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dangers of binge watching

Do you know what binge watching is?

Did you know that Binge watching is stopping you from losing weight?

Do you know the dangers of binge watching?

If you look out for YouTube videos or search on the internet for weight loss tips, you will find millions of videos, blogs, exercise videos and articles on tips either related to exercise or food. However very little is known about the other factors interfering with weight loss.

As a Bariatric physician and endocrinologist, People come to see me after they have tried several of the diets and are now fed up with weight cycling and yo-yo dieting. They have tried all their diets which their grandmother, friends, colleagues and also the latest one on the internet has been tried. Diets including intermittent fasting, chemical diet, vegan diet etc, etc, etc.

Here I am going to provide you one of the important modern causes for weight gain, which we did not come across five years ago. We all are inadvertently sucked into…………………Binge Watching.

So, what is binge watching? 

These days with hundreds of TV channels and 24/7 newsfeed people are glued to their television, computer and mobile phones. There is easy access to non-stop information, stories and events which you can get sat in your living room or lying in your bed. Companies like Netflix and Amazon prime have taken advantage of this new human behaviour and have sucked you into staying glued to their shows.

When you watch an episode on Netflix, at the very end you will find that the next episode gets automatically uploaded. Before you even realise it you are latched on to the  next episode. People can spend hours and sometimes even up to 10 hours watching these serials. Most people do feel guilty after having spent long hours binge watching. This is very similar binge eating wherein you gorge on huge amounts of food and later try and induce vomiting to get rid of the food eaten.

In a survey conducted by Netflix in February 2014, 73% of people define binge-watching as “watching between 2-6 episodes or more of the same TV show in one sitting.” However, I feel binge-watching is more subjective and depends on what you are watching and why you are watching.

According to Deloitte’s 12th edition of the “Digital Media Trends Survey ” 86% of millennials binge watch. That’s massive, which came as a shock to me.No wonder obesity rates among millennials is skyrocketing.

Did you know that your habit of binge watching has encouraged new providers? So, you will soon see Apple TV, HBO Max and Disney Plus in addition to Netflix and Amazon prime. All these companies are very grateful to the binge watchers.

So why do people binge watch?

Your body does not discriminate against pleasure. Your body just wants non-stop pleasure.

It can become addicted to any activity or substance that consistently produces dopamine.

Binge watching provides lots of emotions, you may identify with a character in the movie or episode and start living that character from your living room. How good is that! There is guilt, anger, happiness, sadness, remorse and you live the character as if you are in real life.

The brain signals tell you to continue doing the same, just as alcoholics and drug addicts would do. Your brain especially produces more dopamine when watching your favourite show.

The emotional upheaval is the same as going to a theme park and having a ride on a roller-coaster. So, if you can have all the emotion and experience on going to theme park just sitting in your living room and no one judging you, why not and above all, if it is cheap and socially acceptable, why not to Binge watch. For now, this a new addiction, which we need to be aware of.

Binge Watching can be a Stress Reliever?

The act of binge watching offers us a temporary escape from our day-to-day stress and some people use this for stress management. You are able to completely block your brain from thinking about all those people and events which stressed you out. So, if you had a long and hard week, you may decide to spend the weekend binge watching.

So, what happens after binge watching?

Ok, let us say you have just finished watching a six-part series and after 6 hours, you have switched your television off. How do you feel? Certainly not energised. I am sure you feel drained. The constant adrenaline rush and feel good hormone dopamine is gone. You may feel sad and depressed. You also feel that all those people who were giving you company for the last 6 hours have left and you are all alone.

In a study published by Karmakar and colleagues in the American Public health Association journal in 2015, 142 out of 408 participants identified themselves as binge-watchers. The binge watchers reported higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression than those who were not binge-watchers. Disconnect from humans and over-connecting to any screen, including television can be dangerous.

If you find yourself choosing a night watching Netflix, over meeting friends and family, it is a sign that this habit is heading into harmful territory. Read below for some tips, to get over binge watching. Kelly West published around 2014, that 61% of the Netflix survey participants said they binge-watch regularly. Make sure you do not end up as one of them in future surveys.

How does binge watching promote weight gain?

Is it as bad as, or worse than binge eating?

Watching television, we know has changed the relationship we have with food. We have stopped looking at or tasting food when we are engrossed in a movie more so when we are binge watching serials. As mentioned before the hormones which makes you feel good and sometimes the love hormone, oxytocin makes you crave for more of both, watching and eating.

Suzanne Higgs, professor in the psychobiology of appetite at the University of Birmingham, UK   has noted in her research that the food which was tasty to start with usually becomes less tasty and you gradually start slowing down, which may be due to reduction in taste and also the fullness kicking in.  However, whilst watching TV, this sensation of reduced taste and fullness may be overcome by the stimulant effect of television viewing and you continue to eat.

Research also shows that when you are in the company of lots of people, for example in a party or get together, you tend to eat more, this is called social facilitation. Some say that people can eat 40% more ice-cream when you are in the company of others. Just think about when you were at a party last time, you invariably end up eating more. When binge watching, you are made to feel that you are in real life with lots of people and experiencing the ups and downs in life and hence with so many people around in the movie or serial you end up eating more.

By the way do you know how this all started? 

It seems in early 1950’s a guy called Swanson started marketing frozen food and brought about the concept of TV dinners. Their Tag line for marketing was

“I may be late, but Dinner will not be late”

So, we started moving away from family dinners, with people on the floor or around the table to dinners in front of television. These days families have shrunk and it may be just you and your partner or friend sat or lying down for hours in front of Netflix or amazon prime.

Wilmot and colleagues in the journal “Diabetologia” in 2012 published an article showing that sedentary time is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality; There is benefit from limiting sedentary time to 20 minutes. So, avoid sitting at one place for more than 20 minutes, if you do not want to get type 2 diabetes. Inactivity leads to Type 2 diabetes and obesity, which in turn can increase the risk of cancers and other associated weight related problems.

Adverts are there for you to stretch your legs and take a few steps and not refill your drink and popcorn.

Does binge watching lead to Mental health problems?

Of the 2,000 binge watching, British people surveyed by Patient.info, those aged between 18-24 were five times more likely to feel lonely, three times more likely to feel depressed and twice as likely to feel anxious, sleepless and empty.

Do you fall into this group??

Clearly binge watching contributes to some mental health problems.

It is also known that binge watching makes you feel that you are socialising and hence you lose confidence in real life socialising skills. You lose the skills of interacting with real people and this can lead to a vicious cycle of isolation – binge watching – eating – weight gain leading to isolation.

Loss of lean body mass or muscle mass due to binge watching

What does this mean? When you spend a lot of time inactive, you lose you muscle mass. Have you ever noticed a person whose limb is in a cast following fracture? When the cast comes out after 6 to 8 weeks , the limb looks thin and shrivelled , due to loss of muscle mass and this is due to disuse.

Muscle mass is important for metabolism. Loss of muscle also known as sarcopenia can prevent weight loss and also is not good for general health.

So, to prevent sarcopenia or wasting of your muscles, whilst binge watching keep moving your limbs or have a water bottle and exercise your arms. Get up every 15 minutes.

Sleep and bing watching

Binge watching can affect our sleep. Sleep is extremely important for our metabolism. People with poor sleep quality are prone to gain weight, develop type 2 diabetes and also have heart attacks eventually.

Binge watching affects the way our body produces melatonin, the hormone which regulates sleep and wakefulness. The light from the screen disturbs the melatonin secretion and our sleep rhythm.

An article in the Journal of Clinical sleep medicine, shows that binge watching leads to poor sleep quality and increased fatigue.

Can binge watching lead to heart attack?

The study, published in the journal “Science Daily” showed that leisure-time sitting (that is watching TV) but not sitting at work was associated with a greater risk of heart disease and death among the 3,500 participants.

It may be that most people tend to watch television for hours without moving, while most workers get up from their desk frequently, so, as mentioned previously, please get up, stretch yourself and move your limbs more often and not sit like couch potato.

Did you know, what else binge watching can lead to? ……………

Reduced Sex, Sperm count and Infertility due to binge watching

Research published in British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that those who spend lots of time watching TV or DVDs, at least 20 hours a week had a sperm count that was 44% lower than men who spent little time in front of the screen.

We know that moderate exercise improves sex life and also sperm count and quality.

Why does it happen? One of the reasons may be altered thermoregulation.

The testicles in a man are outside the body, so that it is about two degree centigrade below body temperature. Keeping it cool ensures testicles can produce testosterone properly. However, men who binge watch can snuggly have their testicles wrapped in blankets and a cosy room for hours keeping their testicles warm, leading to low testosterone production. Binge watching as explained above leads to weight gain which again buries the testicles between the tummy and thighs, keeping it warm. This in turn leads to ruining your sex life and contributing to infertility.

How does Binge watching impact your hunger and weight?

Stress, immobility, mindless eating, lack of sleep can all disturb how your body perceives hunger. People who binge watch do not have the usual hunger pangs. They keep snacking and drinking and lose their ability to identify when they are hungry or thirsty.

Ability to identify hunger and fullness is the key to successful weight management

Have I frightened you off from Binge watching?

You would have never imagined that just watching TV for a longer time can make you infertile, reduce your sperm count and give you a heart attack. Well, you cannot generalise this. These are based on some research and also conclusions are drawn from extrapolations of the consequences of sedentary lifestyle.

No, this is not to frighten you but is to help you ensure you entertain and relax but at the same time ensure long periods of screen gazing does not help your mental and physical health both in the short term and in the long run.

How do you NOT binge watch and prevent weight gain?

Watching TV or spending time on your mobile, tablet or computer for entertainment is okay, provided you do not harm your physical and mental health. You could benefit from one or more of these tips and avoid binge watching and gaining weight:

  • Set an alarm, for when you want to stop.
  • Disable auto play
  • Eat slow and follow the rule of 20-20-20. watch this video
  • Have something to do after the set period of watching, like a phone call or walking out or cooking etc.
  • Agree with your mate/partner what you will both be doing after that episode.
  • Avoid eating drinking whilst watching. If, however you do like to eat, bring in a small bowl or get a small pack.
  • When there is no action going on, get up and have a stroll inside the house.
  • Keep moving your limbs.
  • If there are adverts, get up and have a glass of water or go to the loo.
  • Set a rule. That after every 15 minutes you will stand up and have a stroll, thereby reducing sitting time.

Good luck on NOT Binge watching!!!

Author:

Dr C. Rajeswaran FRCP(UK); MSc, Consultant Physician( Endocrinology, obesity & Diabetes)

The London Obesity Clinic

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If you want to know about other reasons, that are preventing you from losing weight: 

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