What Binge-Watching TV Really Does to Your Body

Netflix and spilling over the top of your pants.

Binge watching is virtually the only way we consume television now. With the advent of streaming sites like Hulu and Netflix, gone are the days of waiting a week between episodes or sitting through commercials. Now we can sit down and watch entire seasons at once—and polish off a bag of chips, bowl of popcorn, and chocolate bar at the same time. (Yes, we admit we're guilty proponents of the binge-watch, binge-eat scenario.) 

While the link between watching TV and mindless eating has been established for years, the bingeing aspect is fairly new. And it doesn't pan out well for your waistline. According to researchers, binge watching can no doubt lead to binge eating. 

"There's convincing evidence in adults that the more television they watch, the more likely they are to gain weight or become overweight or obese," Lilian Cheung, director of health promotion and communication at Harvard School of Public Health, told NPR

Cheung, also the author of Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life, says that prolonged viewing contributes many factors: promoting a sedentary lifestyle, frequent exposure to unhealthy food and beverage marketing, interfering with adequate sleep. She went to explain that watching TV while eating is detrimental because "we are not paying full attention to the food in front of us, and miss the satiety cues letting us know that we are full."

One recent study at the University of Houston surveyed 591 undergraduate students on their viewing, eating, and drinking habits. Lead researcher Temple Northup found that, similar to other studies, the more people watched television, the more they took part in unhealthy eating. "The explanation is relatively straightforward—the act of watching TV is a sedentary activity that encourages snacking," Northup says.

Yet watching TV in general is only one dimension of the issue. According to researchers at Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab, the genre you watch can influence how much you snack. In their findings, action content cued subjects to eat twice as much than their counterparts who watched talk shows. The same goes for sad content, which caused people to each 55 percent more than those who chose upbeat content like romantic comedies. 

This link intrigues research associate Aner Tal, who tried to explain it as such: "It might be the level of distraction — how engaging the content is. Another possibility is that it's the feelings associated with what you are watching. Specifically, anything that involves a stress reaction enhances people's levels of cortisol—and we know that leads to overeating because eating makes you feel temporarily better." (Like tacos to help you cope with the creepiness ofNightcrawler.) 

To avoid this cycle of episode after episode and empty chip bag after empty chip bag, Cheung suggests turning off the TV or walking away from your computer while eating. "Practice mindful eating for more control over your relationship with food. When eating, only eat," she says. "Bring your full attention to the food in front of you. Go beyond taste and engage all the senses, including sight, smell, texture, and the sound your food makes." 

On the other hand, Tal suggests making smarter snacking choices if you don't want to unplug to eat. "Monitor ahead of time what is there for you to eat," he says. "Either put out healthier snacks the table or don't have any snacks on the table."

Seems pretty simple, right? We'll let you know how this goes once we finish Jessica Jones

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Rheanna O'Neil Bellomo