Feed Your Mood: How Comfort Foods Influence How We Feel

Whenever a character in a movie—no matter if it’s a comedy or drama—feels down and heartbroken, a pint of ice cream or a ton of chocolate suddenly appears. In real life, many people choose to beat the blues with comfort foods and it works most of the time. And this effect is not always the result of the chemicals in the food triggering various responses in our brain. It has a lot more to do with psychology than nutrition—here’s how.

What is a comfort food?

The notion of “comfort food” has nothing to do with the nutritional value and the healthiness of the food. Instead, it has everything to do with the feelings we associate it with. For some, it might be a “guilty pleasure” type of food as a big slice of cake or a cheeseburger. For others, it might be a bowl of steaming chicken soup or pretty much anything else you can think of.

Comfort food is a food associated with pleasant memories and positive feelings and moods. And this is why many people reach out to these – because they want to recall the feelings associated with them.

What foods can be comfort foods?

Well, pretty much anything.

As a kid, you have probably received a piece of chocolate or a candy as a reward for being “good” or achieving something significant. The feeling of pride, love, and self-fulfillment is most likely associated with the smell and taste of chocolate – and voilá, here is one of the reasons why you enjoy it so much (the fact that it triggers a positive response in your brain is secondary at this time).

For some, it’s the smell and taste of cinnamons and apples that brings back the memories of a loving family gathering around a Christmas table. For others, it’s the smell of steak, French fries, hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, and whatever else you can think of.

Why we crave for comfort foods?

When feeling isolated or down, people tend to crave comfort foods – and this has nothing to do with calories. Instead, it has to do with the people that offered this type of food to them in the past and the feelings they associate with these people and the foods. When feeling sick, for example, many crave for a bowl of chicken soup – but it’s not the soup itself they crave for but the care and love they received from their mother who treated their illness with this delicious dish.

And this is what makes comfort food a double-edged weapon: those feeling down often will reach for these foods more often, boosting their caloric intake. And this can lead to obesity, along with all the health issues associated with it.