Science: Nothing Comforting About Comfort Food

Bingeing on ice cream and Netflix won't make you feel better... But maybe Netflix will.


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Well, it's official. I now have no excuse to binge on gobs of popcorn when it's 11 pm and I'm stressed out over a deadline. Popcorn is one of my many comfort foods. We all have them—they're what we turn to when we're stressed, sad, or upset.

Now a study has emerged showing that the comforting effect of food may actually be a myth. Indeed, it seems there is no effect on our mood when compared to other foods, or simply not eating at all.

According to Pacific Standard, a team of researchers at the University of Minnesota made the conclusion from a two-part study involving 100 students. The participants each watched 18 minutes of film clips designed to make them upset.

Participants' moods improved the same amount without any influence from food.

After the first viewing, the students were asked to fill out a questionnaire regarding their mood. They were then given their respective comfort foods.

Roughly a week later, at a second viewing, participants received one of three possible outcomes, depending on which part of the experiment they were part of. They were given either another food that they liked but wasn't one of their comfort foods, a neutral food (a granola bar), or no food at all while sitting quietly for three minutes. They then completed another mood questionnaire.

After all the tests, it was found that participants' moods improved the same amount without any influence from the food, whether it was meant to comfort them or not.

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While we can pick apart the study—questioning how authentically "upset" an 18-minute film clip can make someone, or debating the accuracy of a questionnaire in assessing one's mental state—my intuition sides with the conclusion.

So it is with great sadness that I must admit the truth: Comfort food really isn't comforting after all. Likely, it's all in your head.

Source: Pacific Standard

Hero Image: Flickr user "lobraumeister" (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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