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When Football Team Loses, Fans Reach for Junk Food

But 'self-affirmation' can curb emotional eating, study suggests

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And the consequences may show up on your bathroom scale, said Pritchett, who also is a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

So what can depressed sports fans do? Cornil's team found one potential answer.

In a third phase of the study, 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 archrival Italy, another showed footage of France's loss to Italy in the 2006 World Cup final and the third was a "control" video that focused on two Belgian soccer teams.

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.

It turned out that 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.

"[Self-affirmation] helps you 'restore' your identity that has been threatened by the defeat of your favorite team," Cornil said. "In other words, affirming your values prevents the sport defeat from affecting your self-esteem."

The technique is easy to do, Cornil said. 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.

Pritchett said some studies have found that self-affirmation can be helpful for people with addictive behaviors such as smoking. So if fat and sugar are your addictions, it's possible that self-affirmation could help.

But, Pritchett said, more research is needed to see whether the technique actually does help people cut down on junk food during stressful times.

She suggested some other tactics for combating "emotional eating" such as:

  • Writing down what you eat, so you become aware of how your diet changes in response to stress.
  • Thinking ahead and having healthy snacks on hand if you know you're going to be in a stressful situation.
  • Trying noncaloric stress relievers such as taking a walk, soaking in a bubble bath or doing yoga.

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