Relaxing in front of the TV for a family movie marathon once in a while sounds like some good wholesome fun. But if your family is more likely to binge-watch a whole season on Netflix every weekend, you could also be bingeing on too much nutritionally poor food.
“For decades researchers have tied television watching to increased weight gain. The sedentary nature of television combined with distraction often promotes mindless eating, and snack foods that are highly palatable make it easy to eat too much,” said Kim Iszler, a registered dietitian with Samaritan Pediatrics. “Traditional TV viewing snacks and beverages tend to be low in fiber and nutrients, and high in fat and calories which makes it easy to eat and drink too much without actually feeling full.”
More TV Leads to More Snacking
The Archives of Internal Medicine published research showing that participants who cut their television viewing in half reduced the number of calories they consumed and increased the number of calories they burned, resulting in an average net decrease of 244 calories a day.
“When you’re eating while you’re watching TV, it’s easy to not pay attention to what you’re eating, how much or how full you feel,” said Iszler.
Children’s diets are also affected by too much television. Researchers reported in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine that children consumed an additional 167 calories for each hour of television they watched. The snacks that were eaten were stated to be high in calories but low in nutrition.
“If you’re regularly eating food in front of the TV that is replacing family meals or snacking on things that are nutritionally poor, that’s a concern,” said Iszler. “Teaching children to practice mindful eating can be a lifelong benefit. Also, regular family meals with positive conversation have been shown to help with overall increased nutritional quality of life and a decrease in picky or selective eating.”
A recent Nielsen report found that adults watch an average of 5 hours and 57 minutes of TV a day, and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that kids between the ages of 8 and 18 consumed an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes of entertainment media a day. All that amounts to plenty of time to eat distractedly while paying attention to something else. And for kids, who seem to have an endless appetite for junk food and TV, the combination can mean missing out on the physical activity and nutritious meals their developing bodies need.
“Changing the traditions in your home to include more fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains, which kids often don’t get enough of, even when doing something like watching TV, can benefit you and also help your kids learn to incorporate healthy options into their lives more easily,” said Iszler.
Build Better Binge-Watching Habits
Whether it’s all of the Harry Potter movies or the newest series on Amazon, Iszler recommends these tips for better binge-watching:
- Set a limit of how many episodes you’ll watch or what time you’ll turn off the TV before you start.
- Eat a nutritious meal before you start watching TV.
- If you’re eating on the couch, portion what you’re eating onto a plate and put the rest away.
- Chips, candy and soda are empty calories that lack the nutrition your body needs. If you’re hungry, make a snack with a little protein. Try cheese and whole grain crackers, hummus and carrots, or apples and peanut butter. If you just need something to crunch, try unsalted nuts, chopped raw veggies or frozen grapes (best for those ages 2 and up).
- Microwave popcorn is full of artificial flavoring and salt. Try air-popped popcorn instead. If you don’t have an air popper, you can put ¼ cup of kernels in a paper lunch bag, folded twice to close. Microwave for two minutes or until the popping slows. Skip the butter and salt. Try gourmet, good-for-you seasonings instead: olive oil, grated Parmesan and fresh rosemary; fresh lime juice and chopped cilantro; Sriracha; cinnamon; smoked paprika; or nutritional yeast.
- Drink a cup of hot herbal tea, like peppermint or chamomile, or water with a sprig of fresh mint or slice of lime.
- Don’t roll right into the next episode. Take a two-minute break to walk the perimeter of your downstairs, then complete 10 jumping jacks and five push-ups.
- Keep your hands busy with other things. Knitting, sewing on a missing button, ironing and folding laundry give you something productive to do while you watch TV. Even little kids can help match socks.
Samaritan Pediatrics now provides services at the Boys & Girls Club in Corvallis. Call 541-768-1220 to schedule an appointment.