The consequences of exercise-induced weight loss on food reinforcement. A randomized controlled trial

Kyle D. Flack, Harry M. Hays, Jack Moreland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Background Obesity remains a primary threat to the health of most Americans, with over 66% considered overweight or obese with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 kg/m2 or greater. A common treatment option many believe to be effective, and therefore turn to, is exercise. However, the amount of weight loss from exercise training is often disappointingly less than expected with greater amounts of exercise not always promoting greater weight loss. Increases in energy intake have been prescribed as the primary reason for this lack of weight loss success with exercise. Research has mostly focused on alterations in hormonal mediators of appetite (e.g.: ghrelin, peptide YY, GLP-1, pancreatic polypeptide, and leptin) that may increase hunger and/or reduce satiety to promote greater energy intake with exercise training. A less understood mechanism that may be working to increase energy intake with exercise is reward-driven feeding, a strong predictor of energy intake and weight status but rarely analyzed in the context of exercise. Design Sedentary men and women (BMI: 25-35 kg/m2, N = 52) were randomized into parallel aerobic exercise training groups partaking in either two or six exercise sessions/week, or sedentary control for 12 weeks. Methods The reinforcing value of food was measured by an operant responding progressive ratio schedule task (the behavioral choice task) to determine how much work participants were willing to perform for access to a healthy food option relative to a less healthy food option before and after the exercise intervention. Body composition and resting energy expenditure were assessed via DXA and indirect calorimetry, respectively, at baseline and post testing. Results Changes in fat-free mass predicted the change in total amount of operant responding for food (healthy and unhealthy). There were no correlations between changes in the reinforcing value of one type of food (healthy vs unhealthy) to changes in body composition. Conclusion In support of previous work, reductions in fat-free mass resulting from an aerobic exercise intervention aimed at weight loss plays an important role in energy balance regulation by increasing operant responding for food.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0234692
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright: © 2020 Flack et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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