ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Why we love Comfort Foods

Updated on April 1, 2015
Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies-- one of the most common comfort foods across the world.
Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies-- one of the most common comfort foods across the world. | Source

The term ‘comfort food’, believe it or not, is actually found in the dictionary. Merriam Webster defined it as “Food that is satisfying because it’s prepared in a simple or traditional way and reminds you of home, family, or friends, or food that has a nostalgic or sentimental appeal.” It’s the food we have good memories about; the food that reminds us of simpler times, and the food that makes us feel safe and warm again, amidst our busy and stressful lives.

The Psychology of Comfort Food

Based on studies by food scientists and psychologists, we love comfort foods because of four reasons. First is on a physiological level. Much of our eating experience takes place in our brains and other senses besides taste. When we eat, our taste buds transmit messages to our brainstem, and meets up in a part of the brain called the insula, which figures out the flavor you’ve tasted. The insula is connected to emotional centers in the brain, and this part evaluates the experience. Additionally, comfort foods typically contain lots of sugar, fats, and carbohydrates, all of which lead to increased serotonin levels, pleasure chemicals, and dopamine, to alleviate stress and to moderate your mood. They trigger our brain’s reward center, the Nucleus Accumbens, to release Serotonin and Dopamine making for a happier brain. Some foods that are proven to aid in Serotonin are actually seldom considered comfort foods. These are spinach, turkey and bananas. This is must be the reason why bananas are shaped like a smiley face!

Bananas are scientifically proven to increase Serotonin levels in the brain, making a happier you!
Bananas are scientifically proven to increase Serotonin levels in the brain, making a happier you! | Source

The second, obvious reason is that comfort foods give us emotional benefits. Scientists estimate that as much as 75% of overeating is emotionally involved. Comfort food has the ability to cheer us up. A study from the journal of Psychological Science reports that comfort foods are associated with good thoughts and warm feelings, which not only improves a sense of well-being, but also decreases loneliness. In fact, this capability of comfort foods to impact mood is so powerful, that NASA funded a research conducted in Minnesota about it, in hopes of improving the mood of astronauts on space missions. In contrast, though, we eat comfort foods equally as much as when we’re happy or celebratory. According to a researcher at Cornell University, people lean toward it any time they’re experiencing an extreme emotion.

This brings us to the third reason—we are psychologically wired to find ‘comfort’ in comfort foods. It works by positive and negative reinforcements. When we eat it, we receive the “happiness” which leads us to want to continue eating what caused that happiness. Additionally, when we eat food to relieve stress, we associate it with the lessening of a burden. We want to continue eating what caused that lessening of stress. Our minds were trained to seek out food as a way to deal with life’s difficulties. This causes us to crave food, creating the idea of “comfort food.” Memory also plays a role. Most of our comfort foods are those we ate while growing up, or ones that remind us of celebrations. We may associate hot and milky sopas with all those times Mom took care of us when we were little, and maybe the juicy ham reminds us of joyful Christmas celebrations.

Food is social-- Food bonds people together and builds friendships!
Food is social-- Food bonds people together and builds friendships! | Source


Lastly, food is something inevitably social. For hundreds of years, we’ve bonded over food—offering food as gifts or show of hospitality. Food encourages peace, and food builds friendships. There is a psychological concept of social surrogates, or non-human experiences that make us feel connected. Comfort food does this trick. According to a psychologist from Cornell University, people attach a significant social meaning to food. It reminds us of other people, like the people we were with when we first ate it, or the people who used to prepare it. Personally, I find comfort in a bowl of chocolatey champorado (chocolate porridge) with tuyo (salted fish), especially the way my mom prepares it by adding just the right amount of chocolate powder and Alpine milk.

Filipino Champorado-- my personal comfort food!
Filipino Champorado-- my personal comfort food! | Source

Comfort Food Preferences

Interestingly, comfort food preferences vary across genders. According to a research from Cornell University, Men is to Outback as Women is to Ben and Jerry’s. Men tend to prefer savory and hearty foods such as steak, pizza, or mashed potatoes, while women prefer sweet and sugary snacks like chocolate, cookies or ice cream. Regardless of this finding, comfort food preferences are highly personal and unique to each individual. We choose our comfort foods based on our upbringing, experience, and exposure. These foods are artifacts from our pasts—memories, people and events.

Hooray for Comfort Foods!

Thank God for this nostalgia- inducing edible refuge! Just remember to not make food your only source of comfort. In this fast-paced culture, we should value self-care, and it may be in the form of food, health-- anything that helps us feel safe and content. So the next time you take a bite of your comfort food, I hope it fills your heart, just as much as it fills your stomach!

References

CBS News. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/comfort-food-psychology/

Cornell University. Retrieved from: http://foodpsychology.cornell.edu/outreach/comfort-food.html

Food Reference. Retrieved from: http://www.foodreference.com/html/art-comfort-food-trends.html

How Stuff Works: Food Cravings. Retrieved from http://recipes.howstuffworks.com/crave-comfort-foods.htm

HowStuff Works: Food and Happiness. Retrieved from http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/food-happiness2.htm

Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/31/best-comfort-food_n_4698104.html

Mark’s Daily Apple Diet blog. Retrieved from: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/why-we-crave-comfort-foods/

Medical Daily. Retrieved from: http://www.medicaldaily.com/comfort-food-myth-emotional-eating-has-no-psychological-effect-bad-moods-309206

Merriam Webster Dictionary (2015) Retrieved from: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/comfort%20food

National Deseret News. Retrieved from: http://national.deseretnews.com/article/3034/Why-we-love-comfort-foods-2-and-how-to-indulge-responsibly.html

National Public Radio (The Salt blog). Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/10/07/354142689/eating-comfort-foods-may-not-be-so-comforting-after-all

NY Times blog. Retrieved from: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/12/15/the-myth-of-comfort-food/?_r=0;

Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/two-takes-depression/201104/comfort-foods-improve-moods

University of California: Spoon website. Retrieved from http://cal.spoonuniversity.com/2014/11/07/psychology-behind-comfort-food/

Wagner, et al. (2014) The myth of comfort food. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25133833

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)