June 23, 2018
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How TV distracts us into eating

By Georgia Clark-Albert, Special to the BDN

One of the biggest issues many people present to me is the concept of snacking while watching television in the evening. They do well at breakfast, pack a healthy lunch for work, eat a balanced evening meal when they get home and then … for years they have learned to associate sitting down and watching television, relaxation, with the act of eating.

Admittedly they aren’t hungry, but it is a habit — can’t do one without the other.

Many people “nest” with their food. I had a client recently that had a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips on one side of her chair where she watches television and a can of nuts on the other. She really made it convenient to snack.

What I’ve been suggesting to people is that trying to watch TV and snack distracts from satiety cues. In other words, your mind can’t concentrate on what is on the TV screen and what you are eating at the same time. So if you aren’t paying attention and sit down with the whole bag of chips, you are likely to eat more than just a portion. The health concerns of watching television include obesity, metabolic syndrome and interestingly, premature death.

Recent research published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity shows that when watching television, the better the story, the bigger the serving size of a snack. The more immersed a person is in a particular story the more they are going to snack during screen time. The researchers looked at the snacking habits of 120 people (60 males and 60 females) aged 18-35, while watching television and playing video games. Participants were randomized into one of three groups — TV watching, typical video gaming or motion-controlled video gaming. The results measured included feelings of enjoyment, the feeling of being in the game, immersion in the story and mental immersion.

The biggest influence on snacking was the level of immersion in the story. Continuous programming produced higher levels of snacking than did 1.5 minute portions of the same show. The average kilocalorie intake in a one hour period of time during TV watching was 716. It was 747 for video gaming and 553 for motion-controlled gaming with their hands (a little bit harder to eat while gaming). Snacks provided included baked and fried chips, trail mix and chocolate candy. Beverages include Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Mountain Dew and bottled water. The TV shows were commercial-free, and only two shows included any kind of food-related content.

So realizing that people have a tendency to snack more when watching television is good reason to avoid the behavior. Some simple steps to try:

— Only allow yourself to eat at one place in your home — preferably the kitchen or dining room table. If you have a meal or a snack, you sit at the table and eat it.

— If you decide that you have to have a snack, portion it out in a bowl, close up the box or bag and put it back in the cupboard.

— Plan your snack in advance. Don’t leave it to chance. Decide what appropriate snacks are going to be eaten when watching television.

As the weather starts to get colder and we spend more time inside, this becomes more of an issue. Make less snacking during TV time a goal to work on over the coming fall and winter season. Emerge next spring having lost, not gained, weight.

Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator at Penobscot Community Health Care in Bangor. She provides nutrition consultant services through Mainely Nutrition in Athens. Read her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.


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