IT Employment

Do IT pros eat more?

Researchers conclude that mental activities such as reading, writing, and computer work can trigger overeating.

Researchers conclude that mental activities such as reading, writing, and computer work can trigger overeating.

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If you wait around long enough, somebody somewhere will conduct a study about the strangest phenomenon you can think of. Ever fleetingly wondered what effect repeated viewings of Steven Seagal movies have on the thyroids of 20-something men? Of course you haven't! But it wouldn't surprise me if students at some college somewhere were working on that right now.

Sometimes, however, a study comes along that provides pretty interesting conversation fodder, if nothing else. I thought that was the case when I ran across a study published this month in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine. This is one of those.

According to a story from the Globe and Mail, researchers at Laval University in Quebec City tested for the effect mental activity has on eating:

Students performed three 45-minute tasks and were then served an all-you-can-eat buffet. The researchers measured food consumption after each of the following tasks: 1) resting in a sitting position, 2) reading a document and writing a summary, and 3) performing a battery of computer tests.

Compared with food consumed after resting, intake increased by 200 calories after reading and writing, and by 250 calories after working on the computer. Levels of the stress hormone cortisol were also significantly higher following the more demanding mental tasks.

(Cortisol is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands that helps the body break down food for energy (metabolism), and it helps the body manage stress. Cortisol levels can be affected by many conditions like physical or emotional stress, strenuous activity, infection, or injury.)

Now I'm not sure what, if anything, is supposed to be done with this information. The implication of the study is that it's more strenuous, when you're sitting still, to use one's brain than to not. I would be more interested in seeing the differences in caloric intakes between physical activity and mental activity.

That would be good ammo to have the next time someone says, "How can you be tired? All you did was sit in front of a computer all day?"

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

84 comments
venividivici2003
venividivici2003

I've seen a lot of overweight IT pros, and it seems that sitting at a desk all day and eating with no exercise makes them fat. I agree with this analysis.

cameron.duffy
cameron.duffy

Yawning helps drop brain temperature! Thanks, after reading this blog my brain is a lot cooler. A Hot Brain, or more specifically, a hot neuron, sends signals to the T-Cell community which thinks the neuron is infected. The T-Cells mobilise and destroy the sucker. Voila! Overstimulated neurons generate more heat which makes them more likely to trigger the response. Drugs like Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (Ecstasy) and similar tend to overstimulate the neuron as well, which in large continued doses can cause brain damage. There is a savior however: Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) acts as a buffer dissipating excess neuronal waste heat. So folks, the answer is simple: Drop acid and yawn a lot.

fredeppy
fredeppy

I don't know about the Pro's but us wannabe's and should of been's sure do. Speaking for myself, I retired in 2000 and have spent a good share of my time sitting at this thing and gaining almost 60 lbs. Fred :)

mcwise
mcwise

I found after 40 years of work that lack of physical activity stimulates some thing to demand physical stimulus. There is a need for mind-muscle balance. Too much mind time and not enough muscle time triggers a response that will look for any available means to re-balance the whole person. I use to visit the coffee pot often because I was craving some kind of physical stimulation that was missing while I was programming. Being a sysadmin the last 20 years has kept me balanced between physical activity, social activity and mental activity. I don't coffee as much or eat as much. Whenever one the social/mental gets too much attention, then the physical kicks in and pushes me toward food, or some other muscle activity.

brian
brian

How about Air Traffic Controllers or Police? Many police officers are packing more than heat.... A few too many donuts may be physically unhealthy, but, after a stressful moment, a nice fresh donut can make you forget many, many terrible things. However, I think the biggest contributor to the obesity factor is eating on the job and/or on the run. I'd love a survey of people with just two factors: Are you overweight? Do you bring your own lunch at least 4 days a week?

melekali
melekali

...and I do not overeat at work or home.

tasllc
tasllc

Eat more - Sure. How about wheat thins - Deceptive they dont nmake anyone thinner. How about ritz crackers/peanut butter packs. NOw im tryin to lose the 25+ I gained while sitting at the desk reading answering emmails, the phone. Opps gotta get up the food machine is down the hall and I hear grumblings.

prplshroud
prplshroud

The subject statement has been used many many times to describe my eating habits. Some have even gone so far as to state that 2 feet of clearance is required as you may accidentally get caught in between me and food. Taking food off my plate could be a life changing event for you as digits or even limbs may be lost. :) Only one person posesses the talent to reach in and snatch something off the plate without getting scathed. Do IT folks eat more??? YES WE DO!!!

marathoner
marathoner

you just have to reach for the miso soup and low glycemic carbs when you be a thinkin. That way your brain gets what it needs but your midsection doesn't get what it doesn't need.

roy.evison
roy.evison

No it depends on your predisposition to eating.

amornail
amornail

In other words doing a routine/automatic mental activity does not have the same effect as a highly challenging logical thinking task. Relevant results can be achieved using subjects that really deliver in their mental activity like Chess Grandmasters. ???You lose weight playing chess in competition,??? Grandmaster Ashley Maurice says. ???When you???re playing, it???s so intense. Six hours for one game. Just imagine taking two (final exams) on the same day, back to back, and doing that for nine days in a row. http://www.chessworld.net/chessclubs/forums_thread_show_one_posteronleftstyle.asp?forumid=6015&ThreadID=606666 Now let???s look at the scientific aspect in numbers: Brain Energy Metabolism: "Although the brain represents only 2% of the body weight, it receives 15% of the cardiac output, 20% of total body oxygen consumption, and 25% of total body glucose utilization." http://www.acnp.org/g4/gn401000064/CH064.HTML Oxygen consumption means burning calories in form of carbohydrates (slower) or fast burning glucose which seems to be the preferred food for chess grandmasters before games. Chess and Nutrition: ??? The most preferred solid food by Grandmasters included chocolate (80.5%), fruits (14.6%) and cereal bars (9.8%).??? http://www.chesscircle.net/chess-strategies/chess-and-nutrition.html Now coming back to IT ??? the only time I obviously felt this in my experience was during CCIE lab training when I lost 15 lbs in a few weeks before the exam; even I was eating a lot of calories the 10-12 hours a day of mental concentration burned much more - without that training I could have never make it in the 8 hour lab exam.

jhamblet
jhamblet

I agree that the brain is a hungry organ!! I have read about it with keen interest. And since I started working on my master's degree in addition to having a mentally strenuous job in IT, I find that I am requiring more food. I go for the slowly metabolized stuff--whole grains, etc. No refined sugar.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I and I'm guessing other's like me actually eat less. Taking time to go find food and consume it takes time away from the keyboard. I'll more often see it's 1145 and start thinking about going to find food ine fifteen minutes but it's 1330. Then it's 1500 by the time I look at the clock again and actually force myself away from whatever task has me interested.

rkendsley
rkendsley

This is a diversion tactic. I know at least for myself it is... while I'm thinking or mulling over an issue I tend to eat candy, snacks, etc. I gained a lot of weight, and now I'm on one of the popular diet plans to lose some.... 18lbs in 5 weeks (NS). But if I'm physically busy, moving from place to place overeating is usually no problem for me.... just when I sit, think and work.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I have my selection of snacks but mostly it's reaching for the mug while waiting for something to load or run unless I've all the data I need for an analysis when I'm grinding my fingers into Excel thinking that just a few more minutes will finish off the task. sitting still does make it easy to go through a bag of chocolate almonds on slower days though. Well, if the news sites like TR are slow along with my list of tasks.

Trekker
Trekker

I believe it's stress related. The more stressed you are, I think the more likely you are to migrate to comfort foods. As we all know, comfort foods tend to be higher in calories than otherwise healthier choices. I believe that the calm caused by a full, fat-laden meal offsets the effects of a stressful day and helps me make it through the rest of the day. I know that on particularly stressful days my usual lunchtime tuna fish sandwich just doesn't seem to satisfy, and I'll sometimes wander over to Steak n' Shake.

rdbrown
rdbrown

I'm curious why you were reading Psychosomatic Medicine to begin with.

cdpitcock
cdpitcock

I've done both IT related work and people related work. You would think that all that people interaction and having lunch would put on the pounds. But when I sit at my computer all day hacking code, I seem to eat more. You'd think that all the banging my head against the wall would be good exercise. Guess not. I'm up 10 pounds.

Late nights, off hours stress, massive amouts of caffine...=+20lbs

ssanders
ssanders

Not this one. Picture rock hard tasty abs, washer-board style, glistening in the sun... No cheetos for me.

kconoly
kconoly

I think it's probably a personality issue. The type of persona that ends up in the IT field tends to be excessive/compulsive. Don't know that I eat anymore, but I have found myself drinking more.(just kidding)

rajesh.mathur
rajesh.mathur

I never understood why I was never a part of any such studies? I am an IT professional and I don't think I eat more. That may be a personal attribute, though. However, even if we consider basic human instincts, after any act where mind or body is being used (utilization or non-utilization), energy loses. And anyone can understand that energy lost should be compensated for..result is eating. Now, what's new in this? Why just IT Pros?

sean
sean

yes it does and the extra large big macs!

mrrizzo
mrrizzo

Of all the computers I have ever worked on; the same defect seems to crop-up all the time. They are all located too close to a frig.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

1. How much do they eat? 2. What do they eat? 3. How much do they weight? 3. How active are they? 5. What types of activity? 6. Male or female? 7. Age? 8. Physical ethnic/racial characteristics? 9. Familial history? One other point that I didn't see mentioned in your article, although you came close, is the effects of cortisol and the incidence and severity of allergies. "Levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, were also significantly higher following the more demanding mental tasks." From the Fatigue.org site: Quote Allergic reactions typically have an adrenal component. Most allergies involve the release of histamine and other pro-inflammatory substances (substances that produce inflammation). Cortisol, one of the primary hormones produced by the adrenal glands, is a strong anti-inflammatory (a substance that reduces inflammation). In fact, the amount of cortisol circulating in the blood is the key factor in controlling the level of inflammatory reactions in the body. For this reason proper adrenal function plays an important role in mediating the histamine release and inflammatory reactions that produce the symptoms experienced with allergies. With Adrenal Fatigue there is more of a tendency to experience allergies. The more histamine that is released, the more cortisol it takes to control the inflammatory response and the harder the adrenals have to work to produce more cortisol. The harder the adrenals have to work, the more fatigued they become and the less cortisol they produce, allowing histamine to inflame the tissues more. This vicious circle can lead to progressively deeper Adrenal Fatigue as well as to larger allergic reactions. Unquote http://www.adrenalfatigue.org/allergies.php, 3 Oct 08. So we already know that I.T. folks have a higher than normal trend toward weight gain. Do we also have a higher susceptibility to allergies, and a higher chance for more severe reactions?

reisen55
reisen55

It was a dark and stormy night (apologies, Snoopy) ... at a medical office, I was doing work and very tired, wanted work to be done but the staff (and staff are mostly female) had left by one computer Sports Illustrated, Swimsuit Issue and in the kitchen DOUBLE STUFFED OREOs I told them on next visit to NEVER do this again to your poor, tired consultant. I brought them two coffee cakes next visit for revenge.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

of the consultant tugging long in to the night at his desk.

reisen55
reisen55

And they enjoy the coffee cake too. I have a warm relationship with this client (not all are the same) that allows me this freedom.

catherder_finleyd
catherder_finleyd

The long and late hours many of us work in IT also contribute to our overeating. In my own experience, I would almost certainly get the "munchies" after midnight when I was doing a marathon coding session.

cory.schultze
cory.schultze

Scientists know that around 30% of our calorific intake is used just to maintain the brain - even more to thoroughly excersise it. It is a complex task, even though it may seem second-nature, to type. Firstly, the brain must "speak" the intended text, which uses our language processing. It has to spell the words, each time actuating the complex muscular movements of the fingers (motor cortex, cerebellum) and receiving confirmation by touch (sensory cortex, paretial lobe); The brain refers to a mental map of the keyboard, using our spatial awareness (paretial lobe) and memory (temporal lobe); The eyes return information which then has to be decoded (occipital lobe) and the image recognised as letters and words (frontal lobe, temporal lobe); Then if a mistake is made, or the words need juggling, we have to fix it (frontal lobe). Scientists also know that it takes a great deal of energy to operate the eyes, as complex chemical reactions and biochemical translations take place to decrypt the images. Needless to say; we may eat more, we may not get much physical excersise - but our brains certainly do get a good work-out.

MavMin2
MavMin2

From one Shultz to another Schultze I have to tell ya that I multi-task as much as any person I know and I am still overweight. Not only do I have my FT IT job but I put in 60 hours or so a month doing non-profit work plus maintain my own website, blog and contribute to many forums. If all that brain, eye and hand exercise really burned calories I'd look like an anorexic instead of a beached whale. :-)

MavMin2
MavMin2

I can see it now. Hi, I?m ___ and I?m an IT Pro. I?m overweight and it?s not my fault. The devil in the PC made me do it. LOL!!!! Hmm, can I file for a disability retirement based on my job related injury to my body?

newdannyboy
newdannyboy

Yes, IT work can make you eat more, it depends on how one handles stress and how close the junk food is. I have sat a desk and answered calls solving problems every ten minutes and I eat more. But, when I am in the field solving the same problems moving from site to site, I do not eat or crave junk food. The one thread about "Flight or Fight" might be on to something, An IT pro is stuck in a chair. IF you move around form client to client, the need for food goes down until Lunch or dinner times hits. The study should compare moving or physical work added.

CCCharles
CCCharles

And as a result I have an obesity problem. The question is whether those with a tendancy to overeat are more cerebral by nature and therefore tend to gravitate toward computer based jobs?

gcollins1156
gcollins1156

Yes, I feel after the stress from dealing with issues, between calls I have to have that coffee and a doughnut to keep me energized

antplate
antplate

This comes as no surprise to me. Disregarding the obvious big people i work with, I personally dont know many 'IT pros' that arent even a little bit flabby. I reckon Universit?? Laval Qu??bec do further studies to see whether theres any truth that IT as-a-profession only attracts endomorph body types?

flausher
flausher

I am trying to lose weight, though i would say a high percentage of IT workers are overweight. just cakes are tempting whilst we sit there trying to figure out that bitchin' IT problem thats been bugging us for days..

g_machuca
g_machuca

I think Toni Bowers needs to get herself a partner or a life or both!!! :-) There're bigger things to worry about!! Just joking. IT guys are generally thought off as fat people (remember Jurasic Park?) and believe me, looking around my office, they're right!!! I've never worked in an environment with so many fat people!!!

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

The word 'Fat People' is a derogatory term for a group of people. Perhaps you should rethink your language here.

TheProfessorDan
TheProfessorDan

I don't think this study means a thing. Really you could argue that IT professionals spend less time doing repetitive tasks on their workstations than accountants.

ralph
ralph

It's definitely true in my experience. I'm doing a Maths degree part time and on weekends when I have assessments due, or before exams, I go through bags of Bombay Mix, crisps and chocolates at a disgusting rate. I almost can't study unless there's something there to snack on. Other times (when I'm not studying) I can quite easily forget to eat all day, and just live on coffee.

Photogenic Memory
Photogenic Memory

I live in California so there's a Taco Shop/ Belly Burger/ Pizza village/ Chinese Retaurant/ Sushi Hut/ Coffee House within reach, LOL! The IT field is riddled with random stress events that just beg for celebration when the siege is over. Myself and my friends are not immune to this and are always eating out or calling it in, hehe. Anyways, due to other habits "Cyber-people" enjoy like late night gaming sessions, code writing, hacking, and just plain work; it's no wonder we're out of shape fat high blood pressure having clogged arteries junk food crammer smokers. Hazards of the profession!

mastertexan
mastertexan

I don't smoke.

Photogenic Memory
Photogenic Memory

I should have been more specifc like feigning for Nicotine, Weed, or Heroin. I definitely know a ton of office staff who love all of the above, LOL!

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

No Brekky Good Lunch - Away from Desk Good Dinner Nothing in between Repeat daily. I have been doing this for countless (>10) years plus and I stil weight the same as I was when 21. Edit: Mind you I still play football (or soccer as you may know it)

Chuck B
Chuck B

While those habits may work well for you, they tend to go against the way the human body works as a fuel processing system. It is typically advised to eat a healthy breakfast, one of high fiber if possible, to jumpstart the body's metabolism and set the pace for the rest of the day. Eating a small snack between meals, again a healthy snack, fuels the body's tendency to keep the metabolism elevated. A higher metabolism means more calories burned, even when at rest. Not eating until you are starving, then eating a big meal and potentially overeating are good ways to defeat the body's natural balance of fuel stored vs. what it burns. Keeping the body fueled with smaller meals and snacks throughout the day keeps the body burning energy more efficiently because it is getting that supply as needed. Diets that starve your body of fuel cause a decrease in metabolism because the body goes into low energy burning mode to store and conserve what fuel it does have. A lower metabolism is a huge contributor of weight gain. Sorry, this is a bit of a tangent but I wanted to share what I've learned personally about weight gain/loss and the human body's physiology since so many people struggle with it, particularly at sedentary desk jobs.

Tink!
Tink!

based on what career you choose? I've always been a snacker all throughout the day ever since I was a teen. However, when I started working full-time I barely ate anything during the day. Often I skipped lunch altogether opting for a snack at the desk while continuing to work. (Usually unhealthy snacks.) They say eating small meals throughout the day is better than 3 big meals. But how about a life of working, snacking, working, snacking?