The Agony of Defeat

July 14, 2014

The World Cup has come to an end. The players have gone home, the stadiums have emptied, fans around the world have gone back to their daily lives. Did your team win? Lose? If you find yourself reaching for the potato chips more often this week, chances are good you aligned yourself with the losing team.



Apparently, the successes and failures of our favorite sports teams have an effect on our moods, our general outlook, and even our diets. Researchers have found that football fans whose teams have lost are far more likely to eat lots of fatty food the day after the game than those fans whose teams have won. And if you live in a town that follows football with gusto, the greater your helpings of doughnuts and guacamole.

This makes sense when you think about how our moods affect our eating habits. They call it “comfort food” for a reason—we eat it when we need to be comforted. And when our team does badly on the field, we get depressed. We need comfort. We need casseroles.

The team’s wins and losses are our wins and losses, even on a physiological level. Men experience an increase or decrease in testosterone depending on whether their team won or lost. Part of the attraction of watching a game is that rush of adrenaline, that feeling that life hangs in the balance. We love the dopamine that floods our neural sensors when the game is going our way. And when our team takes a hit, some of us react with a rage we rarely feel when doing something mundane like paying bills or walking the dog.

Being a sports fan also gives us a place of escape. When we watch our team light up the field, the court, or the rink, we’re no longer regular people who spend most of their time worrying about money, global warming, and that new, misguided tattoo. The rules are different. We can yell and scream, insult other people, and embrace the person sitting next to us, whether we know him or not.

And even as we escape, we belong. The fans of your team are your friends, they’re your sporting family. And it feels good to belong to a close family, even one that’s united by team colors rather than genetics.

Keep in mind, though, if your team is dragging behind, that high-caloric food isn’t the answer to a rough game. That will only make us slower. Neither is the destruction of community property a productive reaction. No, the best way to handle the agony of defeat is to read up on the science of why you feel so low. And then get back to training.