Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, Jamie Oliver, Paula Deen... the list of TV chefs who've become household names goes on and on. An hour of watching celebrity chefs such as a bombshell Nigella Lawson cook up a steaming plate of penne alla vodka or a delectable chocolate cake inspires legions of amateur and curious cooks to dust of their mixing bowls. (There's a reason why the terms "food porn" and "foodie" are now part of our lexicon.)
These shows are certainly great for fostering a passion and appreciation for food, but it turns out they can at times be too inspiring. A new study finds viewing cooking shows regularly may cause a person to overeat and pack on the pounds when they cook themselves. This proved true of a variety of food-oriented shows, whether categorized as instructional, aspirational or experiential.
"What they found was that those women who get their information from cooking shows or social media, on average, had higher body mass index," medical contributor Dr. Tara Narula told "CBS This Morning."
The study, published this month in the journal Appetite, involved 500 women, aged 20 to 35. Participants filled out online surveys that included questions about their height and weight, and whether they preferred to cook from scratch or turn to books and television shows for inspiration.
"Then they further categorized women into doers and viewers," said Narula. "So doers were women who watched the shows and then cooked from scratch. They were, on average, 11 pounds more or heavier than women who were viewers who watched shows but did not cook."
In the early 1960s Julia Child first whipped up boeuf bourguignon on PBS and exclaimed "bon appetit!" Her success fueled a whole new genre of television catering to an insatiably hungry audience looking to satisfy their "vicarious gluttony."
The Food Network, established in 1993, provides round-the-clock cooking programs and attracts more than 1 million viewers each night. Many other networks have followed suit, establishing their own celebrity chef brands. This has all lead to an interesting paradox: As home cooking has declined, food shows have gained popularity, especially for women who often see them as a safe escape, according to the researchers.
"[Viewers] may use food television as an outlet for actual behaviors that are less acceptable in today's society, where attention to the dangers of obesity and promotion of healthy eating have become commonplace," the researchers write in their study. "To these viewers, cooking programs may offer pleasure vicariously, as food programming on TV often promotes over-consumption and gratification, which are generally frowned upon in today's culture of 'dieting.'"
Today's food shows tend to be primarily for entertainment rather than educational. The recipes chosen for programming typically are loaded with sugar, carbohydrates and fat. Portion size is also frequently a problem.
"For a lot of us, we tune in because it gives us the opportunity to see that ooey-gooey chocolate cake even though we're not eating it at home," said Narula.
"The point is not to steer people away from their own kitchen and to tell them to put away their knives," she added. "I think the bigger thing is to make sure you're cooking smart. If you want to watch those shows, tune into the healthier cooking shows, or take the recipes you like from your favorite chef and make them healthier. Make sure the portion sizes are correct and maybe save those special fried Oreo cookies for the special occasions."