Watching television often results in habitual eating, and research over the last few decades has shown how this contributes to the current obesity epidemic. There is, however, a way television-lovers can avoid mindless snacking–it all has to do with what shows they are watching.
According to new research, how often people snack during a television show depends on the excitement level of what they are watching. This means the simple trick to avoid snacking is to watch exciting shows.
“While it is known that watching TV can encourage food intake, the psychological mechanisms of this effect are still poorly understood. Several studies have found that, in certain populations, television has no effect on, or even reduces concurrent food intake,” wrote researchers in the study published in PLoS ONE.
“Importantly, each of these studies utilized unique TV programs, raising the question of whether certain types of TV may be more causative of altered eating behavior. One possibility is that different TV programs produce different degrees of engagement or arousal, and that TVs impact on food intake is secondary to these effects. Supporting this, recent attention has focused on the significance of emotional states, and in particular the degree of ones boredom or arousal, in motivating eating behavior.”
What the study revealed was that participants ate 52 percent more snacks when watching a boring show like a lecture when compared to the amount they ate while watching something exciting, like a comedy show.
The findings were consistent; researchers swapped boring television out for boring reading and achieved the same results. Prior state of hunger as well as body weight had no impact on the findings. Interestingly enough snacking during boring shows was usually on healthier food options.
“In particular, while participants in the boring TV condition ate more, this consumption was driven almost entirely by the healthy snack (grapes) as opposed to the highly caloric M&Ms,” wrote the researchers. “There are several possibilities for why, in our study population, grapes were preferred when experiencing a boring stimulus.
A probable explanation springs from the fact that the study population consisted of young, educated women with relatively low BMIs, which studies have demonstrated tend to be more restrained in their eating habits.”
Now that researchers have determined boredom has an effect on how a individual snacks, they will continue their investigation into how other emotions impact television snacking. Experts expressly indicate, however, that the current study does not suggest exciting t.v. shows will result in weight loss; watching exciting shows can be a trick to avoid snacking, but watching television is still a sedentary activity.