Everyone has their favorite sad movies that may be tearjerkers but ultimately have a happy ending or perhaps films that just leave them with some type of strong emotion (sadness, stress, etc). Did you know that indulging in these movies could actually be harming your weight loss goals? Before you stop watching Lifetime movies, check out this info…
It may seem far-fetched but watching sad movies may actually cause some people to eat more. One study done by in a lab at Cornell University Food and Brand lab showed that people watching sad movies ate roughly 28% more popcorn than those that watched a comedy. A complimenting study done by Cornell featured on JAMA Internal Medicine has similar findings- around 55% more popcorn was eaten by those who watched a drama vs a romantic comedy.
The reason behind this isn’t coincidence but actually a health-harming behavior called emotional eating. Yes…another source of emotional eating.
What is Emotional Eating?
Emotional eating is a type of coping behavior that most women experience when they go through a period of stress. This stress is linked to emotion and could be sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety, feeling pressured or even boredom. Though emotional eating is primarily caused by negative emotions, some women will also go to food as a reward for an accomplishment but end up overeating. Similarly, some women may actually lose their appetite when stressed but subsequently emotionally eat when they feel happy, excited or relieved about something. Each person’s stress response is different.
Though emotional eating is very common and not something to be embarrassed about, you should be aware of it as it typically leads to weight gain. This is largely due to comfort foods and calorie rich foods being the go to foods for emotional eaters. That means you may have to avoid certain situations that cause stress or take precautions when you go to the movie theater or settle in on the couch to stop yourself from pigging out on popcorn without realizing it.
The triggers of emotional eating are obvious but what exactly causes women to go towards food when upset, fearful or sad? There are a couple different reasons but the primary one has to do with the brain.
Eating food can be pleasurable. It might seem odd to describe food that way but the brain reacts to chowing down on a tub of popcorn at the movies very much the same way it would with a romantic encounter. Watching a sad movie can be distressing, particularly if the movie causes you to become attached to the characters. As unfortunate things happen in the movie you unconsciously begin to eat more.
As you eat opioids are released. Opioids are the same active ingredients in drugs like heroin but are also produced naturally in the human body, as this extensive study shows. When these are released it gives a feeling of relief in response to emotional pain. So in essence, as you feel sad while watching a movie and you are simultaneously eating, you physically feel a sense of relief. This continues through a cycle of sadness > eating > relief and either ends after the movie is over or even continues throughout the rest of your day. Oh, we all have watched a movie that left us in “a mood” and impacted our whole day.
How Can I Prevent Emotional Eating?
Preventing emotional eating is actually very difficult at first because it often happens without the person realizing it. If you are unsure if you are an emotional eater when it comes to watching movies, at home or at the theater, take a moment to consider whether you:
- Typically medicate your emotions with food – use food to feel better
- Always finish your popcorn (even though it was far more than serving)
- Find yourself stocking up on junk in preparation for an at-home movie night
- Often find yourself feeling hungry during a movie
- Come out of the theater full but still wanting to eat more
The best way of preventing emotional eating at a theater is to limit what you could eat. This means buying yourself your own small tub of popcorn, even if you normally share a big tub with friends or family. Skip the candy or bring a very small serving in your purse. Get a small drink or, better yet, a bottle of water. Try to eat a healthy meal before you go to the theater. If you go to the movies on a full stomach but you feel hungry during the movie you can bet that it is emotional hunger, not actual hunger pangs.
Stopping overeating while watching movies at home is a little trickier since you can get up whenever you want. Just like going to a theater, have a meal before you start the movie. Eat in your dining room or kitchen, not in front of the television. Make yourself a single serving of popcorn or whatever other treat you prefer. If you are having ice cream, spoon a serving into a bowl rather than thinking you’ll just eat a serving from the carton. Don’t make the mistake of sitting in front of a whole table of food as you’ll be more likely to keep eating. You know your limits! Put that willpower to work.
Emotional eating is a tough habit to break but it all begins by limiting what food you have in arm’s reach while you are watching a movie. You can also use the habit of overeating in your favor. For example, if you find a hard time eating a healthy meal or certain vegetables, purposely watch a movie while eating these foods and you will most likely finish the food without realizing it.