Working on a computer may lead to expanding waistlines because taxing mental efforts may cause people to eat more food without burning more calories, say researchers from Laval University in Quebec.
In this new study, 14 young women with normal body weights and eating habits ate a standard breakfast.
Two and a half hours after breakfast, they performed one of three activities: relaxing in a chair, reading and summarizing some text, or performing a mentally challenging computer task in the presence of distractions.
After each test, the women were asked how challenging they found the task - and how hungry they were. Then, they were given access to an unlimited buffet while researchers carefully recorded how much they ate.
All the women took turns performing each activity, allowing the test results to be compared within individuals.
The women ate about 200 calories more after completing the reading and writing task than they did after relaxing.
After completing the challenging computer task, intake was 250 calories higher than it was after sitting and relaxing.
(Consuming an extra 250 calories every day would equate to a gain of two pounds every month or 24 pounds over one year.)
The researchers say people find computer work that's "knowledge-based" to be stressful and stress has been associated with increased food intake in a variety of contexts.
Health experts say stressed out computer workers should try to monitor their food intake and take periodic breaks that include relaxing physical activity to help manage stress.
For advice on how to manage your food intake during a hectic day at the office, check out our strategies for long-term weight control.
This study was published in the September 2008 issue of Psychsomatic Medicine.
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