Be Well

The connection between binge-watching and binge eating

What happens when we bring cinema culture into our homes?

Words by Cynthia Bou Khalil, Nutritional Consultant and Clinical Manager Excellence, Allurion

We’ve all heard the saying “too much of anything is bad”. And this rings true in all facets of our lives, be it with sleep, work, food and even watching television. Television has changed drastically over the last decade, with the emergence of new technologies and streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and OSN to name a few, which has given rise to the phenomenon that is binge-watching[1]. And whilst this might be the best thing to happen to TV fanatics out there, health professionals such as myself, worry about the hours of screen time replacing the time you would otherwise spend on fitness, sleep or being social and practising “good” eating habits, such as sitting around the dining table instead of on the couch.

In 2014, a survey conducted found that the UAE now tops the charts with the highest percentage of television viewers in the world, with 86 percent of people watching it at least once in the day[2]. This does not bode well for a country with as much as 34.5% of its population classified as obese and 70.6% as overweight[3]. Binge-watching television has been likened to having an addiction, due to the sensations and feelings of happiness produced. When doing something you love, the brain produces dopamine, a chemical responsible for promoting happiness, pleasure and excitement. This in turn makes us feel good, resulting in a similar feeling as that produced by drugs and other substances. But the problem is not with the feeling of happiness created but the lack of moderation, which can lead to a host of health issues. People are binging themselves into bad health.
Not only does binge-watching affect a person’s sleep pattern, eye health, social life, mental health and posture, but also eating habits - often leading to mindless binge-eating. A sedentary lifestyle and poor food choices and habits often go hand in hand and when we eat, especially foods high in carbohydrates, dopamine is produced. Here lies another problem. One bad habit (binge-watching) is hard to break as it is, let alone a situation where the brain is releasing dopamine from two sources, it’s twice as hard. Lest we forget that binge-eating can lead to some serious metabolic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, heart issues, to name a few.
As TV-binging is a catalyst for binge-eating, an obvious step to combat this would be to limit how much time you spend watching television. But it doesn’t stop there. In all my years working as a nutritionist, I have found that the main problem with food is a lack of discipline when eating, especially when sitting in front of a screen. Rather than consuming food for sustenance or to quell hunger, it becomes an automatic response, due to the fact that we are distracted by the shows we are watching.
However, for some, the solution is still not that easy and there is a persistent hunger that remains long after breaking bad habits associated with the TV, following them to the dining room table. So how do you solve this feeling of always wanting to eat? Whilst, not a magic bullet, I rely on the combination of good science and healthcare. The solution is to create a feeling of fullness. To tackle this, I joined forces with Allurion, a medical device company that employs a holistic approach to handling weight issues and eating habits. The Elipse Balloon by Allurion is the world's first and only weight loss device that requires no surgery, endoscopy, or anesthesia, allowing my patients the chance to take a break from dieting and the feeling of hunger associated.
As a nutritionist, I am always looking at long-term solutions which set my patients on the right path and help them secure lasting results. With this in mind, the Elipse program is not solely about removing the feeling of hunger, but also about guiding the patients towards better lifestyle choices and eliminating bad habits that have developed over time. Patients benefit from professional guidance and follow-ups over a 6-month period, to ensure they stay on track. Behaviours, actions, thoughts, when repeated over time can become habits that are hard to break. But balance is key, so make sure to give allowance for activities that do not involve burning through entire seasons of your favourite shows on Netflix.