I just came across a little factoid:
Average calories, from M&M’s, consumed by a group as a snack after a 1-mile walk described as “exercise,” during a recent study. Another group, told the walk was “sightseeing,” ate just 166.2 calories of M&M’s.
At first, I chuckled. I am totally guilty of this sometimes, especially when I am in the long-run phase of half marathon training. "Oh, I ran ten miles this morning. I can eat some cookies!" But this isn't actually true. Sure, it's true that when I run ten miles, I need more calories than I would on a day I don't run at all. That's basic science--a ten-mile run burns around 1,000 calories, creating a deficit that must be accounted for in my eating. But just eating anything isn't the smart choice. Picking up cookies or chips might satisfy my "runger" (it's a real phenomenon), but it does nothing, really, to help my body recover from the hard workout...and believe me, ten miles is a hard workout. My best bet is to turn to carbohydrates in fruits and veggies (I crave carbs after running, and fruit, especially, because it is sweet), lean proteins, and healthy fats.
Throughout my weight loss journey, I have had friends laugh and tell me, "You can eat what you want! You worked out today!" Well, yes. And actually, no. I'm not the type of person who never splurges on a cheeseburger; I simply choose to time my splurges sparingly...like, every few months. Most days, I choose to eat leaner protein options like chicken and eggs, and the majority of my daily diet is vegetables and fruit.
Anyway, back to the factoid: it reminds me that there is a definite feeling among many that if you exercise, you're allowed a food reward. While this isn't untrue, it's also not feasible for losing weight. The best bet is to either not eat the M&Ms, or reward yourself with a small, controlled dose of them. Remember, walking one mile doesn't burn as many calories as running one mile, and to burn 372 calories running, you need to run nearly four miles.
So if you're looking to lose weight, it's a good idea to know how many calories you are burning vs. how many you are consuming, and what the deficit needs to be. A great tool for this is My Fitness Pal, which has a mobile app, and another one is the FitBit app--though for that, it's helpful to have an actual FitBit to use it!