Thinking burns calories!

Computer Brain

Ok, so this is what I learnt today about Information Theory from Britannica.  Don’t ask how I found myself here, it is a long story of distraction!

10,000,000 bits per second of information from the eyes

1,000,000 bits per second of information from the skin

100,000 bits per second of information from the ears

100,000 bits per second of information from smell

1,000 bits per second of information from taste

Which totals over 11 million bits of information per second…the problem is the brain can only process 50-60 bits of information per second!  Which is why there might be a slight delay in feeling pain, or laughing at that bad joke someone just told you in the staff room!

I also learnt, thanks to University World News, that the brain weighs about 2% a person total body weight, yet it consumes 20% of its energy!

Which got me thinking…

If thinking takes energy, what does that equate to in calories?  [I think you can see where I might be going here]

Well according to Anne Marie Helmenstine, PhD, it turns out the human brain burns about one tenth of a calorie every minute just keeping us alive.  When we read, that equates to 1.5 calories a minute!

I think I am onto something here!

Determined to proven my point, I delved deeper and came across an article titled ‘Do you burn more calories when you think hard?‘ by Alison Bond.  I had a feeling this was going to be it!

In her article, Alison refers to a study by researchers from Canada’s Université Laval.  The study comprised of a comparison between three types of activity; relaxation, reading a text and intense computer work.  According to lead researcher Dr Jean-Philippe Chaput, “Computer-related activities represent a sedentary activity that is stressful and biologically demanding” (as cited in Bond, 2008).  Explains a lot!

Following the activity the participants  were treated to a buffet lunch. and it turns out the intense computer work group consumed 200 more calories than the relaxation group.  This was not what I wanted to hear!

Further, “Brain processes such as thinking are fueled by glucose, a simple sugar found in food. Prolonged thought requires more insulin, which may explain why completing the hardest task made subjects hungrier” (Bond, 2008).  No wonder studying makes me hungry!

So finding myself distracting and wandering down the garden path, I have learnt that while thinking burns calories, it actually makes you hungrier due to the need to replenish glucose stores used by the brain.  Adding further insult to injury, apparently, according to Dr Chaput, “[Mental work] deserves to be counter-balances by an adequate physical activity regime” (as cited in Bond, 2013).

So it looks like I am going for my walk this afternoon after all!


Bond, A. (2008).  Do you burn more calories when you think hard?  Retrieved September 9, 2014 from

Helmenstine, A.M. (n.d.). Do you burn more calories when you think hard? Retrieved September 9, 2014 from

Markowsky, G. (2013). Information Theory:Physiology. Encyclopedia Britannica.  Retrieved from

The brain – Our most energy-consuming organ (2013). University World News. Retrieved September 9, 2014 from


Computer Brain

Public domain Image from:  [copyright free]


2 responses to “Thinking burns calories!

  1. Very interesting, indeed! I love being distracted by such “fascinating trivia”… Now I also know why I have eaten so many slabs of chocolate and ran about 30 kms per week over the past 2 months! I should stop thinking so much 🙂


  2. HI Anne
    Then why aren’t I slim? Damn


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