How Watching TV Leads to Weight Gain

by Suzanne Hiscock
Do you watch more than 10 hours of TV a week?  If you do, chances are you’re overweight.  Studies show a direct relationship between television watching and weight gain, especially in kids.

According to Nielsen, the average American watches 35 hours of TV a week. That’s only counting live TV!

On the flip side, the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) says that 62% of  the people they study watch less than 10 hours a week. The NWCR  tracks over 10,000 people who have lost and kept off a significant amount of weight.

That’s 25 fewer hours spent watching TV than the average person.  That's 72% less time spent watching TV.

Break the TV Habit and Lose a Pound a Week

Let’s do a bit of math.  What if the average American replaced those 25 hours with walking 3 mph?

A 150lb woman burns about 107 calories per hour sitting.  That same woman would burn about 236 calories per hour walking at 3mph hour.

That’s a difference of 129 extra calories burned per hour.  Multiply that by 25, and you get an extra  3225 calories burned.

That’s almost a whole pound’s worth of calories a week.

See:  Calculate Calories Burned While Doing Activities

Other Ways Watching TV Can Lead to Weight Gain

It’s not just the sitting around part  of TV watching  that adds to weight gain.  Other factors come into play that can affect your weight, too.
  • Extra calories - People tend to snack while watching TV, especially on calorie-dense snack foods.
  • Distraction - According to Nielsen, 66% of  American families eat dinner while watching TV.  You can’t listen to your hunger cues if you’re listening to the boob tube.
  • Temptation -   Junk food and restaurant ads on TV tempt you into eating more and/or eating unhealthy foods.
  • Body Image - The bodies you see on TV don’t reflect real life.  You’ll see more thin people on TV and this can affect how you view yourself.  And if you eat for comfort, you could end up eating more if you feel badly about yourself.
See:  I Don't Feel Attractive At This Weight

It’s Time for a TV Diet

If you watch more than 10 hours a week of television, it’s time for a lifestyle change.  It’s time to go on a TV diet.

Here’s how to do  it:

1. Track how many hours of TV you watch in a week.

You can either keep a TV diary to track the hours or record all the shows you watch and add up the hours at the end of the week.   Don’t forget to include all that Netflix binging, too.

2. Reduce the amount of hours spent watching TV.

Once you know how many hours per week you watch TV,  set a goal for fewer hours. Then, figure out how to reduce those hours.  What’s your least favorite show out of all the shows you watch?  Ditch it.

Set a really high standard for the TV shows you watch.  Are there any that are repetitive, formulaic shows?  If you can figure out how a show is going to end each time, chances are it’s not very entertaining.

Is the Netflix binge watching getting out of hand? It may be time to cancel that Netflix subscription. (Blasphemy, I know!)

3. Replace those extra hours with non-sitting activities

Now that you’ve got all these extra hours, you need to find other things to do with your leisure time.  Write down ten things you can do instead of watching television.

Here's a quick list to get you thinking: 
  • Walking
  • Hiking
  • Gardening
  • Biking
  • Cleaning the house
  • Weight Training
  • Swimming

Break it down into a variety of activities.  Make it interesting.  Going for a walk is good, but you can also walk in a museum or at a botanical garden.  Walk the dog.  Explore nearby nature trails and take pictures to post on Facebook and share with your friends.  Better yet, invite them along.

Have kids?  Play frisbee with them or a game of catch.

Not Ready to Give Up TV Entirely?

I get it.  I really do.  My family used to call me Miss TV Guide when I was younger.  I watched a lot of TV when I was a kid.  You could ask me what date and time a show played, and I could tell you right away.  I memorized that TV Guide. I lived and breathed TV.

I don’t watch as much TV now but there are shows that I love to watch.  And I'm not ready to give them up yet.  It is possible to watch TV and keep the weight gain to a minimum.

Here are three tips to make sure that any TV watching you do doesn’t contribute to your weight gain.
  1. Make it a rule to never eat while watching TV.  Food stays in the kitchen or dining room.
  2. Hop onto the treadmill and start walking or do other exercises while watching TV.
  3. If you just want to kick back and watch TV, make yourself a promise to exercise before watching TV.  Use your most favorite show as reward for exercising.  No workout?  No show.  Make it a rule and stick to it.
When you think about it, watching television has no real benefits besides a bit of escapism.  Sure, it can help you relax and feel less stressed -- but, guess what, the same can be said of an hour of exercise.

Break the TV habit.  That way, instead of watching a screen, you can watch the pounds melt away.

Must Read
10  Ways to Exercise While Watching TV
10 Ways to Stop Overeating While Watching TV

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About the Author

Suzanne is the owner of FitWatch. She's had strong interest in nutrition and exercise for over 20 years, and is an ACE-certified Lifestyle & Weight Management Coach. Back in 2002, she started FitWatch.com because she wanted to help people lose weight by creating helpful tools and calculators. A huge fan of calorie counting, Suzanne created the FitWatch Fitness Tracker to make it easy for people to count their calories.