Heading to the box office this weekend? A weight-related FYI: Seeing a tearjerker may bring on the munchies. People who saw sad movies snacked more than when watching comedies in both a lab setting and at a movie theater, according to a new study reported in a JAMA Internal Medicine research letter.
Researchers from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab found that participants who watched Love Story (a classic cry-fest) ate 28% more popcorn than those who viewed Sweet Home Alabama (a Reese Witherspoon rom-com). And after weighing and counting discarded popcorn and popcorn boxes across movie theaters in seven different American cities, researchers found an even more staggering effect: Moviegoers who saw the more somber flick, Solaris, ate a whopping 55% more popcorn compared to people who got to watch the hilarious My Big Fat Greek Wedding. (Though, personally, I think Solaris isn’t as sad as it is…a little boring. Sorry, George Clooney.)
Still, we’ll give the researchers the benefit of the doubt since this isn’t the first time the Cornell experts have looked at how our viewing habits affect our appetites. The researchers noted that in previous studies, they found action movies spur people to snack more, possibly because people eat to keep up with the pace of the film. Their latest experiment suggests “movies can also generate emotional eating, and people may eat to compensate for sadness,” study co-author Aner Tal, PhD, said in a press release.
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And it’s true that emotional eating is a major source of unwanted weight gain—one 2011 study of more than 1,500 adults found that emotional eating had a stronger link to packing on the pounds than did other lifestyle factors like alcohol and that exercise didn’t fully compensate for the effect.
The good news, I guess, is that the Cornell researchers suspect the same thing would happen with other snacks—even healthy ones. “It’s a quick and mindless way of getting more fruit or veggies into your diet,” co-author Brian Wansink, PhD, added.
Our advice: Next time you hit the theater for a sad or thrilling flick, sneak in some carrot sticks and hummus or your own pre-portioned, non-buttered popcorn. It’s still counts as a whole grain, after all!