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Does Watching Television Cause Binge Eating?

By Paul Gaita 01/31/14

Though binge eating can be linked to a variety of factors, like depression, a new study shows that television plays a vital role.

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A recent study has found that binge eaters may experience more episodes of compulsive eating while watching television.

The findings, published in the January 2014 issue of Eating Behaviors, notes that individuals whose attempts to lose weight are thwarted by binge eating—that is, repeated periods of excessive overeating followed  by feelings of shame and guilt, though usually without the purging elements common to bulimia—may find that television viewing may predict such behaviors.

Though the disorder can also be linked to a variety of factors including depression, internalized weight stigma and decreased body satisfaction, the study notes that the amount of television viewed per week was a significant predictor for binge eating among the participants in the program—all adults in group-based weight loss programs. How much television can bring on a binge eating episode? According to the National Weight Loss Control Registry, most people who are able to both lose weight and keep it off watch less than 10 hours per week. By comparison, the average American is cited as watching nearly 39 hours of television each week.

The online health and fitness site provides a list of seven tips to help individuals experiencing binge eating disorder. Among their suggestions: remove all distractions, including television, while eating. Such distractions help to make binge eaters “disinhibited” from their meals—they stop thinking about the amount of food they are consuming, or how it makes them feel (or will make them feel). Focusing solely on the meal itself often helps binge eaters become aware of how much food they are actually consuming, and in turn, provides greater awareness of binge eating patterns.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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