According to 2015 Cornell University research published in a Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine research letter, moviegoers who watched tearjerkers ate up to 55 percent more popcorn than those who watched funny films, both in a lab and in a mall movie theater. “Sad feelings make us feel lonely,” says Susan Albers, Psy.D. So if you do watch a film with a not-so-happy theme, she advises doing so with a friend or loved one. “Connecting with someone else can alleviate the desire to pacify your feelings with food,” says Albers. And if watching alone is inevitable, she advises wrapping yourself up in a blanket. “Cocooning can make you feel like you are in a warm embrace, so you won’t need to soothe with food.”
Another study shows that fans who experience vicarious losses are driven to consume less healthy foods. A 2013 study published in Psychological Science found that on the Mondays following a Sunday National Football League game, the intake of foods high in calories and saturated fat significantly increased in cities with losing teams. They also decreased in areas with winning teams and remained stable in regions without an NFL team or with a team that did not play. Similar patterns were seen among French soccer fans, but disappeared when fans spontaneously self-affirmed or were given the opportunity to do so. “Self-affirmation involves replacing self-defeating thoughts with statements that are compassionate and confident,” says Susan Albers, Psy.D. She says it’s effective because it allows you to rewire your brain to think positively.
A 2009 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that even after adjusting for other possible factors like age, gender, medical history, body-mass index, alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking and diet, drinking green tea was inversely associated with stress. In more than 40,000 Japanese adults, levels of psychological stress were 20 percent lower in those who drank at least five cups of green tea daily compared with those who drank less than one cup per day. Los Angeles-based registered dietitian McKenzie Hall says there’s good reason why many of us instinctively sip on tea to calm our nerves. “Green tea contains the amino acid L-theanine, which has been shown to promote relaxation, boost levels of dopamine and may help lower blood pressure,” says Hall, who recommends reaching for tea as a strategy for staving off emotional eating.
Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) According to researchers at Griffith University’s School of Medicine in Australia, practicing EFT on yourself can be a simple way to prevent emotional eating. The strategy, which has been used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias and addictions, involves gentle tapping on pressure points while focusing on particular thoughts and emotions. The scientists say the results can be immediate and long lasting. After just four two-hour sessions, cravings for junk food were significantly curbed, and the reductions were maintained at a six-month follow-up. A 2013 study published in the journal International Scholarly Research Notices Psychiatry found that among overweight or obese adults, those who were randomly selected for a four-week EFT treatment group experienced weight loss, fewer food cravings and more restraint over eating as well as a significant decrease in depression one year later.
A 2013 study from researchers at Columbia University and University of Pittsburgh published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that people who spent more time on Facebook had higher BMIs (body mass index, a measure of weight for height) and increased binge eating. “Social media gives us a peek into other people’s lives, which often appear perfect in a static picture,” says Albers. According to the study, even when Facebook users experienced an increase in self-esteem (because of the images they posted of themselves), usage still triggered a decrease in self-control and unhealthy snacking. Albers does believe that social media can become a positive tool, however. “Follow sites that focus on the positive, including empowering body-image quotes, healthy recipes and positive people,” Susan Albers, Psy.D.
A 2015 paper published in the Journal of Health Psychology, researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln say that a poor night of sleep affects appetite-regulating hormones, intensifies emotional stress, increases impulsivity and spikes food cravings. Not getting enough sleep is virtually a recipe for emotional eating. “A wind-down ritual is key for good sleep,” says psychologist Susan Albers, Psy.D., author of “50 More Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food.” She suggests choosing a sequence to repeat each night like a ritual, such as 10 minutes of stretching followed by 10 minutes of journaling. “Like a stop light, you don’t just go right from green to red: You have to slow yourself down to prepare for slumber.”
A 2015 University of Liverpool study published in the International Journal of Obesity looked at data in three studies involving 14,000 children tracked into adulthood in the U.S. and the U.K. They found that those who identified themselves as being overweight were more likely to report overeating when they felt stressed. “When we obsess about weight we tend to get out of touch with our hunger and fullness cues,” says McKenzie Hall, RD, co-owner of NourishRDs. To maintain a healthier attitude and healthier eating patterns, Hall advises being selective about whom you spend your time with. “If your social network makes you feel accepted, you’ll in turn embrace your body more, have a greater appreciation for your body’s physical abilities and be more apt to trust your hunger and fullness cues,” adds Hall.