It was fun while it lasted, family-size box of mac ‘n cheese. Bowl of mashed potatoes, please see yourself out. In what seems to be an attempt to make us question everything we believe in, new research says that the concept of comfort foods is a myth.
Eating your way out of a tin of cookies may feel like it’s improving your bad mood after a rough day at work, but it’s actually just making you a little queasy…and not much beyond that. In a series of four studies, researchers set out to find out whether “comfort food” actually provided psychology benefits compared to other food or no food. After gathering information on participants’ moods and choice of comfort foods as well as enjoyable non-comfort foods, they showed participants film clips that evoked “feelings of anger, fear, anxiety, and/or sadness.” Post-film, students indulged in their self-described comfort foods, in neutral/non-comfort foods, or in nothing at all before filling out another questionnaire about their moods.
The result? The comfort foods led to a significant improvement in mood… just as eating neutral food and eating nothing did. “Individuals may be giving comfort food ‘credit’ for mood effects that would have occurred even in the absence of the comfort food,” the researchers posed. In other words, your post-work blues would have gone away on their own anyway, with or without the ice cream feast.
“People are taking this very hard,” study researcher Traci Mann told NPR. “I guess it removes a very handy justification people have for eating comfort food.” But the question remains…are they taking it very hard with a side of gravy fries?