Healthy Living

Break the habit of eating + watching TV

West Elm Tripod Table

In a 1987 study published in the Journal of Gastroenterology, researchers make a compelling case that distracted eating creates a stressful situation. Eating while watching TV is the number one way we eat today, and I don’t think we realized it causes stress.  This stress, the researchers said, throws off our metabolism and digestion. That’s reason enough, I think, to cut it out.

Let me give you a few more…

  • When you’re eating on a sofa you’re slouched over, which is a terrible position for digestion. Food gets trapped and causes gas, heartburn, and bloating.
  • You also end up eating more and gaining weight because you’re paying more attention to your TV program than to your plate.
  • The habit leads to nighttime snacking, which is no treat at all. When you eat late at night, it causes sleep disturbances so you’ll be 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.
  • We’re learning about a rise in lower back pain associated with sitting on soft sofas.

Something else your habit does is cause you to give the lowest priority to such a critical life function as eating. So, on the one hand, we’re trying to lose or maintain our weight, have a flat stomach, and want all the other benefits of good nutrition, but our habit over here is sabotaging our hard work. If you want to change, read on.

Willpower-proof your life

It will be easier to keep your newly organized closet organized if you add a hook behind the bedroom door to hang up your clothes when you get home. And to have more control over your diet, you want to remove the junk food from your kitchen and stock healthy YUMMY options. I refer to change aids like these as willpower-proofing your life. It’s setting up the environment to make it easy for you to do the right thing and making the healthier option more attractive. To make it easier for you to break the eating-and-watching-TV habit, I think just willpower-proofing your life is going to help a lot.

These are 7 ways you can do that.

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 make eating in a pretty space, a nicer more pleasant alternative to your sofa. The flowers and the fruit bowl are great ideas to steal. Other ideas like a beautiful light fixture and upholstered chairs would dress up the area and upgrade your dining experience. I would prefer eating there– how about you?

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 more often, 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 on that park bench I mentioned can be turned into a nicer experience with earbuds and the right playlist.

4. Use your hands

If saving time is one of the reasons you eat and watch TV, you can get the multitasking benefit from doing other things. 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. It’s about switching what you do during your TV-time to something else that keeps your hands busy.

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. It can keep us from career and health goals and according to experts, you lose mental sharpness when you watch TV. If you suspect you watch too much TV (more than 2 hours a day is too much, IMHO), consider getting rid of your TV. You could become more active and improve your mental health when you do.

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 to the weekend and caught up on my shows while I was doing housework. It was great because I was so much more productive and had more mental sharpness.

7. Get a great home hobby

Virtual reality looks to be coming to a living room near you soon, but let’s face it, we’re just as likely to become addicted to that. Find a hobby that you can do at home that makes you feel like a rockstar! Watching TV is passive entertainment that’s the equivalent of empty calories—consume too much at your own risk. Some shows are entertaining (even educational) and it’s nice to have a few shows to bond over at the office, but there are so many 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—usually because it feels good or because it’s become an unconscious habit. Eating and watching TV falls more in the second category and more than likely, doesn’t feel good. Using these ideas, you can willpower-proof the change process and make it easier on yourself to wean off the habit.



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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