According to science, there’s no such thing as comfort food.

By Seriously Science | October 14, 2014 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/dixiebellecupcakecafe

Photo: flickr/dixiebellecupcakecafe

Heartbroken women in rom-coms, put down your pints of Ben and Jerry’s — turns out that, according to this study, comfort food is an illusion. To test this, the researchers had subjects watch sad movies and let them eat either a comfort food, an “equally liked noncomfort food,” a neutral food, or no food and then measured how their moods changed. They found that comfort foods did improve the subjects’ mood, but no more than other foods or no food. The scientists suggest that comfort foods are being credited for changes in mood that would have happened even without the food. So the next time you have a bad day, try waiting it out instead of reaching for a giant bowl of mac and cheese; you might feel just as good, without all those extra calories. And be sure to let us know how (and if) it works out!

The Myth of Comfort Food

“Objective: People seek out their own idiosyncratic comfort foods when in negative moods, and they believe that these foods rapidly improve their mood. The purpose of these studies is to investigate whether comfort foods actually provide psychological benefits, and if so, whether they improve mood better than comparison foods or no food. Methods: Participants first completed an online questionnaire to indicate their comfort foods and a variety of comparison foods. During two lab sessions a week apart from each other (and at least a week after the online questionnaire, counterbalanced in order), participants watched films that induced negative affect. In one session, participants were then served their comfort food. In the other, participants were served an equally liked noncomfort food (Study 1), a neutral food (Study 2), or no food (Studies 3 and 4). Short-term mood changes were measured so that we could seek out psychological effects of these foods, rather than biochemical effects on mood from particular food
components (e.g., sugars or vitamins). Results: Comfort foods led to significant improvements in mood, but no more than other foods or no food. Conclusions: Although people believe that comfort foods provide them with mood benefits, comfort foods do not provide comfort beyond that of other foods (or no food). These results are likely not due to a floor effect because participants’ moods did not return to baseline levels. Individuals may be giving comfort food “credit” for mood effects that would have occurred even in the absence of the comfort food.”

Related content:
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Eating in a cafeteria makes food taste worse.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: eat me, feelings shmeelings
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  • SeeToSee

    Maybe a comfort food by definition is a food you eat for the purpose of improving your mood, and not a defined set of foods. Pizza is comforting on Friday night but annoying at a staff working lunch.

    • Natalie Rees

      I would say you’re partially correct, but comfort food is generally defined as unhealthy meals/snack in large quantities, like ice cream or cake- I think alcohol might even be able to come under this category.

      • SeeToSee

        Well..also partially correct. What we call “unhealthy meals” now were childhood staples for people my age — pot roast, mashed potatoes, things with gravy, banana pudding prepared from scratch. They are comforting at times because they remind me of my childhood. But again, not at a staff working lunch. And probably not in a testing environment.

  • David Thomson

    I believe this is a faux study trying to improve the health of the population by reaching the people that will believe anything with “study” in it.

    To prove my point, observe how you feel right now, then go grab some food you love and while eating it observe how you feel.

    This study would have been somewhat believable had they not said “Comfort foods led to significant improvements in mood, but no more than… no food.” That’s saying eating no food improves your mood. Great, so I’ll just starve myself to euphoria.

    • blueollie

      No, it says that if you feel bad right now, you’ll probably feel better later, whether you eat “comfort foods” or not.

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