A sedentary lifestyle has been credited with contributing to all sorts of unhealthy evils, including increased risk of developing life-threatening conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and even many cancers, according to a recent study. But getting sucked into the hilarity of beloved sitcom or drama of a favorite series can be a seriously wonderful way to decompress and de-stress—as long as you don’t overdo it. So get smart and think about ways to stick to your weight-loss goals when you indulge in a bit of boob tube—like these 10 savvy tricks and tips we’ve come up with for actually losing weight while you watch. It really is possible, and lucky for you, we’ve nailed down every obvious reason TV watching can lead to weight gain, and tell you below exactly how to avoid all the usual pitfalls.
Record Your Favorite Shows
–and only watch those shows. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a great series, but making a regular habit of sitting and staring at a screen for an entire evening is a great way to pack on the pounds. One study in the journal JAMA, for example, followed more than 50,000 middle-age women for six years. For every two hours spent watching TV each day, women had a 23 percent higher risk of becoming obese and a 14 percent higher risk of developing diabetes. A more recent analysis of similar studies found that for every two hours spent watching TV, the risk of developing diabetes, developing heart disease, and early death increased by 20, 15 and 13 percent, respectively. Limit your TV watching to shows you love and make sure you balance that time with more active hobbies that will help you stay fit.
Pick Snacks Before the Show Starts
People who watch more TV have both a poorer understanding of proper nutrition and a more “fatalistic" view toward eating well, according to a study in The International Journal of Communication and Health that investigated the psychological reasons for strong association. In other words, TV-fanatics are more likely to hold the belief that nutrition is too difficult to understand, compared to those who watch less. To undermine the confusing messages sent by those commercials, choose your snacks before you turn on the tube. Pick healthy snacks like fresh fruit and vegetables, lightly salted edamame, or freshly popped popcorn. If you don’t feel up to the task of making popcorn from scratch (no judgment here), we’re also big fans of Quinn Popcorn. It’s one of the only microwaveable popcorns that’s free of chemicals and won’t wreak havoc on your waistline.
Pre-portion Your Munchies
And after picking the right foods, limit your portions, too. Don’t take a massive, family-sized bowl of popcorn out to the living room—scoop out just a few handfuls, put it in a small bowl, and savor it slowly—and don’t let yourself go back for seconds. But if you do go back for seconds, at least you have to get off the couch to do it.
Don’t Eat Meals on the Couch
When it comes to full meals, stick to eating in the kitchen or at the dining room table, far away from the television set, and eat with someone else if you can, to start some stimulating conversation (and force yourself to pause between bites). Willow Jarosh, MS, RD, co-owner of C&J Nutrition and co-author of the upcoming Healthy, Happy Pregnancy Cookbook, concurs. She says, “I'd suggest creating the habit of eating dinner without the TV on and then enjoying TV time as your after-dinner relaxation. This allows you to focus on eating and can increase your mindfulness while eating (which can help decrease overeating) and also makes your TV time feel a little more special. It takes practice to create or change a habit, so keep practicing until it feels like a normal routine for you.”
Sip, Don’t Snack
Jarosh also notes that enjoying a healthy drink can be a good way to keep your mouth full without accidentally ingesting a ton of extra calories. “Sipping on something is a great alternative to snacking while catching up on your favorite shows. Seltzer water with a splash of juice or a squeeze of lemon or lime is one of our favorites. So is seltzer with sliced cucumber, fresh mint and lemon. Hot tea is also a great thing to sip while watching TV because you have to sip it slowly (it's hot!) and it comes in so many flavors, you're bound to find something that satisfies any craving.” Even better: choose one of the weight-loss teas to make your drink do double duty.
Be Careful with the Cabernet
"If you choose to have alcohol during the Real Housewives or another favorite program,” adds Kaufman, “then make sure to never drink on an empty stomach. Go for your healthy snack before having an alcoholic drink, and it's a little less likely that you'll feel your inhibitions decrease." In other words, you won’t be as tempted to go back for another and overdo it if you’ve already got a stomach filled with healthy food.
Get Up During Commercials
When the drama of the show stops for a few minutes, take the opportunity to get off the couch and onto the floor to do some stretches, crunches, squats, or any other kind of exercise you can think of. No matter how strenuous (or how simple) any kind of movement is better than no movement at all.
Try Workout Challenges
“We also think it's really fun to assign different words or phrases to different exercises,” adds Jarosh. “For instance, if you're watching The Bachelorette, every time someone says ‘At the end of the day’ or ‘this journey,’ you do ten lunges." Jarosh’s idea is essentially the same concept as a drinking game played by belligerent college students—just far healthier. If you’re in need of some inspiration or pre-designed (and pretty brilliant) games you can try out ASAP, check out Pinterest to find an idea that works with your favorite show.
Keep Your Hands Busy
Even if you’re sitting during your go-to program, you can still burn a few calories here and there by keeping your hands moving. “Fidgeting, aka nonexercise-associated thermogenesis (NEAT), does burn calories,” says speaker, author and nutrition coach Libby Mills, MS, RDN, LDN. “And so does doing any type of busy work like folding the laundry, mating socks, mending, even painting your nails (okay, guys, maybe your partner’s nails!). For the more active domestic god or goddess, activities from dusting to dishwashing can help you burn 70-150 calories during a 30-minute program.
Start Your Nightly Routine
Registered Dietitian Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN also shared her top-notch trick for cutting out unhealthy food and drink consumption at night, no matter what she’s craving. Her amazingly simple (but totally brilliant) advice: Shut it down. Starting your regular nightly routine will tell your body it’s time for bed, no matter what enticing treats might be lying around. "Brush your teeth and close the kitchen! I know it's time to stop eating for the day when my teeth are cleaned, my face is washed and my cabinets remain shut!"
Unplug an Hour Before Bed
That means keeping the TV in a separate room from where you sleep: Kids with access to a TV in the bedroom were 1.47 times as likely to be overweight as kids with no TV, one study in the journal Pediatric Obesity found. In fact, children who slept in bedrooms with TVs gained about one extra pound of weight each year over the course of four years than kids without TVs in their rooms, a second study found. And all that screen time late at night can also disrupt sleep patterns of adults. Exposure to light at night doesn't just interrupt your chances of a great night's sleep, it may also result in weight gain according to a new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Study subjects who slept in the darkest rooms were 21 percent less likely to be obese than those sleeping in the lightest rooms.