August 28, 2023

Food Fumble: Why We Stress Eat After a Sports Loss

Emotions can power food choices when your favorite team falls short

Stressed fans eat pizza while watching game.

Three seconds remain on the clock as your beloved football team lines up for what should be a game-winning field goal. It’s a chip shot sort of kick … the kind that splits the uprights 99% of the time.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

But today is that 1%. The kick hooks wide right to finalize another heartbreaking loss for your team. It’s a painful outcome that hurts your team in the standings.

It also might not be good for your diet. Research shows that tough losses on the football field often lead to poor mealtime choices and overeating the following day. (Talk about a game weighing on you!)

To learn more about this food-based fumble, we turn to health psychologist Grace Tworek, PsyD.

A review of the stats

Researchers spent two NFL seasons analyzing the eating habits of fans the day after games. Pulling up the instant replay on their findings shows that:

  • People in cities where the team lost on Sunday ate food with about 16% more saturated fat and 10% more calories than their usual consumption. The percentage went up if the game was a close or tough loss, too.
  • A big win on Sunday led to people eating food with about 9% less saturated fat and 5% fewer calories than their regular diet. (Who knew a “victory salad” was a thing on Mondays?)

Those food choices following a win or loss illustrate the enormous influence that sports hold over our lives and emotions. Other studies have found connections between big games and heart attacks.

How emotions power food choices

Let’s face the facts: Seeing your team lose is a bummer. So, when the scoreboard tells a sad tale, many fans seek comfort food to ease the pain and anxiety. (Think baked goods and greasy fast food menu items.)

Advertisement

“It may not change the outcome, but it allows you to feel better or even serve as a distraction for a brief moment,” explains Dr. Tworek.

Emotional eating is a common coping mechanism — and there’s a biological reason behind it.

When you feel stressed or upset, your body cranks up the production of a hormone called cortisol. This surge of cortisol naturally makes you crave sugary, fatty foods that deliver a soothing effect.

So, when your favorite quarterback tosses an interception at the goal line, you might be tempted to reach for an extra handful of chips. (Or eat the whole bag.)

Your team winning, on the other hand, seems to boost good choices and self-control. “You feel good about the game and connected to those around you,” says Dr. Tworek. “This may make reaching for food as a method to cope much less appealing.”

Tips to avoid stress eating

Want to avoid overeating after a tough loss? Then it’s best to get a game plan together. (And maybe if your team had taken the same approach ahead of the game, this wouldn’t even be an issue for you.)

Advertisement

“Preparing yourself ahead of time no matter the outcome can make a big difference,” says Dr. Tworek.

Here are three things to try:

  • Pack a healthy lunch. Load your lunch cooler with fruits, vegetables and whole-grain foods. “It’s easier to avoid unhealthy options if you have a prepared set of healthy choices ready to go,” states Dr. Tworek (Need ideas? Check out this list of foods that help relieve stress.)
  • Get moving. Exercise is a proven way to work through stress and frustration. An added bonus? Physical activity (such as a brisk walk) also reduces the urge to gobble down sugary snacks.
  • Keep busy. Idle time can lead to snack time. Make plans to do something you enjoy the day after your team’s game to refocus your energy and take your mind off the final score. Or try a stress-busting relaxation technique such as yoga.

The final call

Bottom line? Don’t throw a penalty flag if you downed an XL “meatza pizza” to soothe your soul after your team lost. It’s just one bad day of eating after one bad game by your team.

“Make it a learning experience,” advises Dr. Tworek. “Take note of what hasn’t worked well in the past versus what has worked well — and use this to inform future situations and develop a set of effective coping skills.

Then, you’ll be ready for the next time your team takes one on the chin. Because as you know from watching football, success is all about making mid-season adjustments.

Related Articles

Child using smartphone and with social media and texts bubbles around him
January 15, 2024
How Social Media Can Negatively Affect Your Child

Too much screen time and unrealistic expectations and perceptions and can lead to an increased risk of anxiety and depression

female lying on yoga mat stretching
January 3, 2024
How Restorative Yoga Can Nurture Your Mind, Body and Spirit

This mindful practice is designed to give you mental and physical relaxation

Person huddled on floor with arms around knees with thought bubbles above head
January 3, 2024
Anxiety vs. Depression: Which Do I Have (or Is It Both)?

Although different conditons, they can occur together or cause one another

person in wheelchair lifting weights in gym
December 26, 2023
7 New Year’s Resolutions To Improve Your Heart Health

Resolve to move a little more, drink a little less, eat a little healthier, sleep a little better and destress a lot

female sweating in gym with male lifting weights in background
December 25, 2023
Gymtimidation: How To Push Through Gym Anxiety

If the thought of the gym sends you spiraling, do some prep work beforehand and bring a friend along for support

Overhead view, female and male in kitchen preparing food, christmas tree and baking pans
December 18, 2023
How To Avoid Hometown Anxiety and Holiday Regression

Stay merry and bright by knowing your triggers and journaling throughout your visit

close up of green coffee beans
December 14, 2023
Should You Go Green? What To Know About Green Coffee Bean Extract

There’s no evidence to prove this supplement can help with weight loss, and it may come with risks

female wearing super hero cape standing in front a crowd of people
December 14, 2023
You’re the Star of the Show With Main Character Syndrome

Being the center of attention doesn’t mean you have to exile your guest stars

Trending Topics

White bowls full of pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate and various kinds of nuts
25 Magnesium-Rich Foods You Should Be Eating

A healthy diet can easily meet your body’s important demands for magnesium

Woman feeling for heart rate in neck on run outside, smartwatch and earbuds
Heart Rate Zones Explained

A super high heart rate means you’re burning more than fat

Spoonful of farro salad with tomato
What To Eat If You’ve Been Diagnosed With Prediabetes

Type 2 diabetes isn’t inevitable with these dietary changes

Ad