Study: Comfort Food is a Myth

Many of us turn to familiar standby food items to soothe negative feelings. A new study suggests the rejuvenating value we place on these "comfort foods" may be misappropriated.

Sometimes after a long day at work it's nice to just sit back, relax, and let Ben & Jerry do their magic. And although eating an entire pint of Chunky Monkey is pretty unhealthy, it's allowable because it's your comfort food and being in a good mood is worth those extra calories. Right?

Not so fast, says a new study published in Health Psychology:

"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). These results are likely not due to a floor effect because participants’ moods did not return to baseline levels. Individuals may be giving comfort food “credit” for mood effects that would have occurred even in the absence of the comfort food."

Oh goodness. All that Chunky Monkey for nothing?!

As Tom Jacobs of Pacific Standard writes, the authors of the study conducted four experiments in which, on separate occasions, distressed subjects were fed their comfort food, a liked-but-not-loved food, a neutral food, and no food. After analyzing questionnaires filled out by the subjects, the researchers determined that similar improvements in mood occurred across the board, independent of what each subject consumed, if they consumed anything at all.

The researchers concluded that the effects of comfort food on one's mood is a myth, something of a placebo effect. This strikes against commonly-held beliefs (like 81% of the test subjects) that eating favorite foods makes you happier. It also means that one of our final fleeting excuses to keep eating junk food may be disappearing faster than that last bite of Ben & Jerry's. 

Read more at The Week

Here's a link to the study at PsycNET from the APA

Photo credit: mjsomerville / Shutterstock

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