the ages 17 and 70 who exercise between 1 and 5 hours per week were split into four focus groups. Participants were asked questions about their exercise habits, their attitudes towards exercise, and their eating habits on days when they exercise and on days when they do not exercise. Focus group discussions were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim and responses were coded using a grounded theory approach.

The results of this study showed that food was considered a reward for many participants. It also found that participants believed they needed to replenish nutrients after exercise and many planned meals carefully to not feel discomfort during exercise. Participants also reported changing their eating habits if they were preparing for a competition. Finally, many participants reported that their eating habits depended largely on external factors, such as family, and that physiological factors after exercise influenced their dietary patterns.

These results can be used to develop recommendations for regular exercisers and for people interested in weight loss in order to counter detrimental beliefs and behaviors that result from exercise.