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Comfort Food & The Mood Myth

Culturally, we are all taught to believe that bad moods = comfort foods. Whether it’s the lonely woman home at night eating a pint of ice cream or the overworked binger who scoffs down a pizza after a stressful day, we believe negative states of mind encourage pig-outs. But is this necessarily true?

When Brian Wansink (author of Mindless Eating) surveyed 1,004 Americans about their emotional proclivity for certain comfort foods, he discovered another story:

“They were more likely to seek out comfort foods when they were happy (86 percent) or when they wanted to celebrate or reward themselves (74 percent) than when they were depressed (39 percent). Happy moods = comfort foods. People were almost twice as likely to reach for a comfort food when they were happy than when they were sad.

Moods, however, do seem to influence what we choose eat. People in happy moods tended to prefer healthier food…People in sad moods were much more likely to reach for ice cream, cookies, or a bag of potato chips.”

(Brian Wansink, Mindless Eating)

This “mood element” came into play during movie screenings, where, according to Wansink, people consumed more hot buttered popcorn during a sad or somber movie than an upbeat comedy.

Wansink also suggested that in order to maintain a good mood, we’re better off eating healthful food than its guilt-producing counterpart.