Are Electronics Making Us Fat?
Avoid the TV when you eat.
Published: August 6, 2012
Train your taste buds to crave less.
Cravings for salty and/or sugary foods—which are usually high in fat, too—can be extremely powerful, especially once your taste buds get a sampling. The last time you had salted potato chips or sweet and salty kettle corn, chances are you had more than one helping. Your taste buds will compel you to keep eating what recently stimulated them, so the more calorie-dense foods you eat, the more you’ll want to eat them.
These foods make it harder to go back to nutrient-rich foods no matter what your mind thinks and knows it should or shouldn’t eat in copious amounts. This is why focusing on nutritionally dense foods from the start rather than trying to break the cycle of craving nutrient-poor foods is important to maximize weight loss, as well as for sustained energy and keeping your fullness center on cue.
And I apologize for telling you something you probably already know (and might have tried before), but I implore you to make this a household rule: Stay away from the television when you eat. When it comes to crippling your innate sense of fullness, I can’t think of anything worse than eating in front of the television. When you’re tuned into the television (or computer for that matter), you put yourself at a huge disadvantage because you’re tuning out the channel between your stomach and brain. Scientific research bears this out.
A recent study at Yale University found that TV watchers who viewed snack commercials were inspired to eat just about anything (not just the brand featured). This snacking was totally unrelated to feeling either hungry beforehand or full afterward!
In a 2006 study published in Physiology and Behavior, when people were exposed to television for 30 minutes, they consumed 36 percent more calories of pizza, or 71 percent more calories of macaroni and cheese, compared with people who listened to music for a half hour. In full fairness, listening to music also has been associated with higher food intake, but less so than watching television. And we can assume that people would eat the least if they weren’t exposed to either television or music.
In general, people who keep their weight in check have been documented to watch far less television than those who struggle with their weight. The majority of people in the National Weight Control Registry, for instance (again, this is a group of about 5,000 people who have kept off at least 30 pounds over the long run), average about 10 hours of television per week. Meanwhile, most people average about 4 hours per day.
So it’s a forgone conclusion: separate eating from viewing electronic media, which includes your television and computer. I bet that if you just try to cut back on your digital engagements, and you don’t do anything else differently (including altering what you eat), you’ll still come out ahead because you’ll become more physically active. Yet another recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that people who watched half as much TV as usual for three weeks burned an extra 119 calories per day. That’s comparable to the effect of walking more than a mile.
If you must snack in front of the TV, choose your snacks wisely. Natural popcorn and raw veggies with a yogurt-based dip can fill you up without loading you down.
Michael Snyder, M.D., F.A.C.S., is a board-certified general surgeon and a highly respected leader and mentor in the field of bariatric surgery. He has performed more than 3,500 primary bariatric surgical procedures, including post-surgical coaching and ongoing health care.