Have you ever found yourself elbow-deep in a bag of Doritos during an episode of The Biggest Loser? And then sit on the couch wondering why you’re licking powdered cheese off your fingers instead of doing a few pushups, like the contestants?
New research may explain the phenomenon: A report in the journal Appetite found that just thinking about a workout can cause people to eat more.
In the study, people who read a story about exercise served themselves 700 calories of a subsequent snack of MMs and Chex Mix. But those who answered questions about themselves downed 360 calories of the munchies. (Note to self: Don’t eat candy when reading Men’s Health.)
The mechanism behind these findings is still being ironed out, but the scientists have a lead: Previous research has shown that some people tend to eat even more calories after they do certain types of exercise—sort of like they’re overcompensating for all the effort. It’s not clear just yet whether it’s to subconsciously reward themselves or because their bodies are reacting to the calories they just burned. (And by the way, exercise has been shown to suppress appetite in some people, so there’s a highly individual response.)
But this group of experts say that even thinking about exercise—as opposed to actually performing it—can trigger the same impulses in people to eat more food.