New research says showing "exercise count"—rather than calorie count—may help you make healthier eating choices.
Forget calories! When you reach for a treat, researchers have found that a different number—besides how many calories something has—makes over 40 percent of people rethink their snack choices. When scientists from John Hopkins University posted the "exercise count" (the amount of walking or running you'd have to do to burn off that food), they saw a marked drop in purchasing of junk food and, even better, an increase in the purchasing of healthier options. Even students who didn't remember seeing the exercise counts still seemed to make better choices.
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"There is a real 'wow factor' to this approach—it will definitely grab your attention," says Jessie Pavelka, fitness expert and trainer on the current season of The Biggest Loser. But whether or not seeing your future treadmill time on the label of your favorite ice cream will stop you from going whole hog on the Chunky Monkey depends on your perspective. Exercise should never be used as a punishment, Pavelka says. That's why his main goal for all his clients is to help them fall in love with feeling good. "It's pretty simple. When you eat food that nourishes you and you exercise in a healthy way, you feel good. When you eat junk, you feel bad."
If you're the kind of person who gets positively motivated by seeing an exercise count, then you can use this tool in your own pantry by looking up different calorie counts of your favorite foods—and plugging them into an exercise calculator to see what the trade-off is, he says. But if this sounds like it will send you into a shame spiral of self-hate and guilt then definitely avoid it.
The bottom line: You have to keep it positive. Using exercise as a way to get back on track—and not as a punishment for your food sins—is a great idea, Pavelka says. He recommends any activity that combines cardio and weight training, like CrossFit. "That combination will open up your blood vessels and help regulate your blood sugar—two things that will help you feel better faster." Ultimately, though, it's not about numbers. "I want you to focus on feeling good and finding what things make you get that feeling." And if that's a new take on an old nutrition label, run with it (literally and figuratively).