Steer clear of scary movies if you're trying to shed a few pounds. Frightening flicks prompted dieters to overeat, according to the results of a new study by researchers at the University of Health Sciences-Chicago Medical School.
The study of 60 women examined how mood affected eating and found that the stress of a horror movie triggered overeating only in people who were on diets.
"Dieters just eat a heck of a lot more when they get under stress," said psychologist David E. Schotte, co-author of the study, which was published in the July issue of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.
Schotte and colleagues Joseph Cools and Richard J. McNally edited the scariest chase sequences from the movie "Halloween" into a 20-minute segment that excluded bloody scenes but retained the tension and anxiety. Just before screening the film, they passed out boxes of popcorn that had been weighed. The participants did not know that the amount they consumed would be measured.
When the movie ended, researchers collected and re-weighed the popcorn boxes. They found that the 30 dieters ate more than twice as much popcorn as did nondieters.
A boring travelogue produced the opposite result: Dieters ate less than half as much as they had while watching the scary movie. Nondieters, by contrast, ate about 20 percent more during the travelogue than they did while watching the "Halloween" excerpt.
"The implication for dieters," Schotte said, "is that they have to learn to cope with stresses and emotional upsets" in order to loose weight.