Your NFL Team’s Loss Can Go Right to Your Gut

Your eating habits may change depending on game results
angry football fan

Rooting for the wrong football team may make you do bad things.

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A recent study by the INSEAD Business School, published in Psychological Science, found people living in cities whose NFL team loses on Sunday tend to eat more calories and fatty foods on the following Monday.

Joseph Rock, PsyD, did not take part in the study but is a psychologist at Cleveland Clinic. He says when we’re uncomfortable we turn to things that will ease that anxiety — like comfort food.

“It doesn’t work to fix anything, but at least it makes us feel better for a second,” says Dr. Rock. “When we’re feeling uncomfortable we’re not thinking about what’s going to happen in a month. We’re thinking about ‘I’m feeling crummy today and I want that to change.’”

Study looks at won/loss eating habits

Researchers looked at the eating habits of people in 30 U.S. cities with teams in the National Football League. They studied them for two seasons, comparing them to cities without NFL teams.

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The study’s results showed:

  • People in cities whose team lost on Sunday eat 16 percent more saturated fat and 10 percent more calories
  • People in cities whose team won on Sunday eat 9 percent less saturated fat and 5 percent fewer calories

Why people eat more if they lose, less if they win

Researchers hypothesized that, when their team loses, people feel an identity threat and are more likely to eat more as a coping mechanism. Whereas winning seems to provide a boost to people’s self control.

“I think what’s happening here is that they eat more normally because they don’t need to eat unhealthily,” adds Dr. Rock. “Instead of eating high-caloric, fattening, sweet food in order to feel better they can talk about the game — and that makes them feel better.”

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Make a game plan

Researchers say fans should shift their focus to and write down what matters most in their lives, like family. This “self-affirmation” has been shown to be effective in eliminating the effects of defeat.

Dr. Rock advises that you put together a practical game plan in the event of a loss.

“Just realize you’re likely to do some things that aren’t going to be great for you tomorrow if your team loses,” he says. “Be aware of that. Realize you’re going to eat too much, and don’t pack some of the unhealthy stuff so you won’t have it at your desk tomorrow.”

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