This just in from Captain Obvious: There are tons of benefits associated with working out. Exercising helps you stay toned, stay smart, and stay slim, to name a few. But a new study from the journal Appetite found that not all exercises are created equal—there are certain kinds that make you think you should consume more calories (which, in turn, negates the slimming effect of your sweat session).
For the study, German researchers asked 96 participants, average age 26, to cycle for 20 minutes on an indoor bike. Then, they gave them an unlimited amount of pretzels to eat. But here’s the thing: They split the participants into two groups and told half of them that they were doing a “fat-burning” exercise. The other half were told that they were doing an “endurance” exercise—even though they were both doing the same workout. What happened? Two things. First, those in the “fat-burning” group estimated that they burned more calories than those in the “endurance” group, even though they worked off the same amount. Second, those in “fat-burning” group also ate more pretzels than those in the “endurance” group—but only if they had labeled themselves as someone with “low behavioral regulation.” Interestingly, there was no significant difference among participants who’d labeled themselves as having “high behavioral regulation.”
Researchers believe that the “fat-burning” group ate more simply because of the label. When people hear the words “fat-burning,” they think it sounds harder and more intense than just “endurance”—and therefore are more likely to overcompensate for their burn and take in more calories, particularly if they say they’re low in self-discipline.
The moral of the story: Just as you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you shouldn’t judge an exercise by its title. Even if you take a class at the gym called “Diesel 3000 Burn Baby Burn,” that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve torched such an excess of calories that you have free rein to raid the fridge afterward. To avoid the overcompensation effect, shift your mindset: Instead of focusing on how many calories you think you burned, focus on eating mindfully and healthfully regardless of which type of workout you’ve just done.
*This story was originally published on WomensHealth.com.