If Guardians of the Galaxy is on your must-watch list, skip the large popcorn. According to new research out of Cornell University, a film's genre has an impact on how much we eat while watching—and apparently, the more action there is on-screen, the more action our mouths are likely to see.
The study looked at 94 volunteers who snacked on M&Ms, cookies, carrots, and grapes while watching 20 minutes of television. One third of the participants watched a segment from the action movie The Island, another third watched the same segment without sound, and the last group watched part of Charlie Rose, a politics-themed talk show.
The first Island group ate nearly twice as many snacks as those watching Charlie Rose; even those who watched it without sound ate about a third more than the talk-show audience. The Island viewers also consumed 354 and 315 calories (respectively) on average, compared to 215 calories for the Charlie Rose group.
"Stimulating prorams that are fast-paced and include many camera cuts really draw you in and distract you from what you are eating," explains lead author Aner Tal, Ph.D.
And it's not just movies we need to watch out for: Tal says action-packed television programs could have a similar effect. In fact, watching TV or streaming services in our own homes may pose an even bigger diet threat—especially with the potential for streaming marathons of intense series like Game of Thrones or Sons of Anarchy.
We were curious, though, about one thing the study didn't look at. Where might reality TV fall on this spectrum of overeating triggers? Tal says that likely depends on the topic and format of each individual show, and how much viewers are sucked in.
"High-octane reality might function the same as action films," he says. "Watching Adventures in High Fishing might not be as 'dangerous' as watching people battling each other and the elements on Survivor." Another factor that may affect eating habits is whether the show itself focuses on culinary topics—like, say, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, or high-stakes cooking competitions. "Watching food can increase cravings, and the effects of that might go on top of mindless eating caused by distraction."
To keep mindless calorie-intake to a minimum, Tal suggests limiting junk food to small portions if you're going to eat it—a small bowl of chips or M&Ms, rather than the whole bag.