Healthy Living

Break the habit of eating + watching TV

West Elm Tripod Table
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In a 1987 study published in the Journal of Gastroenterology, researchers make a compelling case that distracted eating creates a stressful situation. But eating while watching TV (the number one distracted eating habit), most would argue, is not a bad thing. I for one associated it with being productive. I’m getting two things done at once!

That is what I thought but there was this bigger issue I was now being forced to think about. Because I need to be more thoughtful about my gastrointestinal health, I decided to look into this topic a little more. These are some of the things that I learned:

  • The stress caused by distracted eating throws off our metabolism and digestion.
  • Eating while you’re slouched over is a terrible position for digestion because it increases the chances that food will get trapped causing gas, heartburn, and bloating.
  • When we’re eating while watching TV, we tend to eat more because we’re paying less attention to our internal processing food cues which tell us when we’re full.
  • It feeds into the habit of nighttime snacking, which can cause sleep disturbances.
  • That sleep disturbance means we don’t get refreshing sleep and are more tired and have less impulse control the next day.
  • Late night snacking leaves more undigested food behind, so you grow a gut.
  • The habit of eating late at night can lead to depression.
  • And there’s a rise in lower back pain associated with sitting on soft sofas.

The way I began to look at this issue is this: On the one hand, we’re trying to maintain our weight, have a flat stomach, and want all the other benefits of good digestion, but our habit over here could be sabotaging our hard work.

Since the research, I began to take my habit of eating while watching TV a little more seriously. To help me make it a priority, I do what I often do to help me decide whether it’s worth it to change a habit: I consider the person I’m trying to become. I visualized one version of myself in the future having meals at a table and another where I continue to eat and watch TV. One version came across as more successful person so here we are. I’m now cleaning up this habit and if you want to as well, you can try my approach.

Willpower-proof your life

It will be easier to stick to any habit if you set up your environment to do the right thing. So for this habit, that’s my approach or where I’m focusing my initial efforts. I’m making alternative options more attractive. By doing that, I won’t have to remind myself not to plunk down in front of the TV with my veggie bowl on my lap. Instead of forcing myself not to eat in front of the TV, I will be feeding my love for nice things and that vision of the more successful future-me. Here are 7 ways you too can willpower-proof your life to make eating and watching TV a less attractive habit.

1. Make your dining area pretty

We’re pleasure seekers, it’s true, but it’s not just food that can give us a pleasant dining experience. The West Elm tripod table above and the colorful dining area is a great example of a pretty space that’s a more pleasant alternative to eating on the sofa. And the flowers and the fruit bowl are great ideas to steal. I also like a beautiful light fixture and upholstered chairs in your dining area, they give it that upgraded dining experience. I know where I would prefer to eat!

2. Dine alfresco more often

Taking it outside is another way to get pleasure from your surroundings while you eat. Some of the smallest balconies and outdoor spaces can be turned into living areas with space for dining. No outdoor space at home? Take advantage of public spaces like parks, especially at lunchtime.

3. Turn on music when you’re eating

Music goes with everything and in my book is a better accompaniment to food than TV. Several studies show that calming music aids digestion, minimize eating distractions and releases feel-good sensations that heighten our dining experience. Even eating a sandwich in the park can be turned into a beautiful experience with the right playlist.

4. Use your hands

You can get the multitasking benefit of eating and watching TV in other ways. A friend of mine loves knitting and use her TV time to knit. My cousin has a TV in the kitchen and catches up on her soaps when she’s making dinner. By doing things that let you use your hands, you’re still being productive.

5. Get rid of your TV

Most of us like TV. It’s relaxing and for many, their only hobby or source of entertainment. But this pleasure box is also a way to distract us from our problems and can keep us from career and health goals. If you suspect you watch too much TV, consider getting rid of your TV. You could become more active and improve your mental health when you do. BTW, according to behavioral health experts who say we lose mental sharpness when we watch TV, more than 2 hours a day is too much TV.

6. Limit TV to once a week

Not willing or ready to completely give up your TV? A great compromise is to get in all your TV time in one sitting. For a while, I kept TV time to the weekend. I would watch all my shows while I was doing housework on Saturdays. I had forgotten but I kid you not, that was one of the most productive periods of my life.

7. Get a great home hobby

A hobby that makes you feel like a rockstar could be hard for TV to compete with. Let’s face it, one of the big draws of TV is the entertainment and distraction factor. We want something to do, but could these be cooler hobbies?

  • Cooking
  • DJing/sound-mixing
  • Video editing
  • Online business
  • Podcasting
  • Bookclubs
  • Poker
  • Photography
  • Online courses (find free and affordable ones at Coursera and Udemy)
  • A musical instrument (2 affordable ones are the guitar and keyboards)
  • Art/Painting/Drawing/Calligraphy

There’s a reason we do the things we do. Often, it’s because they feel good or because they’ve become unconscious habits. Eating and watching TV can be either so just trying to quit may be hard. Willpower-proofing your environment and making it easier for you to choose the healthier option is a good cheat.

Using these ideas, you can willpower-proof the change process and make it easier on yourself to wean off the habit of having TV with your meals.

 


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About the Author

Christine is a lifestyle coach who believes the way we live affects everything we do, especially our motivation. She's also a mindful living educator living in Los Angeles, California.

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