Can “Comfort Food” Truly Combat Unsavory Emotions?

The Truth Behind Your Mac n' Cheese

Some people have grown up believing that eating food like ice cream, chicken soup, and mac and cheese can lift their spirits. But is this actually true? Recently, scientists have indicated that this is, in fact, false.

Earlier this fall, professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota Traci Mann and her colleagues conducted an experiment involving 100 college students. The study aimed to examine whether “comfort food” really comforts. Students were shown sad movie clips, and then half of them were given their favorite comfort food. The other half of the students then ate food they would not consider comfort food, but enjoyed. All students were asked how they felt once they finished eating: one hundred percent of the students recorded feeling better, but not all related it to the food they ate.

Surprised by the results, scientists conducted a second study. This time, they provided half of the college students with comfort food and the other half with no food. Once again, both groups showed improvements in mood. The so-called comfort food made no observable difference.

While these studies reached the same conclusion, researchers are curious if consuming comfort food could possibly influence emotions other than sadness. Mann and her colleagues do not yet have an official answer.

David Levitsky, professor of nutrition at Cornell College, said, “We tend to look for a magic solution to our problems. The idea that we can feel better by simply consuming certain foods is very appealing, but in actuality feeling better has nothing to do with the food itself, and it’s a very weak psychological effect.”

Similar studies done elsewhere, however, have reached different conclusions. A study published in the journal Psychological Science in 2011, for example, suggests that eating chicken soup might just decrease feelings of loneliness.

Even though researchers don't see eye to eye on whether or not comfort food can be an antidote for unsavory emotions, it does not mean we have to stop eating these foods altogether. Unless you overeat consistently to cope with big problems, there is no harm in eating foods you enjoy in moderation, according to researchers.

[Source: NPR]