How Binge-Watching TV Affects Your Eating Habits


The days are shorter, the air is crisper, and it’s prime time to cozy up on the couch with your favorite fall TV premieres. But a few episodes always seem to go down easier with a few snacks. TV hours have been associated with weight gain for a long time, and you can guess why. You’re sitting instead of stepping. You’re served ads for tempting foods and drinks. Before you know it, you’re breaking out the chips and ice cream, dialing for pizza, and settling in for a watch-and-eat marathon.

“We’ve seen a relationship between television and mindless eating for some time,” says Brian Wansink, PhD, Professor, and Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, and author of Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life. “It really depends on the type of show. Action and adventure, or anything exciting and distracting, has a tremendous influence. If there’s any food sitting in front of you, it might be gone in seconds.” His research reveals that viewers are 98 percent more likely to snack while watching an action movie, and consume 28 to 55 percent more popcorn while watching a tearjerker. Talk about emotional eating!

But TV habits have evolved, as fewer Americans subscribe to cable, and more press play on unlimited hours of online entertainment with Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. Netflix reports that users, once hooked on a show, typically finish an entire season within one week, averaging 2 hours of couch time per day. So if you’re bingeing on episode after episode, are you more likely to binge eat, too?

“Binge-watching is a little different,” Wansink explains. “If you’re watching five episodes of the same show, there’s less variety, almost like a long, undifferentiated movie. People get restless and find ways to break up that block of time. You’re likely to multitask and play with your phone. And you’re likely to overeat. We’ve found that for every four or five episodes of TV, people eat at least twice, including one meal.”

The best advice, of course, is to get off the couch and log some steps! But if you do get sucked into a new series this fall, try these tips to slow the snack-athon. 

  • Don’t eat dinner in front of the TV. Switch off the tube and put down your smartphone during meals. You’ll better enjoy what you’re eating and pay more attention to when you’re full.
  • Plate and portion snacks before you sit down. No good ever came from dropping a jumbo bag of chips on the coffee table. Put a reasonable portion into a small bowl and put the bag away before hitting play.
  • Binge on healthy fruit and vegetables. “Even if people over-snack while watching action shows, they’re indiscriminate about what they’re snacking on,” Wansink confides. “Put a massive vegetable platter in front of you, instead of Chex Mix or M&Ms.”
  • Choose small treats to satisfy your sweet tooth. If you crave sugar after dinner, instead of devouring an entire candy bar, break off a small piece of chocolate and savor it slowly with a cup of mint tea.
  • Multitask with fitness. Fitbit Ambassador Julianne Hough likes to do an abs series while watching TV. Sneak in conditioning, stretches, or foam rolling in the living room.
  • Give yourself a break. If you’re snacking out of restlessness, pause that auto-play. “Literally, give yourself a break!” advises Wansink. “Get up, move around. Even 15 minutes between episodes makes a difference.”

Still craving a snack? Try one of these 7 healthier toppings for popcorn.

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