It’s unnecessary to eat snacks at the movie theater, but probably not for the reason you think. Yes, the snacks have less than stellar nutritional values, but that’s only a fraction of the problem. The real issue is we’re most likely indulging in popcorn, candy, and soda when we’re not even hungry.

Heather Fink, a registered dietitian with Indiana University Health Sports Performance, gave Medical Daily the scoop on how to stay healthy while enjoying a night out at the theater. She assures it's possible to enjoy a movie without snacks. Even though most people associate food and movies, they do not have to go hand in hand.

“This is a problem across the board. We associate a particular event, like watching a movie, or we could be watching TV or whatever kind of scenario, we automatically assume that goes with eating. And it can, but it doesn’t have to, especially if a person isn’t hungry then there would be really no reason that you would have to be eating while you watch a movie,” Fink told Medical Daily.

People love snacks at the movies so much, especially popcorn, that they will even consume the same amount of 14-day-old stale popcorn as they would hot, fresh popcorn. There was even a study done to prove this. In the study, 158 moviegoers were randomly given a medium or a large container of free popcorn that was either fresh or 14 days old. Following the movie, consumption measures were taken, along with measure of perceived taste. The findings indicated that people consume just as much popcorn, even if it’s stale. Also, people ate significantly more popcorn when it was given to them in a large container.

The study was conducted by American professor Dr. Brian Wansink, who is also the author of the best-selling book, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.

Cinema-Snacks Infographic courtesy of friendsEat

But what if you are hungry when you go to the movies? Heather suggested a few healthier salty and sweet options to carry along, like pretzels, dried fruit, or trail mix. While Heather stated these snacks are healthier than a bag of popcorn of a box of candy, she said, “I think people get a little weary of always hearing about ‘well here would be a healthier option,’ and while that’s an important topic, the true source of the problem is that we’re not paying attention and we’re just mindlessly eating, so it doesn’t really matter what you’re mindlessly eating. That’s the true core of the problem.”

For those of you who just can’t seem to resist the buttery popcorn, here are some tips of how to consume it in a more healthful way.

“We can still enjoy popcorn or candy of any sort, but a person doesn’t have to eat quite as much. They don’t have to eat the whole box. They can share it with someone or just get a smaller container to share with someone and therefore you’re eating less,” Fink said. 

We should be sharing our popcorn because after all, the average popcorn bag used to hold about 5 to 6 cups of popcorn. Today, it’s closer to 20 cups. In addition, a typical snack combo (medium popcorn, medium soda and a candy item) has more fat, carbs, and salt than you’re supposed to eat in an entire day.

For more shocking facts about movie theater snacks, check out the infographic posted on global food blog, friendsEat.