Losing is hard to swallow for NFL fans. And they ease the pain of a loss by swallowing more junk food.
Researchers Pierre Chandon and Yann Cornil examined data from Americans who took part in a nutrition study and found that those living in cities with an NFL team ate more the Monday after a loss. People ate 10 percent more calories and 16 percent more saturated fat, compared to their typical habits. In contrast, they ate slightly fewer calories and less saturated fat on the Monday after an NFL victory.
There was no pigging out on Mondays among people who lived in cities without an NFL team, the researchers reported in a recent online issue of the journal Psychological Science.
"Past research shows that when people are feeling down, they tend to consume comfort foods in order to feel better," says Cornil, a Ph.D. candidate at the graduate business school INSEAD in Singapore.
Cornil says fans can take the team defeat as a "personal defeat" and threat to their self-esteem.
And fans across the globe take a loss just as hard.
The researchers recruited 78 French sports fans and asked them to write about a favorite team's victory or defeat. Most of them, as you might expect, wrote about soccer. After their writing task was over, the men and women then worked on a word puzzle – during which they could snack on their choice of chocolate, potato chips, grapes or cherry tomatoes.
The fans wrote about a team defeat preferred junk food – scarfing down more saturated fat and sugar than those who'd written about a victory.
But there's hope
A third phase of the study may have discovered a way to prevent post-blowout binges.
The researchers had about 160 French adults watch highlights from three different soccer matches. One featured the French national team in a big win over arch rival Italy, another showed footage of France's loss to Italy in the 2006 World Cup final and the third focused on two Belgian soccer teams they wouldn’t really care about.
Afterward, half of the study participants performed a "self-affirmation," in which they wrote about a core value in their life such as their relationships with their family or friends. Next, everyone in the study looked at photos of healthy and not-so-healthy foods, then rated how inclined they were to eat each.
People tended to prefer junk food after they watched France's crushing defeat – except those who'd done the self-affirmation. They preferred grapes and tomatoes to chips and chocolate, no matter what match they'd just seen.
“Affirming your values prevents the sport defeat from affecting your self-esteem," says Cornil.
The technique is easy to do, Cornil says. If you're feeling down after your team loses, he said, you could simply write down some things in your life that are important to you — other than football, of course.
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