Whether the stress is coming from financial woes or your favorite sports team underperforming, two recent studies suggest you may naturally reach for calorie-rich foods for comfort.
The first study considered American football and French soccer fans who had just watched their teams lose a game. Authors Yann Cornil and Pierre Chandon found that on the Mondays following a Sunday NFL game, saturated fat and overall food caloric intake increased significantly in cities with losing teams. The real shocker? Cities with winning teams significantly decreased their saturated fat and caloric intake; so at least some people weren’t cashing in all of their free pizza toppings. Effects were more pronounced in cities with the most committed fans, when opponents were more evenly matched and when the margin of victory (or defeat) was narrow.
What about cities that didn’t have an NFL team or their team didn’t play? Calorie consumption and saturated fat intake remained flat.
Lest you think this is an exclusively American phenomenon, Cornil and Chandon also studied a group of French soccer fans and measured their actual or intended food consumption after they wrote about or watched highlights from their teams’ victories or defeats. The results were similar to those in the NFL study.
Think you’re safe from this phenomenon if you’re not a sports fan? Think again.
A separate study published in the journal Psychological Science found that when we perceive we’re going through hard times, we tend to reach for higher-calorie foods. When researchers subconsciously primed a group of participants with “tough times” and “live for today” messages, the participants ate nearly 40% more food than members of a control group primed with neutral words. To further prove the allure of high-calorie foods, researchers offered the “tough times” group food described as low-calorie. This time, members ate 25% less. All of the food (M&Ms in this case) was identical.
Study authors Juliano Laran and Anthony Salerno posit that stress can trigger an instinctual response that sends us running to the refrigerator and digging for that pint of rocky road.
“It is clear from the studies that taste was not what caused the reactions, it was a longing for calories,” Laran said.
Long ago, our stress was more likely to come from a predator or weather that destroyed our crops. At that evolutionary point, increasing our caloric intake was a survival tactic. Today, not so much.
Laran offers this bit of advice: “certainly beware of savvy food marketers bearing bad news.”
If you find you’re succumbing to stress- or emotional eating, there are ways to overcome it. Start with this article from Psychology Today and don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor; he or she can help you get on the right track to a healthier relationship with food.