Whether it’s a large curly fry from your favorite drive thru, a bucket of butter smothered popcorn at the movie theater, or a batch of mom’s fresh baked brownies, we call it comfort food for a reason. We turn to it when we’re feeling down or for one reason or another, in a bad mood. Every culture has its version, though in the U.S. apple pie, hamburgers, and milk shakes are popular choices. But a new study found that wrapping yourself in a blanket of brownies isn’t going to make you feel warm and fuzzy after all. In fact, comfort food isn’t really that comforting, according to an article in The New York Times.
In a recent study published in the journal Health Psychology, researchers found that comfort food does not impact your mood. In fact, if you’re in a bad mood, it will likely improve on its own without the help of junk food.
“People have this belief that high-calorie foods are the path out of difficult feelings,” said Kelly D. Brownell, dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke, who studies obesity and behavior and was not involved in this research, reported in The New York Times. “But the assignment of the word ‘comfort’ to these foods implies there is a relationship between ‘comfort’ and ‘food’ that may not exist.”
Researchers at the University of Minnesota conducted the study that was funded by NASA in an effort to figure out how to keep astronauts happy in space. The study involved 100 participants who took a food survey where they were asked to pick three foods that they ate when they were in a bad mood. Though the term "comfort food" was not used as part of the study. They were also asked to choose foods that they liked but didn’t feel impacted their moods. Then they were asked to watch 18 minutes of feel bad movies like Sophie’s Choice, Armageddon, and The Hurt Locker. This portion of the study left almost all of the participants feeling awful.
In the next portion of the study, participants were given triple-sized portions of comfort foods or the foods that they liked but claimed didn’t induce mood changes.
According to The New York Times:
Over the many weeks that the trial was underway, the lab exuded intoxicating aromas, as researchers made scrupulous efforts to ply subjects with their chosen comfort food. Researchers baked brownies, heated apple pies and topped them with ice cream, and prepared mac ’n’ cheese (student-preferred box brands, not from scratch).
Three minutes after the food was distributed subjects took mood questionnaires which showed that comfort food, regular food, or no food didn’t make one group happier than another.
Bottom line--if you’re in a bad mood, you’re likely to eventually snap out of it and fatty foods aren’t going to be the reason why.
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