Fan or fat: study shows saturated fat consumption increases after a loss

News, Special Sections Editor @ UDK

Disappointed football fans may experience a food hangover that could pack on the pounds.

On the day after their favorite NFL team loses, people eat about 16 percent more saturated fat and 10 percent more calories according to a recent study in Psychological Science. For a typical 2,000-calorie diet, the extra saturated fat is equivalent to eating a McDonald’s medium French fry. Fans who back the winning team consume 9 percent fewer saturated fat and five percent less calories following a victory.

NFL to LFK

Although the study focused on professional teams, Pierre Chandon, one of the study’s researchers and a marketing professor at the INSEAD Business School in France, said the result would be the same for a packed house at Arrowhead and a less-full Memorial Stadium.

“What matters is the fan’s identification with their team, so I would expect, in fact, that the effects would be stronger for college football,” Chandon said in an email.

The 726 participants in Chandon’s study recorded what they ate for a two-week period during two consecutive NFL seasons. In cities with the most devoted NFL fans, such as Chicago, Green Bay, Denver, and Pittsburgh, saturated fat consumption increased by as much as 28 percent the following Monday. No effect was found in cities where the NFL team didn’t play that week or cities without an NFL team. The results were replicated in two more studies with French soccer fans who preferred unhealthy foods after thinking about or watching a defeat.

Reason enough for rule-bending

The psychology behind sports fans’ behavior boils down to: when a team is winning, fans feel good about themselves. If the team is losing, fans feel a similar sense of defeat. Researchers believe the extra fat consumption is a coping mechanism for fed-up fans. With a 2-6 record, Jayhawk football followers may have enough reason to pack on plenty.

Chris Crandall, a social psychology professor at the University, said a game is an occasion that lets people set normal rules aside, and those rules don’t necessarily change back when the game ends.

“We can be louder, drink a little more, act a little rowdier and eat less healthy food,” he said. “Keep in mind that food is there for the celebration, and why would it be surprising that, when a game is over, people might return to it?”

The study found the extra consumption might have more to do with fans choosing fattier foods than eating more. In a previous study at the University of Leuven in Belgium, saturated fats were shown to ward off negative feelings and boost positive moods.

“Since they were deprived of good feeling from the game’s result, they might be more interested in good feelings from food,” Crandall said.

Curbing indulgence 

Football games often are a good part of Lauren Tenold’s weekend. Tenold, a sophomore from Overland Park, grew up watching the Kansas City Chiefs on Sundays. Since coming to the University, she’s also tailgated for most of the Jayhawks’ Saturday home games.

Tenold said she’s “bummed” if the Chiefs lose and isn’t shocked at a KU loss, but it’s the high-calorie, low-nutrient comfort food that ties the entire football experience together and makes it more memorable.

“On gamedays, I’m more willing to eat more junk food or snacks that I wouldn’t normally eat during the week,” Tenold said. “But if I knew in advance that my team was going to lose and I would eat more fats, I would specifically watch what I was eating that day and try to make healthier decisions.”

Chandon and his research partner, Yann Cornil, offered advice to health-conscious perennial losers in a news release.

“After a defeat, write down what is really important to you in life. In our studies, this simple technique, called ‘self affirmation,’ completely eliminated the effects of defeats.”

Link to Kansan.com story.

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