Contrary to what most people believe, comfort food does not improve a low mood, a new study finds.
The research, published in the journal Health Psychology, found that people who ate nothing recovered from a bad mood just as quickly as those who ate their preferred comfort food (Wagner et al., 2014).
The results come from a study in which people were asked to list the type of foods they ate to recover from a bad mood — chocolate was the most popular.
They then watched an 18-minute video that was guaranteed to make them anxious, afraid and depressed.
After watching the depressing video, (across three different studies) people were given either:
- Their preferred comfort food.
- A neutral food (a granola bar).
- No food.
Then their mood was measured.
Here is how the researchers describe their results, which were pretty clear-cut:
“Comfort foods led to significant improvements in mood, but no more than other foods or no food.
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).”
The fact that all groups felt better after a time is likely due to the psychological immune system, our natural ability to recover from bad moods.
So, people were giving the credit to the comfort food for something their minds were doing automatically.
The researchers conclude:
“We found no justification for people to choose comfort foods when they are distressed.
Removing an excuse for eating a high-calorie or high-fat food may help people develop and maintain healthier eating habits, and may lead them to focus on other, food-free methods of improving their mood.
You don’t need comfort food to feel better; the mind will do the trick all on its own if you give it time.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Image credit: Emilãine Vieira