Is Netflix making you fat?

Watching television isn’t inherently bad for your waistline, but some secondary habits that can form around your TV-time can rapidly increase the size of your stomach, says New Body Plan editorial director Joe Warner

I was watching my new favourite TV show last night (the BBC’s Springwatch: feel-good nature programmes are just the ticket during lockdown) when I remembered the most bonkers bit of advice I ever read in a fitness magazine. It said that to lose weight you should get up from your sofa and manually change the channel on your television set when you wanted to watch something else, rather than rely on the remote control to search the stations.

Pah! It’s useless because most TVs no longer have physical buttons with which to change channels, but it’s also ridiculous because it’s the opposite of what we believe here at New Body Plan. Good fat-loss advice should offer the biggest bang-for-your-buck – requiring just a little amount of effort for a big and positive outcome – and never be annoying or intrusive for very little reward.

Anyway, I am sharing this with you because it did get me thinking about the television, and specifically how dangerous it can be to your hopes of losing weight and looking and feeling better than ever.

Telly addicts
If you’re like me then you love nothing better at the end of a long day than to lie back on the sofa and watch some cracking TV. That magical box offers instant escapism from whatever’s going on in the real world and provides one of the quickest and easiest ways to unwind.

But – there’s a but. And if you’re not careful it could soon become a very big butt.

You see, watching television is our favourite collective pastime – the latest figures from UK regulator Ofcom show we each watch on average 4 hours and 54 minutes of TV and video every day – and while this simple act isn’t inherently bad for us, some of the secondary habits we can form around telly-time can be particularly problematic when you want to lose weight. So, here are four potential pitfalls and how you can avoid them to keep getting leaner.

1 TV dinner
The reason we gain weight is that we consistently consume more food than we need but over-eating is rarely caused by hunger or greed – it’s because we’re distracted. Eating in front of the box means that while you’re in tune with the telly you’re not with your body’s feedback loop that lets you know when you’ve had enough.

Luckily, the solution is incredibly easy to implement: all you need to do is slow down the speed at which you eat to better notice the taste, texture and temperature of each mouthful. It’s called mealtime mindfulness and if you do it right you’ll never over-eat again!

2 Poor posture
The correlation of spending too much time sitting on your sofa and weight gain is easy to understand: the more sedentary your lifestyle the fewer calories you burn. And a decrease in energy expenditure compounded by an increase in calorie intake is the fast way to fat gain.

Yet there’s another issue: the poor posture problems that come from hours of sitting down can severely hamper your mobility, flexibility and muscle strength. That means you’ll find exercise harder than it needs to be, and face a great risk of injury, when you do work out. Use ad breaks or time between episodes to stand up and stretch, then rearrange your cushions to sit back down in a fully-supported upright position.

3 Subconscious snacking
Be honest: how many times have you been enjoying a movie or show and gone to reach for another handful of chocolate or crisps only to grasp thin air because everything’s already been eaten? It’s scarily easy to munch through an entire family-sized bag of snacks when watching TV because you’re in that dangerous distracted state I mentioned above.

And while eating too much for dinner isn’t great for your waistline, the damage is really done by consuming all those high-sugar and high-fat snacks you eat in-between and after your main meals. Avoid this calorie catastrophe by putting a sensible serving of your favourite treat into a bowl, then hiding the rest of the back at the back of the cupboard or fridge. Or you could try these three delicious snack swaps to satisfy your cravings and still blast away your belly.

4 Up all night
When you want to lose weight and feel great, getting more exercise and eating a healthy and varied diet will get you a long way, but you also need to be getting enough quality sleep every night to make the fastest progress.

Watching too much TV will obviously reduce the number of hours of sleep you get, and because screens emit blue light (which is the same wavelength as dawn light, and so is interpreted by your brain as a sign that it’s take time wake up and be alert) you’ll find it far harder to get to sleep once you do turn in. Try to switch off at least an hour before bed to allow your brain to get ready for sleep, and if you’re still struggling to nod off try these small-effort but big-impact ways to sleep like a baby.

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