Most of us try to eat healthy as often as we can. But after a bad day, drowning our sorrows in some caloric goodness is always tempting. However, a new study found that comfort food may not be so comforting after all.
We sometimes want to indulge in comfort food without shame, but according to the study published in Health Psychology, comfort food may not actually soothe the soul the way we previously thought.
Led by psychology professor Traci Man from the University of Minnesota, a team of researchers showed 100 college students clips from sad movies to provoke the participants to be in a bad mood. After watching the clips, half the students ate their favorite comfort food, while the other half ate food they liked, but these dishes were not classified as comfort food.
While comfort food is not the best for our health— as it is a typically greasy and high-calorie treat, it seems like it does not play a positive role in our mood either. The researchers found that after asking the participants how they felt, both groups of college students reported feeling better.
"That is not what we expected," Mann says. "We kept repeating the study, because we didn't believe it."
The researchers repeated the experiment, but this time only half the students ate their favorite comfort food, while the second half ate nothing. The researchers found that again both groups equally felt better.
"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)," Mann says. "'Individuals may be giving comfort food 'credit' for mood effects that would have occurred even in the absence of the comfort food."
The research did not look at how real-life scenarios relate to comfort foods, such as when people order comforting foods from a restaurant, focusing only on one type of "bad mood" associated with sad movies. But previous studies have linked eating chicken soup to making people feel less lonely.
However, the new research shows that food has a "weak psychological effect." Nutrition professor David Levitsky from Cornell University says that comfort food makes us feel good because we associate them with the things we ate when we were growing up and the food served during celebrations.
It appears that food and memory have a bigger connection rather than food and mood, but researchers say people don't need to shy away from indulging in comfort food occasionally.
"So you lose one justification for eating a cookie," Mann says. "Come up with another one."