It is always disappointing when your favorite sports team loses a game. But according to researchers, sports fans of losing teams can become so miserable that they reach for junk food.

Researchers from INSEAD Business School analyzed the food consumption of NFL (National Football League) fans over two seasons of games every Monday, in more than two dozen cities.

Yann Cornil, researcher at INSEAD, says that although prior studies had shown that sport outcomes influence reckless driving, heart attacks and even domestic violence, no one had examined how they influence eating habits.

“The data also allowed us to look at people living in cities without an NFL team or with a team that did not play on that particular day, providing us with two control samples,” Cornil adds.

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, revealed that fans:

  • Ate around 16% MORE saturated fat when their football team LOST a game, compared with their usual consumption of food on a Monday.
  • Ate 9% LESS saturated fat when their football team WON in comparison with their standard Monday eating.

The researchers note that the same trends were found even in those who were not football fans. They add the trends were particularly noticeable when a “game came down to the wire.”

The study authors say:

People eat better when their football team wins and worse when it loses, especially if they lost unexpectedly, by a narrow margin, or against a team of equal strength.”

Further experiments involved the researchers asking a group of French soccer fans to write about a time when their favorite team won or lost. In a later task, the participants were asked to choose which food they would prefer to eat.

Results showed that those who wrote about their team losing chose to eat chips and candy, while those who wrote about their team winning chose healthier options, such as grapes and tomatoes.

The researchers write that sports fans may feel an identity threat when a team loses and are more likely to use eating as a method of coping. They add that fans of winning teams appear to have a boost in self-control.

In conclusion, the researchers say there is a way to combat the need to reach for the junk food after a losing game:

“Even if you are rooting for a perennial loser, there is a solution if you are concerned about healthy eating. 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.”