Exercise and Appetites

Today I’m happy to welcome Tim Fall back to the blog for a guest post! Thank you, Tim!

I’ve known for a while that working out can take the edge off my hunger. Now there’s research
that explains why. I won’t go into the details, but this short article gives a good explanation of the
chemicals released by exercise and what our brains do in response. It also suggests that eating
heavily after exercising may be more a function of our mind having certain expectations than our
body signaling it needs more fuel.

The Mind and the Stomach

The explanations in that article sounded familiar to me. I finish a workout and think that I
need to replace what I’ve expended. That sounds good in theory. But the replacement can be
completely out of proportion to the expenditure. After all, as one researcher points out, running 40 minutes at a 9 min/mile pace burns about 450 calories, and there are 500 calories ina Starbucks Venti Mocha Frappucino (with whole milk and whipped cream).

via Wikipedia

All righty then. No mocha frappucinos for me, venti or otherwise. (And by the way, am I the
only one who refuses to use words like grande, venti, etc., when ordering coffee? Good thing I
prefer to get coffee at Peet’s.) A lot of people fall into this mindset of thinking they can take in
a meal – or treat themselves to something – larger than the workout justifies. But it’s just that, a
mindset. It’s not the body talking.

The Mind and the Flesh

Reading that article reminded me of Romans 7, where Paul describes the battle he has with sin:

Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s
law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me
a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! (Romans 7:21-24.)

Paul’s dilemma is one we all face. God’s law demands perfect obedience (James 2:10) and we are
incapable of meeting that standard. (Romans 3:23.) He rightly calls himself wretched, and then
points us to our deliverance:

Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me
through Jesus Christ our Lord! … Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in
Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free
from the law of sin and death. (Romans 7:24-25, 8:1-2.)

And in case his readers were unclear on what “the law of the Spirit who gives life” looks like in
contrast to “the law of sin and death,” he explains:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever
loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You
shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command
there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does
no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8-10.)

I think it’s clear that Paul is telling us not to get hung up on following legal requirements
like the 10 Commandments, or even whether we are giving enough (after all, he does use the
word “debt”). Every legal requirement there is is fulfilled by one thing:

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
(Galatians 5:14.)

Following the Ruler Instead of the Rules

I like rules. Tell me what they are and at least I know what’s expected. I also hate rules because
being able to keep them is impossible.

That is the problem with the exercise and eating thing. People will tell you the rules they insist
must be followed – eat before/eat after, hydrate while running/don’t drink a thing during a run,
load up on carbs before a workout/protein loads after a workout are important, etc. None of us
can follow them with perfect obedience.

And as we saw in Romans, this applies to spiritual matters as well. I think that’s why the Bible
tells us not to encumber ourselves with rules but to focus on the Ruler. When we do, the burden
of the rules falls away and we race along with Jesus.

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with
perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of
faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2.)

Now that’s a workout that gets results.

Check out Tim’s blog at http://timfall.wordpress.com/

16 thoughts on “Exercise and Appetites

    1. Good point, EAAPTY. I don’t exercise to ignore anything about my body or its signals. I was just saying that one phenomenon associated with exercise is a temporary decrease in appetite. It comes back, of course, because our bodies do need fuel. If you’d like to read my take on how good it is to enjoy the blessings of good food, you can check out this guest piece I did for Rachel: https://rachelmariestone.com/2012/02/24/guest-post-a-food-lover-on-gods-gift-of-taste/

      The point of today’s article, though, is that our minds and bodies can sometimes work at cross purposes and it’s good to recognize when the two are out of sync, especially when that out of sync-ness has spiritual significance.


      1. Tim I understand this very well because I am the person who eats after I exercise because it seemed like it was very much needed. Thanks to you and Rachel I am starting to think differently. I am pleased that Rachel let us know about your blog. I have been following her for awhile now and enjoy her way of thinking. God Bless you .

  1. I love the fitness analogies. Although, I’m one of those who definitely lets my mind tell me that my workout should be rewarded with german chocolate cake. Sigh.

    1. Me too, Aimee. It’s like I come back from the gym and reach for the largest cereal bowl possible, because how else am I going to fit a scoop of rocky road ice cream on top of my granola?

  2. When I’m at Starbucks I never use the lingo either. They ask me what size and I say “Whatever the smallest is” — thereby appearing either lame, humble, or both.

    I like your distinction between rules and Ruler. It’s like when we focus on the promises (and get annoyed when they don’t seem to come true) rather than on the Promise-maker. This is a good reminder: relationship first, not rules.

    1. That’s it in a nutshell, Jeannie: relationship first, not rules. And I like how you said that we sometimes get annoyed when it looks like God is not keeping his promises. That’s what Peter was cautioning us against when he pointed out that “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.” (2 Peter 3:9.)

  3. You are not alone. I, too, refuse to use the Starbucks sizing metric. It’s because I used to work at a coffee shop and it bugged the crap out of me when people ordered a “grande caramel macchiatto” and I would have to explain to them 1) a caramel macchiatto is a vanilla latte with caramel drizzle (since an actual macchiatto was a lower price on our menu I had to make the distinction) and 2) we only had two sizes: small and large. When I go to coffee shops I usually order in ounces: 12- or 16- oz, just to be sure.
    Ha! Anyways. Great piece, Tim.

    1. Awesome coffe shop lore, cj!

      I sometimes order in sizes big, little and middle and then wait to see if the server can figure out what I’m talking about.

  4. Tim, I can relate to that Romans passage every day of my life (well, and I suppose everyone else can too), so much so that it has become one of my “pet” passages. But when you start connecting that to the whole eating/exercising thing, it just gets embarrassing. 🙂 In all seriousness, I know that I struggle sometimes with feeling like I should have some leeway to sin because I’ve been so “good” in another area. As a teen, I had the mindset that, because I identified myself as a “good Christian” (whatever that means), anything I did was probably okay, even if it wasn’t. Most of the “bad” things I did were “good enough” that I could justify them pretty easily or else borrow them against some kind of righteousness credit. Thankfully, eventually I allowed myself to admit that I was just as much a sinner as the worst of the worst and that I could ONLY be saved by Jesus, not my own righteousness (or right-ness). However, occasionally I catch myself falling into my old thought patterns, and I have to remind myself that my “good” deeds are not temporary sin passes. (I know this is not a perfect analogy to what you were talking about; eating food shouldn’t really be compared to sinning because eating is necessary for survival. But, we might feel like we can eat the wrong thing or more than we should just because we had a great workout (or, you know, bothered to exercise at all), which is self-defeating.)

    1. “I have to remind myself that my ‘good’ deeds are not temporary sin passes.”

      Wonderfully put, Becky. I have to remind myself of that sometimes too.

  5. Excellent observations, Tim. As someone who has struggled with an eating disorder in the past, I can attest that our minds and bodies often work at cross purposes. My mind (when I was anorexic) told me that food was bad/I shouldn’t eat because I was bad/etc., when my body was actually hungry; my mind (when I was bulimic) told me that if I was good (ie, didn’t eat another meal) then it was fine to binge.

    That said, I do eat after my workouts. (I have long, tough workouts and get shaky if I don’t eat something afterwards.) I have a small chocolate protein shake (and I don’t know what Starbucks would call that size!)

    1. Laura, you’ve gotten to the heart of what it can mean for our bodies and minds to be out of sync and working at cross-purposes. I am so thankful that God has brought you out of that bondage.

      It sounds like you and my wife work out the same way; long tough workouts are her average daily way of getting her exercise too. In fact, I’m here at home in front of the computer while she’s been out exercising.

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