Going TV cold turkey what is it like to give up the box for a month?

In this golden age of television, the pressure to binge-watch is immense even as evidence mounts about the health risks. So how did one heavy user cope with the big switch-off?

There are almost no pleasures left in life that someone hasnt suggested we give up to better ourselves. Booze, sugar, smoking, meat, clutter, coffee, even our smartphone. Soon well be told that all this teeth-brushing is getting rid of our bodies important natural tooth bacteria and Joe Wicks will launch his new book: How to Live with Decay … Everyday!

Yet there is one indulgence that engulfs our life like nothing else. We spend a dizzying amount of time doing it, yet it goes almost completely unchallenged by self-help books and wellbeing advice: watching television. We spend, on average, over four hours a day looking at our TV sets. In the UK, 74% of viewers say they sometimes watch more TV than they intended to, with a third of adults admitting that binge-watching has cost them sleep and left them feeling tired.

Weve found that self-proclaimed binge-watchers exhibit higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression, says Jessica S Kruger, an assistant professor at the University at Buffalo who has studied the public health impacts of binge-watching. There are also studies out of Harvard showing that among people who spend two hours watching TV the risk of diabetes goes up by 20%, the risk of heart disease by 15% and early death by 13%.

Given that people in Britain watch twice that amount, you would think the government might have declared a national crisis and appointed a bingeing tsar by now. But the only message we ever hear about TV is that we are living in its golden age and have a responsibility to watch it all: every week there is another must-see show we have to finish, just to engage with our fellow humans.

Im starting to think I could be spending this time better. A lot of my other life goals making my flat nice, reading more serious books, shedding a roll or two of stomach have been sidelined by TV. After a particularly square-eyed Christmas, I decide its time to try life without television and promise not to watch any for a month.

It wont be easy. Im what you would call a heavy user. I have a 43in TV in the front room, with Freeview Play, an Amazon Fire TV stick and Apple TV. Ive got Netflix and Amazon Prime.

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More time for jigsaw puzzles … Wolfson discovers one of the great things about switching off the TV. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

I have always been like this. When I was young, I would go to friends houses where TV was presented as a reward that should be rationed out: You can watch cartoons when youve done your homework. But in our house, TV was part of the family. We would eat dinner in the living room, watch EastEnders and then get into heated family discussions about the precariousness of Steve and Mel Owens relationship. Even as I got older, I would spend an inordinate number of Saturday nights in with the family, voting for Will Young on Pop Idol or doing those weird national IQ tests they used to have on BBC One. I learned as much about the world from Harry from Spooks and Toby from The West Wing as I did from my teachers.

Now I go out quite often, but when I stay in, TV can sap the life out of my evenings. Ill come home with plans to better myself. Then, almost as if by magic, five-and-a-half hours disappear and Im splayed on the sofa, surrounded by the crumbs of some stale crackers Ive managed to forage from the kitchen, the remote having never left my hand.

Giving up TV is complicated because the boundaries between what is and isnt TV are foggy in the age of Netflix and Amazon. Kruger tells me that its these on-demand services, available on every device and making it easy to watch an entire series in one go, that make us most susceptible to bingeing. So I opt for a total ban. No TV shows, sport or films on any device. Im still allowed to go the cinema because thats, you know, living life.

The first week or so feels fantastic. Almost immediately I become a grown-up version of myself. I read the first few chapters of Ta-Nehisi Coates collected essays on the Obama years, while starting Michael Wolffs Fire and Fury on audiobook. I go to a talk about the early Jewish settlers in London, and see the Ai Weiwei documentary about the refugee crisis. My girlfriend, who doesnt watch much telly and is thrilled about this new development, takes me to an exhibition by the painter Roy Colmer at the Lisson Gallery exactly the sort of thing I would normally try to get out of. Unexpectly, I love it: spray-gun patterns that echo TV distortion on canvas, it all feels very fitting for my journey.

My initial pang of withdrawal comes on the first Friday night I come back from the pub, feeling drunk and very ready to sink into the sofa and put away a couple of old 30 Rock episodes. When I realise I cant, Im suddenly at a loss: Im too drunk to read, too awake to go to sleep. Then, after a few minutes, it just happens: I tidy my room not just shoving things under the bed, but folding, ironing, get-to-the-bottom-of-the-wash-basket tidying. I wake up on Saturday morning in what feels like a hotel room, but one of my own making. I feel like I have a secret butler.

Lots
Lots of reading time, too. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

While I think Im doing quite well, my friends and family seem almost angry with me. When I tell people what Im doing theres a look of exasperation on their faces, as though I have insulted a relative. People cant understand what point Im trying to prove. What, youre not even going to watch McMafia, says my mum, sounding hurt that we wont be able to discuss it.

The hardest thing is missing the snooker. Its the Masters, and for me this would normally mean a lovely week of horizontal evenings, gently dozing between frames. But with my new go-getter attitude, I organise a trip to see a match live instead, a thrilling showdown between Ryan Day and Ding Jun-Hui. I feel like Ive cracked the code for life: dont just watch, do.

Its all going well until week three, when my girlfriend leaves to go on a week-long retreat, and it really hits me. This would be perfect boxset time; instead I am slightly bereft. I try everything to stop myself from watching: laser quest; bowling; bingo, twice. On Saturday night my friend Anna comes for dinner, and we begin a 1,500-piece jigsaw puzzle of a shelf of soft drinks. I bought it at a charity shop years ago and never opened it. At 4am we are still going, in silence, fitting pieces together with mindful clarity.

Not all the ways I distract myself are so wholesome. Ive always been a light gambler, but now its rampant: betting on football matches and then listening to them on BBC 5 Live, like a wideboy in the 1950s. On a particularly dark night I download the app of the ITV gameshow The Chase, which allows you to play the Bradley Walsh quiz on your phone with a virtual Bradley cracking gags between the questions. It even has the same music. I beat the chaser twice. My cravings are sated.

But I only properly break my abstinence once during the month. I have to watch a bit of the Trump and Piers Morgan interview on my laptop for work. Its as if, in my absence from television, we have switched over to some state-controlled, despotic network, the interviewer fawning over a politician telling him he is so fabulous he could even manage our football team. Im happy to switch it off.

By the end of the month I havent, as I had hoped, finished a library of books and become trim and fit. But I am enjoying life in a more rounded way: getting up early, reading the paper, cooking for myself every night.

Then, finally, I am allowed to watch again. I wait till midnight on the final day and then feel the soft remote in my hand again, endorphins rushing through me before I have even reached the familiar Amazon Fire homepage. I decide to start with the Grammys, having felt like I had missed out on all the bitching about Lorde being snubbed and Gagas new face earlier in the week.

But something isnt quite right. Its almost like watching through someone elses window. Maybe its because Ive already missed the zeitgeist, or it was just a really bad Grammys, but it isnt giving me the same buzz. I switch off about a third of the way through.

Three days later, Ive watched a bit of a film, but I just cant quite bring myself to get back into a series.

Im sure it wont last. One friend has sent an unsolicited list of everything Ive missed, and the weight of unwatched box sets feels heavy on my shoulders once again. But Kruger gives me a few tips on how to fight the urges: we shouldnt fast-forward adverts, which make the bingeing process less enjoyable and less addictive, and I should consider getting an app that locks you out of your Netflix account after a certain amount of time.

Its advice worth heeding. New studies about the dangers of extended TV watching emerge all the time. One, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, found that a higher frequency of binge-viewing was related to poorer sleep quality, more fatigue and insomnia. There was also evidence that bingeing drama boxsets, with complex storylines and cliffhangers, had a greater impact on normal sleep patterns than traditional TV watching.

Im going to start putting in my calendar when I plan to watch something, like a treat, and switching off after that. Im grateful for everything TV has taught me, and Im certain my formative years would have been much worse without it. But after decades of devotion, Im ready to start being my own strict parent: only watching cartoons when Ive done my homework.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2018/feb/25/television-binge-watcher-eastenders-give-up-a-month

Jimmy Kimmel: TV host emerges as unlikely leader in fight to save Obamacare

Republicans are pushing again to tear up Obamas health plan but the man once regarded as a lightweight on late-night is fast becoming a powerful GOP foe

For a second night in a row, the late-night talkshow host Jimmy Kimmel dedicated his opening monologue to excoriating a US senator who represents one half of a renewed push to tear up the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Kimmel is rapidly emerging as the unlikely leader of the counter-crusade to save the ACA, widely known as Obamacare, from Republican efforts to repeal and replace the health insurance system.

After Kimmel accused Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana, of having lied to my face about his position on healthcare, Cassidy, a medical doctor who worked in a public hospital with low-income and uninsured patients, went public to say Kimmel did not understand the bill.

But Kimmel, joking that he did not want to turn their war of words into aKanye-and-Taylor-Swift-type situation, refused to back down.

Which part dont I understand? Kimmel countered, in a 10-minute rebuttal. The part where you cut $243bn dollars from federal healthcare assistance? Am I not understanding the part where states would let insurance companies price you out of coverage for having pre-existing conditions?

Could it be, Senator Cassidy, that the problem is that I do understand and you got caught with your G-O-Penis out? Is that possible?

Cassidy, and his co-author, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, are rallying Republican senators around a last-gasp effort to repeal the ACA and replace it with legislation that largely shifts money away from states that opted to expand Medicaid coverage to states where Republican governors refused to do so.

Republican leaders in the Senate have announced that they will push for a vote early next week, although full details and implications of the bill are not clear.

Unlike many of his fellow late-night hosts, including Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee and Trevor Noah, who feast off the chaos and controversy in a Trump-era Washington, Kimmel had been considered less likely to dive into the political fray.

But as host of the Academy Awards in February, Kimmel trained a blistering opening monologue on Trump.

And in May, he revealed in a tearful speech that his son, Billy, had been born with a heart defect and nearly died. Kimmel said that thanks to the top-of-the-line healthcare, his surgery was successful.

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Jimmy Kimmel reveals newborn sons surgery in healthcare plea video

In that 13-minute May speech, Kimmel implored Republicans to back off their effort to repeal Barack Obamas healthcare law, which has helped nearly 20 million Americans gain health insurance.

We were brought up to believe that we live in the greatest country in the world, but until a few years ago, millions and millions of us had no access to health insurance at all, Kimmel said.

Before 2014, if you were born with congenital heart disease like my son was, there was a good chance youd never be able to get health insurance because you had a pre-existing condition. You were born with a pre-existing condition. And if your parents didnt have medical insurance, you might not live long enough to even get denied because of a pre-existing condition.

Cassidy heard Kimmels plea to Republicans who were deliberating over an earlier version of ACA repeal and established what he called Jimmy Kimmel test that no family should be denied medical care because they could not afford it.

Does it pass the Jimmy Kimmel test? Cassidy told reporters on Capitol Hill when pressed on the details of the Republican healthcare plan. On CNN, Cassidy referred specifically to Kimmels sons medical history: Will a child born with a congenital heart disease get everything she or he would need in the first year of life?

Cassidy then appeared on Kimmels show and agreed that he would apply the Jimmy Kimmel test. But Cassidy ended up voting in favor of a doomed effort that would have repealed parts of the healthcare law.

Republican
Senator Bill Cassidy: the subject of Jimmy Kimmels ire. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

Two months after that legislation failed, falling one vote short in the Senate, Cassidy has helped revive Republicans seven-year campaign to dismantle the healthcare law in time for one last try before the vehicle to repeal it on a party-line vote expires at the end of the month.

As their effort started to gain momentum on Capitol Hill this week, Kimmel again stepped in with another lengthy monologue on Tuesday.

We want quality, affordable healthcare. Dozens of other countries figured it out. So instead of jamming this horrible bill down our throats, go pitch in and be a part of that. Im sure they could use a guy with your medical background, Kimmel said.

And if not, stop using my name, OK? Because I dont want my name on it. Theres a new Jimmy Kimmel test for you. Its called the lie-detector test. Youre welcome to stop by the studio and take it anytime.

Cassidy responded to Kimmel on Wednesday and said: Im sorry he does not understand Everybody fears change, Cassidy said. Even if its worse to better, they dont want change.

And on Capitol Hill, Graham, Cassidys co-sponsor, lost his patience when a reporter pointed out that states would be able to opt out of covering pre-existing conditions.

Where are you getting this garbage? Where are you getting this garbage? Graham told NBC News. Thats complete garbage.

Graham said Kimmel heard some liberal talking points about the bill and bought it hook, line and sinker.

In a sign of Kimmels impact on the debate, Donald Trump defended Cassidy and the bill on Twitter. The president called Cassidy a class act and said he wouldnt lie.

Senator (Doctor) Bill Cassidy is a class act who really cares about people and their health(care), he doesnt lie just wants to help people! Trump tweeted.

The president also said he would not sign Graham-Cassidy into law if it did not protect people with pre-existing conditions from being charged more by insurers.

But analysts and fact checkers have repeatedly disputed this assessment, largely siding with Kimmel. In the debate over who might lose insurance protections, the Associated Press fact checker reported, the TV guy is the hardest to refute.

As the healthcare debate ticks closer to the 30 September deadline, Kimmels impact is uncertain. In an August interview, Kimmel said he thought his advocacy had swayed some viewers but he doubted whether it changed any hearts or minds on Capitol Hill given how narrowly the bill failed in July.

I think it made a big impact on American citizens, Kimmel told the Hollywood Reporter. Im not sure, based on how our so-called leaders voted, whether it made a big impact on the Senate or House.

Kimmel on Wednesday implored viewers who were concerned about losing healthcare under the latest repeal attempt to call one of several Republican senators who have not publicly made up their minds on the legislation.

Karina Peterson, a spokeswoman for Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski, who could determine the fate of the bill, said she did not have any numbers to share on the number of calls her office had received. But she said: Its fair to say people are very engaged on the issue of healthcare.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/21/jimmy-kimmel-tv-host-republicans-obamacare-health

Jimmy Kimmel reveals the heartlessness of healthcare in America | Arwa Mahdawi

The late night hosts emotional appeal about his sons heart condition which urged Americans to support Obamacare struck a raw nerve

I dont know why everyone in America is so obsessed with health care reform and why it causes endless debate. It seems obvious that there is a very simple and very fair solution to this endless reform rigmarole: let poor people die.

This may sound sort of harsh, but bear with me. I didnt arrive at this conclusion without a rigorous analysis of the facts and a long, hard look at cold, hard reality. And its this sort of objective thinking thats really needed when it comes to healthcare reform. The one thing we must be careful not to do is get emotional about things like life and death to push a political agenda.

Take Jimmy Kimmel, for example. On Monday, the talkshow host delivered an emotional monologue about his new son, who was born with severe heart defects requiring emergency surgery. At the end of this, he urged Americans to support the Affordable Care Act.

Kimmel noted that before the ACA, also known as Obamacare, was introduced, if you were born with congenital heart disease like my son was, there was a good chance youd never be able to get health insurance because you had a pre-existing condition. You were born with a pre-existing condition and if your parents didnt have medical insurance, you might not live long enough to even get denied because of a pre-existing condition. If your baby is going to die and it doesnt have to, it shouldnt matter how much money you make.

While Kimmels story is obviously tragic, hes not exactly qualified to decide important policy issues for America. I mean, the guy is a celebrity, not a politician. Further, it is selfish to suggest that Americans should feel some sort of responsibility for their fellow citizens. It doesnt matter how sick someone might be or how many pre-existing conditions they might have if theyre hardworking and motivated they can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and find a way to pay for themselves.

As Joe Walsh, a former congressman, tweeted on Tuesday afternoon: Sorry Jimmy Kimmel: your sad story doesnt obligate me or anybody else to pay for somebody elses health care. Walsh, by the way, doesnt even want to pay for his own kids healthcare at one point, he owed $117,000 in child support. Now theres a guy who truly understands the American values of individual freedom and choice.

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Jimmy Kimmel reveals newborn sons surgery in healthcare plea video

Oh, you know what? I give up. Theres no point attempting to satirize the sick state of Americas attitude towards healthcare its already beyond parody. I mean, on Monday, the Republican congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama implied that people with pre-existing health conditions just werent living their lives the right way. Kimmels son may have been fresh out of the womb but he must have done something wrong to be landed with heart problems, right?

And remember when Jason Chaffetz, the Utah Republican congressman, compared heathcare to iPhones? Americans have choices, Chaffetz explained. Maybe rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest it in their own healthcare. An iPhone costs about $800. A simple appendectomy can cost up to $180,000. But making your own choices? Thats priceless.

And then theres the inimitable Paul Ryan, who reminded us that freedom is the ability to buy what you want to fit what you need. Obamacare is Washington telling you what to buy regardless of your needs. He forgot to add the bit about freedom being the option to die when you cant afford to buy what you want to fit what you need.

Health insurance simply doesnt work on the free market. Its not a bloody iPhone. In a free market, it makes no sense for insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions. In a free market, it makes sense for CEOs of insurance companies to earn millions of dollars while poor people die.

Health insurance also isnt efficient on a truly free market. According to the Bloomberg Health-Care Efficiency Index, the US has one of the least efficient health care systems in the world because it is so fragmented. Only Jordan, Colombia, Azerbaijan, Brazil and Russia ranked lower in the countries assessed.

For decades, Americans have been aggressively sold the idea that a national healthcare system is a socialist nightmare that runs counter to American values of freedom and choice. This started after the second world war, when President Harry Truman proposed a universal national health insurance program. His project failed in large part because it was fiercely attacked by the once influential American Medical Association.

The AMA invoked fears about communism and branded the idea of universal healthcare as socialized medicine and un-American. Truman retorted: I put it to you, it is un-American to visit the sick, aid the afflicted or comfort the dying? I thought that was simple Christianity. Well, its not the sort of Christianity that Republicans practice, it seems.

You must have been born with inoperable heart defects not to agree with Kimmels statement that if your baby is going to die and it doesnt have to, it shouldnt matter how much money you make.

The fact that Kimmel can make headlines for pointing out what should be the obvious in a supposedly civilized country is just mind-boggling. The health care debate may seem complex but at its core it boils down to a simple question of who matters and who doesnt. And it seems very clear that, in America, if youre poor you dont matter.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/may/03/jimmy-kimmel-heartlessness-healthcare-america