Comfort Foods are a Myth

Feel better after a delicious steak? Or a pint of ice cream? Or your mom’s mac ‘n cheese? Well, maybe, but the food has nothing to do with it.

A study published in Health Psychology has found that so-called ‘comfort foods’ are no more effective in curing a bad mood than sitting quietly and doing nothing. Researchers had one hundred subjects describe their favourite comfort foods—perhaps unsurprisingly, chocolate was most popular, followed by ice cream, then cookies. After listing their favourite foods, 81% agreed with the statement “I am confident that eating this food would make me feel better”, suggesting that belief in comfort foods is widespread.

Then, subjects attended two research sessions, one week apart, where they watched an eighteen minute video of film clips designed to provoke “feelings of anger, fear, anxiety, and/or sadness.” At the first session, subjects filled out a questionnaire regarding their mood and then were given a large portion of their chosen comfort food—this is where we’d choose Hennessy Paradis Imperial. After, they filled out another mood questionnaire.

The second session was mostly the same—video, questionnaire, food, questionnaire, but subjects were given either a non-comfort food they enjoyed, such as cashews, a “neutral food”, such as a granola bar, or nothing but three minute of sitting quietly.

According to the research: “Participants’ moods improved over time. This happened to the same extent regardless of which type of food they ate, or whether they at any food at all.”

So, if you happen to be dieting, good news: high-calorie, very bad for you food won’t improve your mood, so that justification is out. For the rest of us, we’ve just lost an excuse for keeping chocolate bars in the glove compartment. Scientists—is there anything they can’t ruin?

Photo courtesy of Mike

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