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Do you plow through a pint of Häagen-Dazs when you have a bad breakup and instantly feel a little better? Or is a bag of salty potato chips the cure for your bad day at work?
Then the findings of a new study, published in the American Psychological Association journal PsycNet, might surprise you. The study revealed that the idea of comfort foods is a myth not based in fact.
“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 study said.
According to Pacific Standard, here’s how the study worked: Researchers set up four experiments and asked participants questions about what food choices they would make if they were in a bad mood and wanted to feel better. Chocolate, ice cream and cookies were the most popular comfort foods. They were also questioned about other foods they would eat when upset, even if they didn’t consider them a comfort food.
Study participants then watched a video that was designed to create feelings of anger, fear, anxiety or sadness. After the video, participants filled out a questionnaire about their mood. Then they were given either their favorite comfort food, one of the foods they had identified as liking (but not as a comfort food) or nothing. The participants were then questioned a second time about their mood.
The results revealed that comfort foods don’t have a magical impact on how people feel. Psychologist Traci Mann, the University of Minnesota professor who led the study, wrote:
Negative moods naturally dissipate over time. Individuals may be giving comfort food “credit” for mood effects that would have occurred even in the absence of the comfort food.
Pacific Standard said the findings of the study could help push people to make healthy eating choices.
“We found no justification for people to choose comfort foods when they are distressed,” the researchers conclude. “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.”
Like many people, I’m an emotional eater. I eat when I’m happy, sad or bored. I’ve always known that snacking on a candy bar and pop isn’t doing my waistline any favors. Now I know it’s not lifting my mood either.
What is your favorite so-called comfort food? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.