The myth of comfort food

Heather Scherschel Wagner, Britt Ahlstrom, Joseph P Redden, Zata M Vickers, Traci L Mann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations

Abstract

Objective: People seek out their own idiosyncratic comfort foods when in negative moods, and they believe that these foods rapidly improve their mood. The purpose of these studies is to investigate whether comfort foods actually provide psychological benefits, and if so, whether they improve mood better than comparison foods or no food. Methods: Participants first completed an online questionnaire to indicate their comfort foods and a variety of comparison foods. During two lab sessions a week apart from each other (and at least a week after the online questionnaire, counterbalanced in order), participants watched films that induced negative affect. In one session, participants were then served their comfort food. In the other, participants were served an equally liked noncomfort food (Study 1), a neutral food (Study 2), or no food (Studies 3 and 4). Short-term mood changes were measured so that we could seek out psychological effects of these foods, rather than biochemical effects on mood from particular food components (e.g., sugars or vitamins). Results: Comfort foods led to significant improvements in mood, but no more than other foods or no food. Conclusions: 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1552-1557
Number of pages6
JournalHealth Psychology
Volume33
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - 2014

Keywords

  • Comfort food
  • Eating
  • Emotions
  • Moods

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