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


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?”