Writing books can make you fat

Those of us who write books for a living know what a struggle it is to keep off the pounds. Now it appears that the demands of our occupation — and not just the lack of exercise — may have a role in writers’ weight problems.

In the November issue of Scientific American, columnist Steve Mirsky describes recent research that may explain why writers in particular are more likely to be overweight. Published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, the study asked students to engage in three different activities. First they simply sat and relaxed. Then they completed a series of memory and attention tests. Finally, they were told to read and summarize a text. After forty five minutes performing each of these tasks, the students were offered an all-you-can eat buffet.

The actual caloric expenditure of performing any of these tasks was minimal. Intellectual work burns only three more calories an hour than merely sitting and relaxing. But when these students used their noggins (Activities 2 and 3) they later consumed 200 – 250 more calories than the students who had merely sat and relaxed.

Blood samples drawn before, during, and after the activities offer a possible explanation. Intellectual activities cause wide fluctuations in glucose and insulin levels, and may trigger hunger — resulting in the students eating far more than they actually expended in the activity. The researchers called it “caloric overcompensation” — in other words, after using their brains, they ate too much. They concluded that jobs involving intellectual tasks, combined with the sedentary nature of that work, could contribute to our society’s currently problem with obesity.

So that explains why writing makes me ravenous.

I’m off to the UK, so I won’t be blogging here this week. But next Tuesday, check out my blog entry over on Murderati.com: “You can’t be just a writer anymore.”

10 replies
  1. joliehale
    joliehale says:

    Wow. So that’s why I’m ready for dinner when I leave my day job at 4:30 pm. I just sit and read/think/write/deal with information all day!

    I’ll have to start paying attention to how much more or less hungry I feel on days when I happen to move around doing lots of work errands.

  2. spyscribbler
    spyscribbler says:

    Have a great time! I hooked up a desk to my treadmill (well, it’s a cloudwalker), so I could walk and write at the same time.

    Sitting all day long gets old! If you google “Treadmill Desks,” there are some fascinating things desk-workers are doing to get the blood moving.

  3. tuttle
    tuttle says:

    I read your article
    “You can’t be just a writer anymore.”
    Interesting stuff. One certainly has to be somewhat of an expert in time management these days (and I am sure these new rules are just as tough on writer’s who only have one or two books on the resume as much as it is on writer’s such as yourself with a more established career)
    But you have to follow the money, which means eyeballs. The more readers you gain, the better it is for not only your own work, but literature in general.
    Especially in these stunning economic times.
    Good luck to everyone out there.

  4. IServeTheCat
    IServeTheCat says:

    I read your post on Muderati, and found this in the comments:

    “And yet this is the trend. I think young writers (35 and under) really do benefit by having a strong platform, […], before trying to publish with the Big Six.”

    Big Six? What is that? Are there only six publishers that “count” or something?

    Just curious.

    Anyway, I am VERY excited to see that you are enjoying your writing. I can’t wait to read your next book!

  5. therese
    therese says:

    LOL! Awesome post on Murderati.com. It’s so true and this spiral of requirements and speed is no good for the newbie writer, because agents and editors will tell you, it’s all about the book.

    A good writer is found – but if, like a wall street guru requires – the writer doesn’t increase at 30% a year – well, stocks plunge, the economy implodes and no one buys books ever again. Which explains why so many authors are one-book-wonders, never heard from again.

    Tess, you may have bought the rat-race scenario once or twice in the past. Now you know the truth within. It’s all about the best book you want to write, and connecting with readers, whenever they pick up the book. Amen.

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