Binge-watching is bad for you, but you knew that


When the going gets tough, the tough get procrastinating. Sometimes when we’ve all got a lot on our plates, the only thing we want to do is veg out in front of the TV with an old favourite or a freshly posted Netflix original. And naturally, to go along with your 22 straight hours of programming, you need piles of greasy deep-fried snacks and sugary and/or caffeinated drinks. As much fun as this can be, we all know that these are not the healthiest of habits.

According to a study released in November 2017, the average Canadian aged 18 to 24  watched 16 plus hours of TV a week.  As a regular binge-watcher, that seems low. I regularly hear of people burning through two seasons of Grey’s Anatomy in a weekend. At an average of 45 minutes per episode and 24 episodes per season, that adds up to a whopping 36 hours of screen time. And that’s just two days. A lot of people are also watching during the week (I see you, people who are watching Bob’s Burgers at the front of the lecture hall. Put on the captions for me?), as well as late at night, while they’re accomplishing other tasks. The discrepancy could be as simple as people referring specifically to the things they watch on a television (rather than a laptop, tablet, or phone), or the programming that they watch at it’s actual air time instead of on a streaming service. Regardless, binge-watching is common and averaging it out over a year might not be the best way to see how much time you’re spending in front of a screen.

So, as necessary as binge watching is to our lives, how do we make it better? The first step is to figure out what’s actually wrong with binge-watching.

The primary culprit would seem to be all the sitting. You spend long hours in one position. Whether sitting up on the couch or laying in bed, you’re probably not moving a whole lot. Studies have actually concluded that you burn more calories sleeping than you do watching TV, even if you don’t move around much when you sleep. How do you get more activity into your binging? Stretch between or during episodes, watch on the treadmill, or even just take a quick walk around the living room. When Netflix gets all judgmental and asks if you’re still watching, take 15 minutes and tidy your room, wash a load of dishes, or get in a quick yoga session.  You could even let the next episode start while you do it. It might not work so well for new shows, but be honest, with your old favourites you don’t really need to be looking at the screen the whole time.

The next problem is the snacks. Chips, cookies, candy, and other types of high-calorie, low-nutrition packaged foods are prime binge-watching grabs. It’s fine to eat these things in moderation, but the average Canadian consumes something in the range of 26 teaspoons of sugar a day, adding up to about 40 kilograms a year. The World Health Organization recommends that everyone reduce their sugar to less than five per cent of their caloric intake in a day, which is only a couple of teaspoons for the average person consuming about 2000 calories. A trick I’ve learned to counteract the need for sugary beverages is to always keep a water bottle next to my snacks. Not only does it stop me from reaching for a can of coke, but it also keeps me hydrated. Dehydration can make you lethargic and give you a headache, perpetuating the sitting-around-doing-nothing cycle.

As for the food, deep-fried stuff can leave you feeling worse in the end than if you had not had any snacks at all. Half the time, we snack because we’re bored, not because we’re actually hungry. Instead of bringing the entire bag of chips to the couch with you, put some in a bowl. Your own laziness might save you a few calories, or at the very least you’ll have to get up to get more. Or you could try a healthy snack, like veggies and hummus.

The biggest problem with binge-watching is the escapism. It’s nice to get away from the world for a little while. Grey-Sloan Memorial has far bigger problems than my late paper. However, when you emerge from your binge coma, your homework and real life stuff will still be there. Rather than just sitting down and leaving the world behind, make a list of things you need to get done and alternate between working and watching. Give yourself an episode (or two for 22 minute sitcoms) as a reward for getting something done. You’ll still get to binge, but you might also get that essay finished. You’d be surprised how much you can get done in 15 minutes if you know that’s the only amount of time you have to work.

In the end, we’re all going to keep watching hours and hours of television at a time. Even watching 6 hours of Olympic sports counts as a binge, and the athleticism on TV cannot be absorbed through your eyes. Take care while you binge so you can carry on to binge another day.

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