Poor self-regulation of high energy snacking has been linked to weight gain. Physical activity can acutely reduce chocolate consumption and cravings but the effects on attentional bias (AB) are unknown. The study aimed to test the effects of exercise among normal and overweight/obese individuals during temporary and longer abstinence. Participants were 20 normal and 21 overweight regular female chocolate eaters (after 24 h abstinence), and 17 females (after ≥1 week abstinence during Lent). They were randomly assigned to engage in 15 min brisk walking or rest, on separate days. AB was assessed using an adapted dot probe task pre and post-treatment at each session, with chocolate/neutral paired images presented for 200 ms (initial AB; IAB) or 1000 ms (maintained AB; MAB). Chocolate craving was assessed pre, during, immediately after, and 5 min and 10 min after treatment, using a 0-100 visual analogue score. Three-way mixed ANOVAs revealed that there was no significant interaction effect between group (i.e., BMI status, or abstinence status) and condition × time for craving and AB to chocolate cues. Fully repeated 2-way ANOVAS revealed a significant condition × time interaction for IAB (F(1,57)=6.39) and chocolate craving (F(2.34,133.19)=14.44). After exercise IAB (t(57)=2.78, p<0.01) was significantly lower than after the rest condition. Craving was significantly lower than the rest condition at all assessments post-baseline. A short bout of physical activity reduces cravings and AB to chocolate cues, relative to control, irrespective of BMI or abstinence period.
Keywords: Exercise; Food craving; Inhibition; Physical activity; Self-regulation; Snacking.
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