To What Extent Does Comfort Food Ease Anxiety?

Bad days, break-ups, or stress-filled meetings may have you craving some comfort food to ease your anxiety. But don't reach for that chocolate bar just yet.

A big delicious burger.
Comfort on a bun? Perhaps not. (Image: Shutterstock)

Bad days, break-ups, or stress-filled meetings may have you craving something to ease your anxiety. The usual remedy? Comfort food. But David DiSalvo of Forbes has found evidence that may give you pause before reaching for that chocolate bar or Quiznos toasted sub.


You may think your cheesy or chocolatey treat is a home-remedy for the blues, but the after-effect you're experiencing is just a placebo effect, according to a recent study published in the journal Health Psychology called “The Myth of Comfort Food.”

The research group sought to find out if comfort foods really help provide some kind of emotional boost. In the study, researchers asked the participants what their favorite comfort foods were. After a week had passed, the volunteers watched a 20-minute film designed to inflict feelings of sadness. Afterward, participants received either their favorite comfort food, no food, or non-comfort food. 

One thing became immediately clear: The participants felt better after they ate the comfort food and non-comfort food—even when they didn't eat anything. The healing ingredient wasn't consuming food—it was time. Co-author Heather Scherschel Wagner, a doctorate candidate at the University of Minnesota, explained:

“Whether it’s your comfort food, or it’s a granola bar, or if you eat nothing at all, you will eventually feel better. Basically, comfort food can’t speed up that healing process.”

The study concludes that our society has the group mentality that comfort food has some kind of healing effect that make us happier in tough times:

“Individuals may be giving comfort food 'credit' for mood effects that would have occurred even in the absence of the comfort food.”

The process of munching on your favorite snack may distract you from your woes, momentarily, but relieving your anxiety may require you to re-frame comfort foods into comfort actions. In a recent IdeaFeed post, we wrote about a study that revealed productive ways to tackle a day gone bad. The remedies ranged from taking a walk to calm your mind to putting yourself in a different mindset and rethinking a stressful moment as an "[opportunity] for growth or advancement". These may be more productive remedies than a fatty placebo.

Read more at Forbes

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