When the Chiefs win do you eat salad or a plate of ribs – or two? Is your health tied to the success of your favorite sports team? Not at all? Somewhat?
The human mind is a very interesting place. The psychology of sports fans, fascinating. Researchers in France studied fans of NFL and French soccer teams and report some very interesting observations about how we eat after our teams win or lose. We are affected in ways most of us do not realize.
Your eating habits and the success of your team, what do you know? T or F?
1. When our team loses we eat more sugary foods.
2. High fat foods trigger pleasure centers in the brain.
3. Winning does not affect food choices one way or another.
Bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, Maxwell up, 3-2 count. Thwack! Walk-off grand slam! The Royals are still in the wild card hunt! Feeling good? The next day do you order a salad or cheeseburger and chili-fries?
What about when the Royals lost in Seattle? Season over. Bring out the bacon? Well, yes, in a manner of speaking. It seems that when we feel good (i.e. our team wins) we tend to eat more healthfully. When we feel badly (Chiefs 2-14 season), we eat more high fat foods. Our eating is related to our mood. In simple terms, feel badly, eat badly. Feel good, eat healthfully.
What is the connection between our brains, the fortunes of our teams and our food choices? Foods high in sugar and fat activate primitive pleasure centers in the brain. When we feel badly we tend to gravitate to comfort foods. Milkshake and fries make me feel better than a salad. After Maxwell blasted the grand slam I felt great, am more optimistic and forward thinking and make eating choices consistent with my upbeat mood. When they lost in Seattle, I order the double cheeseburger. I can't escape my brain.
There are many studies examining the behaviors of fans after wins and losses. After a defeat there are higher rates of domestic abuse, traffic fatalities and heart attacks. Let's face it; it is stressful being emotionally invested in a team. Researchers in France studied fans of NFL and French soccer teams for two years and learned a lot about how we manage to navigate our emotional eating. As it turns out, not very well. They found that the day after a defeat, consumption of high fat foods increased by 16 percent on average and overall calorie intake increased by 10 percent. After a victory, consumption of high fat foods decreased by 9 percent. After big games the effects were even greater.
Think about your own eating habits after a tough loss or an unexpected win, especially against your arch rival. Do you head to your favorite barbecue joint or the farmer's market? After what the Chiefs have put us through in recent seasons, who can blame us for trying to activate our pleasure centers through the consumption of ribs and pulled pork sandwiches – I hate you Oklahoma Joe's! No. Wait! I love you! You are always there when I need you – you and Ben and Jerry.
This season maybe I have half a chance of losing weight.
Answers 1. T; 2. T; 3. F.
Dr. Lori Boyajian-O’Neill can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.