A pint of Haagen-Dazs. A large cheese pizza. A massive bag of Nacho Cheesier Doritos. All the above. When you're stressed out and feeling sad, what better way to alleviate the pain than parking on the couch and taking down some classic comfort food?
Not so fast. According to a new study, indulging in your comfort food of choice actually won't help you feel better at all. In fact, it doesn't matter whether you're eating your favorite feel-good fare or not eating anything. The only way to truly improve your mood is to give it time.
Heather Scherschel Wagner and her team at the University of Minnesota set out to answer the question: Can comfort foods significantly reduce negative emotions? The study was presented at the Association for Psychological Science conference, the material from which was sent to Fusion for review.
In order to measure the effects of how certain foods impact mood, they asked participants two separate questions: "What foods would make you feel better if you were in a bad mood?" and "What foods do you like as much as the ones you just listed, but would not make you feel better if you were in a bad mood?" Classic stand-by foods like chocolate, donuts, ice cream and tater-tots all made the list.
Participants were then asked to watch a 20 minute film that would put them in a bad mood, then their moods were gauged. As predicted, the video had a negative emotional effect. Participants were then given either their comfort food of choice, a granola bar (functioning as a generic food item) or no food at all. Wagner did not expect what happened next.
Three minutes after the sad movie screening, the participants' moods improved whether or not they had their favorite comfort food, a regular old granola bar or nothing at all.
"We were incredibility surprised by those results," Wagner told LiveScience. "Basically, comfort food can't speed up that healing process."
Another thing to keep in mind: sadness, stress and other strong emotions that may cause us to seek comfort food actually dull our ability to taste what we're eating. A separate study found that when you're down and out, it's way harder to determine the amount of fat you're consuming.
There's a reason Mean Girls had a special category for "Girls Who Eat Their Feelings," but before you reach for the tater-tots when you're feeling blue, remember: give it time.
Alexandra DiPalma is a producer for Fusion Lightworks, Fusion’s In-house Branded Content Agency.