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Monday, May 9, 2011

Finding a Way to Watch Less TV

Yesterday was such a beautiful, sunny, happy day...mainly because I participated in a 5K Walk with my family. Part of living and committing to the new Lifestyle is choosing healthier ways to spend my time. No more couch potato mode. Actually, I do think some time sitting and relaxing with family...even watching TV is a good thing. The reality is you can have too much of a good thing if for 4 or 5 hours each evening all you do is sit in front of the TV. This is what I was doing with my family. It is an easy escape, doesn't require any planning, and everybody in the family can do it. But it is a cop out. It is not great for family communication, burns the lowest amount of calories you can possible burn and at the end of the day you have nothing to show for all those hours spent watching TV.

Our old habit was to take our dinner to the table in our Family/TV room, set it up there, turn on the TV and watch some show while we ate. We then watched TV for the rest of the evening. On a good night we could easily watch 5 hours of TV. Really a scary number when you look at it. We didn't always do this...not until about 6 years ago. Before we were too active with kids' after school activities, work and volunteer commitments to do this. We also had a different set up in our home. We have done nothing but make it worse for ourselves and our health. As we have discovered, there is nothing worse for managing your weight than making it easy to sit in front of the "boob tube" for hours on end. I think this is a fairly common condition for many families.

So how do you change habits that you know aren't productive or good for you? I know that for me it is about first admitting it and embracing the fact that you have to change it. The next thing is to figure out some alternatives. It is never as easy as merely saying- "you know this is bad for you so just stop doing it". I have to put thought and energy behind any change. I have to make a new habit to replace the old one. I have to do it very consciously at first until I am habituated to the new way of doing things. Then the new habit becomes "the habit" and is the easy one to do.

It may be obvious what needs to be done but I like doing a little "validating" research first. I talk to friends and family about how they do things. I read health magazines and listen to the morning Talk/News shows (always the ultimate resource for the current wisdom). Sitting down for a prepared dinner is a good thing, most families who do this help their children avoid weight problems later on. What we needed to do was talk during dinner, not watch TV. Really not so hard to do. Even if we want to take our dinner back there to eat, we just don't turn on the TV until after dinner. Conversation is pretty easy, even if you are tired after a long day. Just talking about the days events and giving each person their opportunity to recount their happenings can easily get you through dinner. The main thing is that everyone is willing to contribute and participate. Monologues are boring.

The next challenge was to figure out how to down-size the amount of TV we were watching. Most experts on health and family relationships say you should keep weeknight TV watching to 2 hours. That was cutting our average viewing time in half! How to get this accomplished? By talking and not watching TV while we were eating dinner we cut about 1/2 hour out. Then we talked about getting the dishes done before we sat down to watch our 2 hours of TV. Truthfully, at the end of the evening who wants to wash pots, pans and dishes? And if everyone does it together it is faster and more enjoyable. Finally we talked about timing dinner. If we ate dinner around 7 pm, talked and cleaned up the dishes from 7-8 pm it then gives us from 8-10 pm to watch our favorite shows. Oh, and I should also mention with TIVO and INFINITY TV you can tape all your favorites, whenever they are on, and still watch them when you are ready. This helps you keep to the 2 hours for watching TV under control.

So how are we doing? I would say we have made great progress and are about 85-90% there. Another nice addition that has helped is to put some music on before sitting down to eat dinner. If you pick soothing, more mellow music it actually helps set the mood for good conversation. It also makes it easier if we don't set up dinner in the TV room. We are all feeling good about this change to less TV.