WATCH OUT: This can make you pig out!

Thinking, of all things, can make us overeat. Studies show that intellectual activities -- from reading to writing -- can make people eat more than when they're merely resting.

Researchers discovered that intellectual work leads to more pronounced fluctuations in glucose levels than rest periods, perhaps because of the stress of thinking. The body reacts to these fluctuations by demanding food to restore glucose, a sugar that serves as the brain's fuel.

Glucose is converted by the body from carbohydrates and is delivered to the brain through the bloodstream. Because the brain cannot produce glucose, it needs a constant supply. Moreover, brain cells require twice as much energy as other cells in the body.

Interestingly, studies in animals have shown that consuming fewer calories overall leads to sharper brains and longer life, and most researchers concur that the findings generally extend to human beings.

Caloric overcompensation following intellectual work, coupled with the fact that we are more sedentary when performing intellectual tasks, could be contributing to the obesity epidemic in the United States and beyond.

The results aren't all that surprising. I remember becoming considerably famished after studying long hours for midterms and finals. Similarly, even if I eat a hearty breakfast before going to work, my body demands fuel -- at least a snack of some sort -- after I've worked a couple of hours.

Working hard always seems to sap our energy. Not only do we feel more tired, but it makes us work up an appetite. The findings dispel the faulty notion that sitting around is the easiest way to gain weight.

It's important to monitor your caloric intake, especially during those times you might feel most vulnerable to binge eating: during midterms and finals, while working late hours at work, following a tough breakup, etc. Whenever possible, squeeze in a couple of hours of exercise each week. In addition, give yourself a breather every so often, and make sure you're getting ample rest each night.

Have you found that intellectual activities -- especially those demanding rigorous thinking -- lead you to stuff your face?

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