Posted: Sep 14, 2015 in September 2015
If you answered yes, you aren’t alone. A recent study published in the journal Health Psychology set out to explore this question: do “comfort foods” provide psychological benefit? To do this they induced a low mood by having participants watch clips from sad movies. They then asked the participants to complete a questionnaire rating their emotions. Some groups of participants were then given “comfort foods”, some were given equally liked non-comfort food, while others were given no food. A few minutes later, all participants were asked to complete a second questionnaire to re-rate their emotions.
You might be surprised to learn that there were no significant differences in mood across the three groups. All participants, whether they had their self-identified “comfort food” or neutral food or no food, felt better by the time they filled out the second questionnaire.
This study supports the experience described by a number of patients who are learning to change their eating behaviours: food doesn’t improve mood, and can in fact make us feel worse after we have eaten. For many people seeking out “comfort food” when distressed is a long standing response. Indeed, it is often described as “automatic”. The good news is that we can learn how to engage in other behaviours that serve to calm, soothe, and improve mood.