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Does watching cooking shows promote weight gain?

Prairie Fare: Snap Bean Provencal

“I am gaining weight just watching this show. These cooking shows must fuel the obesity issue,” my husband commented.

We were walking on treadmills side by side at a gym. We had our TVs tuned to the same cooking show.

He probably noticed me shaking my head as I watched the show. I tend to shake my head from side to side a couple of times when I can’t believe what I am hearing or seeing.

On this particular show, the people went out to a restaurant to try some highly decadent foods, then they returned home to try to recreate the recipes. They ate a huge amount of food twice. At the time of my husband’s comment, they were sipping super-rich malts.

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I looked down at the calorie counter on my treadmill. I had burned all of 100 calories. Every bite of what they were eating had at least 100 calories.

Keep in mind that consuming 100 extra calories per day theoretically could lead to a 10-pound weight gain in a year unless you counteract the extra calories with exercise.

The TV cooks would need to walk on treadmills for hours to burn off the calories they just consumed.

As I thought about my husband’s comment about cooking shows and weight, I figured that researchers must have studied the topic. Could making the recipes on cooking shows promote weight gain? The answer is yes, at least according to one study.

Researchers used a survey to study the relationship between watching cooking shows and the body mass index of about 500 women ages 20 to 25. The women who watched cooking shows and followed the recipes at home had a higher body mass index. The women who did not follow the cooking shows’ recipes were likely to weigh less.

Of course, not all cooking shows promote unhealthful eating. Sometimes these shows are as entertaining as spectator sports.

Cooking shows can teach us valuable culinary techniques, introduce us to unfamiliar cuisine and provide ideas to flavour foods without adding calories.

However, managing weight can be a challenge with all the tasty temptations around us, especially if you try all the mouth-watering recipes shown on many shows. Moderation is key for many of the culinary creations we see prepared on TV.

We all need to eat, and cooking for ourselves gives us more control over what we consume. If weight management or loss is a goal, consider these behaviours based on information from the National Institutes of Health:

  • Set goals. Be sure your goals are specific, attainable (doable) and forgiving (less than perfect). For example, “eat more healthfully” is not very specific. “Have a half-cup of raw vegetables for a snack every afternoon” is a specific goal. In fact, we all should be filling half of our plate with fruits and vegetables.
  • Use the concept of “shaping.” That has nothing to do with wearing a girdle, by the way. “Shaping” means that you set small goals to help you reach a distant major goal.
  • When you meet a goal, give yourself a non-food reward, such as an afternoon off or your favourite DVD.
  • Self-monitor your weight, food and/or activity. Some people like to weigh themselves daily, but remember that weight can fluctuate a little every day due to water weight. Write down what you are tracking in a notebook, or use an app on your phone or an online tool on a computer.
  • Figure out what cues prompt you to eat. When you turn on the TV, do you pull out a bag of snacks? If you go out for coffee with a friend, do you always have a treat? Retrain yourself to avoid having extra calories in certain situations. Maybe you could meet your friend for a walk instead of being in a situation where food is present.
  • Slow down when you eat. Before you have another portion, pause. Allow your brain a full 15 minutes to get the signal that you have eaten your fill.

Visit the NIH website if you are wondering what your body mass index is. All you do is type your height and weight. If your BMI is 18.5 to 24.9, your weight is “normal.” If your BMI is 25 to 29.9, you fall in the overweight category. BMI values above 30 are in the “obese” category. Visit with a dietitian or another health-care provider to learn more about weight management.

Here’s a low-calorie side dish perfect for frozen or fresh beans from a farmers’ market or your own garden in midsummer. I truly couldn’t stop eating these when my students tested the recipe, but I did not feel guilty about eating too many green beans.

Green beans make a low-calorie, tasty side dish. 

Green beans make a low-calorie, tasty side dish.

Snap Bean Provencal

  • 1 (16-ounce) package frozen green beans
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped

Heat the olive oil over moderate heat in a skillet. Add green beans and sauté until heated through and soft textured. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in chopped parsley just before serving.

Makes eight servings. Each serving (before added salt) has 40 calories, 2 grams (g) fat, 1 g protein, 4 g carbohydrate, 1 g fibre and 0 milligrams sodium.

About the author


Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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