As the 2013 NFL season kicks off, new research posted online to Medical News Today on Sept. 5, indicates fans eat better when their football team wins and worse when it loses. However the study also shows evidence that through the incorporation of self-affirmation, fans can avoid the junk food temptation when their beloved team suffers defeat.
Yann Cornil, Ph.D. and Pierre Chandon of INSEAD evaluated nutrition data indicating that on Mondays following a Sunday game, fans ate around 16% more saturated fat than usual when their football team lost. Conversely fans would consume approximately nine percent less saturated fat than usual on Monday if their team won the day before.
Their results published in Psychological Science demonstrated that the trend toward unhealthy eating was more significant if the city’s NFL team lost by a narrow margin or the defeat was unexpected. The researchers theorized that sports fans may feel an identity threat when their team loses and are more likely to use eating as a method of coping. They add that fans of winning teams appear to have a boost in self-control leading to more healthy food choices.
According to the Mayo Clinic the practice of consuming large quantities of food -- usually "comfort" or junk foods can be used as a way to suppress or soothe a variety of negative emotions, such as stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness and loneliness. This ‘emotional eating’ can be triggered by both major life events as well as the usual hassles of daily life instead of in response to hunger. Experts estimate that 75% of overeating is caused by emotions.
In the case of sports, according to Cornil in HealthDay News, fans can take the team loss as a "personal defeat" and threat to their self-esteem.
To test the impact of applying self-affirmation techniques, the researchers had 160 French adults watch highlights from three different soccer matches; a "control" video with two Belgian soccer teams and two French National vs. Italy games; one in which France won big, the other showed France's 2006 World Cup loss.
Afterward, half of the study participants performed a self-affirmation, which involved writing about a positive core value in their life -- such as their relationships with their family or friends.
When all participants were shown photos of healthy and not-so-healthy foods, those that had practiced the self-affirmation were more inclined to eat the healthier foods no matter which video they watched. The researchers believe this demonstrates that through a self- affirmation process a restoration of personal self-esteem can occur for the fan who feels a sense of personal defeat when their favorite team loses, thereby enabling them to make better choices.
The Mayo Clinic offers these additional tips to help stop emotional eating:
- Tame stress by incorporating techniques such as yoga, meditation or relaxation.
- Make a hunger reality check to assess if hunger is physical or emotional. If you just ate and don't have a rumbling stomach, give the craving a little time to pass.
- Keep a food diary, looking for emerging patterns to identify the connection between mood and food.
- Get support. Lean on family, friends or join a support group to lower chances of resorting to emotional eating.
- Fight boredom. Instead of snacking, distract yourself: with a walk, a movie, playing with your pet, etc.
- Take away temptation. Don't keep comfort foods in your home and postpone grocery shopping if you are feeling particularly angry or blue.
- Don't deprive yourself. Limiting calories too much, repeatedly eating the same foods, and eliminating all treats may serve to increase food cravings, especially in response to emotions.
- Snack healthy. Choose low-fat, low-calorie snacks, and versions of your favorite foods.
- Learn from setbacks. If an episode of emotional eating occurs, forgive yourself and start fresh. Try to learn from the experience and make a plan for how you can prevent it in the future.
"Disappointed sports fans more likely to eat junk food" Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 23 Whiteman, Honor. Aug. 2013. Web, 5 Sept.5, 2013.
When Football Team Loses, Fans Reach for Junk Food on HealthDay, Amy Norton HealthDay Reporter
From Fan to Fat? Vicarious Losing Increases Unhealthy Eating, but Self-Affirmation Is an Effective Remedy, Yann Cornil, Pierre Chandon Sage Journals, Sept. 5 Psychological Science, online, Aug. 7, 2013,
The Mayo Clinic Weight loss: Gain control of emotional eating