Weight Loss Tip: Avoid the Couch Potatoes

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Television snacking increases the amount you eat and your risk of obesity.  

I am starting a new series of short articles that are hopefully both entertaining and informative.  My goal is to provide a quick blurb each Saturday on a weight loss tip and some research to back it up if it exists. 

Mindless Eating in front Television

Mindless Snack while watching TV

Today’s tip is to not eat while distracted by television, movies, or video games.  Mindless snacking while being distracted or entertained by these devices will cause you to consume more calories.  These household devices have earned the names of idiot boxes or boob tubes.  Many of us sit mindlessly in front of them for hours every night.  I can’t count the number of times I have plopped down in front of the tv and started grazing off a plate to realize I finished and I could not remember eating much less tasting the food.   The mindless eating phenomenon is worse with you sit down with a bag of chips or popcorn or as I refer to them the “snack feedbags.”

Research on TV and Food Consumption:

  1. Watching TV affects your memory of the meal.  One study looked at young women allowed toeat in front of a television and found that they had a less vivid memory of what they ate during lunch[1].  It would make sense that the subjects would have less satisfaction from their meal and might eat more.  This effect has been confirmed by other studies and researchers and found that it is tied to the
    Mindless Intake in front Television

    Mindless Snack while watching TV

    amount consumed also[2].   

  2. Reduced attentiveness during meals and snacks increases food consumption.   A meta-analysis review of 24 studies that looked at television and food consumption found being in front of a TV increased food consumed by up to 25%.  This result means that if you eat 800 calories at the dining room table, this activity could increase the calories consumed to 1,000.  That would be 20 pounds of weight gain in a year (I know this is a generalization.)[3].  
  3. TV will increase energy intake.  One last study looked at two different situations and compared the energy or calories consumed in a buffet style meal by 21 male subjects while watching TV and also when they were with friends[4].  Those who watched television ate 14% more calories versus 18% when they were consuming with friends.  Apparently, both distracted the consumer and increased calories ingested.

The problem is in the term “mindless.”  The evidence clearly indicates that being more attentive during food consumption will likely influence the type and amount of food we consume.  Incorporation of more attentive-eating practices into weight loss and maintenance interventions provides a novel approach that may reduce the need to calorie count.  The TV distracts you from enjoying and truly tasting all the flavors of the meal.  Enjoy your meal times and make them sacred.  Sit at the dining room table with family and friends.  If you are single, make it part eating and part meditation time.  Enjoy each bite and chew it thoroughly.

Footnotes
[1]Higgs and Woodward, “Television Watching during Lunch Increases Afternoon Snack Intake of Young Women.”
[2]Braude and Stevenson, “Watching Television While Eating Increases Energy Intake. Examining the Mechanisms in Female Participants.”
[3]Robinson et al., “Eating Attentively: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Effect of Food Intake Memory and Awareness on Eating.”
[4]Hetherington et al., “Situational Effects on Meal Intake: A Comparison of Eating Alone and Eating with Others.”
Braude, L, and RJ Stevenson. “Watching Television While Eating Increases Energy Intake. Examining the Mechanisms in Female Participants.” Appetite 76 (May 1, 2014): 9–16. [PubMed]
Hetherington, MM, AS Anderson, GN Norton, and L Newson. “Situational Effects on Meal Intake: A Comparison of Eating Alone and Eating with Others.” Physiology & Behavior 88, no. 4–5 (July 30, 2006): 498–505. [PubMed]
Higgs, S, and M Woodward. “Television Watching during Lunch Increases Afternoon Snack Intake of Young Women.” Appetite 52, no. 1 (February 1, 2009): 39–43. [PubMed]
Robinson, E, P Aveyard, A Daley, K Jolly, A Lewis, D Lycett, and S Higgs. “Eating Attentively: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Effect of Food Intake Memory and Awareness on Eating.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 97, no. 4 (April 1, 2013): 728–42. [PubMed]
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About the Author

ChuckH

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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