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Is That Burger Really Worth 3 Hours at the Gym?

A woman hungrily eyes a giant burger
(Image credit: <a href=''>Hungry woman photo</a> via Shutterstock)

Imagine if you walked up to the counter at your favorite fast food joint and saw something a little different on the menu. Instead of the standard nutritional info, such as calories and grams of fat, you saw exactly how many miles you would have to walk to work that item off. Pretty scary, huh?

Well that's exactly what researchers at Texas Christian University tested in a study they presented last week at the Experimental Biology 2013 meeting in Boston. They found  that people who saw how much exercise they would have to do to work off the food were less likely to overeat than diners who were presented with calorie counts.

I found this study really interesting because we all know the basic rules of weight loss. You have to burn more calories than you're eating in order to lose weight.

But we just aren't likely to do the math. Saying, "Oh, wow. That's a lot of calories," is a lot more ambiguous than saying, "Oh, wow. I would have to walk briskly for 7 hours just to work off this one meal." My theory is that when the exercise regimen becomes unrealistic, we realize just how absurd the food choice is for us.

Truthfully, it would be impossible to put this kind of information on a food label and have it be accurate for everyone. You see, how many calories you really burn has a lot to do with your body mass, which obviously varies a great deal from person to person. But still, I like the spirit of this study.

Just for fun, let's look at some approximate numbers based on a 155-pound woman.

McDonald's Big Mac – to burn off the 550 calories in the burger itself, not including fries or soda, a 155-pound woman would have to spend about an hour cycling at a moderate pace of about 13 miles per hour.

Arby's Reuben – That same woman would have to walk at a moderate pace for nearly three hours to work off the 640 calories in this sandwich. Adding fries? Keep walking…

Super Sonic Double Cheeseburger with Mayo – If this woman is feeling particularly indulgent, she may opt for this 1160-calorie burger. She would just have to do about three hours of low-impact aerobics to work it off.

Healthy Bites appears on MyHealthNewsDaily on Wednesdays. Deborah Herlax Enos is a certified nutritionist and a health coach and weight loss expert in the Seattle area with more than 20 years of experience. Read more tips on her blog, Health in a Hurry!

Deborah Enos, CN, also known as "The One-Minute Wellness Coach," is The Health Coach for busy, working people. She pares her good-health messages down to simple and fast bullet points that can impact lives in 60 seconds or less. Deborah serves as a board member of the American Heart Association.  In addition to writing the Healthy Bites column for Live Science, Deborah is a regular on FOX Business News, NBC and ABC, and is a frequent contributor to The Costco Connection, Parade Magazine, Self Magazine, Good Housekeeping and USA Today. Deborah is also The One Minute Wellness Coach for The Doctors TV Show.