Warning: Sad Movies Are Fattening

A new study finds that we snack more during sad movies, so why not figure out a way to snack smartly while watching that tearjerker?


Photo by: Michelle Harvey

Michelle Harvey

Few moviegoers are immune to the lure of the popcorn, candy and other junk-food treats for sale on the way into the theater. But it turns out that the movie you’re going to see may influence just how much of those fattening foods you consume while you watch. A study just released by the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab measured the differences in popcorn consumption — both in a lab setting and at a movie theater — between moviegoers watching sad movies and those watching comedies.

In the lab, viewers of the tragedy Love Story ate 28 percent more popcorn than viewers of the comedy Sweet Home Alabama . And in the theater, those who watched tearjerkers plowed through about 55 percent more popcorn than those who picked a more upbeat film. “What we’re seeing here is likely distress-induced eating,” says Aner Tal, Ph.D., Cornell researcher and study co-author. “Sad movies induce a type of distress, which damages dieters’ ability to curb eating.” A similar phenomenon was observed in an earlier study that looked at how much people consumed while watching action movies. “We found that if you’re watching an action movie while snacking, your mouth will see more action too!” says Tal.

So what to do if you love movies but don’t want to pack on extra pounds while watching them? The good news is that, according to the Cornell studies, viewers also ate more healthy food if that’s what was within arm’s reach. “The distress led people to eat more of anything — including baby carrots and grapes,” says Tal.

We asked Mary Ryan, R.D., a nutritionist in Jackson, Wyo., to weigh in with some smart snacking tips and strategies to enhance both your viewing — and eating — pleasure.

For movies at home:
  • Make homemade popcorn seasoned with lemon pepper, cayenne or curry powder instead of loading it with butter and salt.
  • Opt for crunchy alternatives like sliced jicama, snap peas or carrots.
  • Snack on orange sections or melon chunks sprinkled with cinnamon.
  • Dip frozen banana chunks in dark chocolate syrup.
At the movie theater:
  • Eat a meal before you go so you’re not starving when you sit down in the theater.
  • Offer to share a snack with your movie date or buy only the smallest size of popcorn or candy. (If it’s a good movie, you won’t want to leave midway through to get more.)
  • Sip on water throughout the film to help quell mindless munching.
  • If a sad movie has you feeling fragile, Ryan recommends taking a few deep breaths to calm yourself and help keep you from eating emotionally.

Give these healthy snacks a try before you sit down to watch a feature film:

Food stylist: Adrienne Anderson
Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks


Food stylist: Adrienne Anderson Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks

Photo by: Jacob Snavely

Jacob Snavely

Food stylist: Adrienne Anderson
Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks


Food stylist: Adrienne Anderson Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks

Photo by: Jacob Snavely

Jacob Snavely

Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colorado-based journalist who writes about nutrition, health and wellness.

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