The Screen-Time Diet

To help manage your body weight, you need to reduce the amount of time you spend being sedentary. For many of us, that includes time (lots of it) spent in front of a screen, whether you’re watching TV, playing video games or using the computer. A sedentary lifestyle can easily lead to excess weight and even obesity, with its myriad health risks.

There’s no doubt it’s hard to break this habit, but it can be done. Even though you might have to spend a fair amount of time at work in front of a screen, you can decrease your screen time outside the office. Here’s some advice from the experts at the federal program on how to get started and keep going:

Keep a screen diary. Track how much time you spend in front of a screen. Log the number of hours you spend in a week (outside of work or school) watching television, playing video games, or using the computer. Just as when you keep a food diary, you might be unpleasantly surprised at how much you’re “consuming” TV or the computer. But the diary will give you an exact idea of how much you need to cut back.

Develop a screen “budget.” Set a goal to reduce screen time. Plan to watch shows you really want to see. But try not to watch TV out of habit, when nothing you like is on. In your diary, the choosemyplate experts say, write down things you could do instead, like taking a walk, gardening, or playing with an animal companion. And then start doing them a little bit at a time.

Use the time you watch television to be physically active in front of the television. Walk in place (or on a treadmill) while watching your favorite shows, or do jumping jacks during commercials. Be sure to check with your doctor about whether this kind of exercise is right for you.

Limit eating while watching television. Many of us eat without thinking when we’re watching TV. And just like that, the bag of chips you didn’t need anyway is empty. If you must eat while watching TV, limit yourself to a small portion.

Sooner or later, though, you’ll likely run into some stumbling blocks. Here’s what you ‘ll probably be thinking and how you can change your attitude.

"I'm exhausted after work and just want to sit on the sofa!"

It can be difficult to break your routine. Start by making small changes. For example, do you watch three hours of television most nights? Try cutting out just one program, and use the time to do something else. Find activities that you enjoy and will look forward to – anything that gets you moving. Being active with family or friends can help you create a healthy new routine.

"I like to play video games that have an active component, like tennis. Do those count as screen time?"

Some active video games do count as physical activity. Playing an active video game can be a fun way to get some exercise. The activity should make your heart beat faster and your breathing rate pick up for it to count as physical activity.

"I've logged my screen time, but I can't figure out how much TV time I should set as my goal. Are there recommendations that I can follow?"

Try limiting your total screen time to two hours a day (outside of work or school). Start by picking your favorite shows that you want to watch or websites you want to check out.

Finally, think of changing your screen habits in the same way people change their eating habits. Start small, keep going, and if you lapse, start again!

For more information on good nutrition and lifestyle habits, visit


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