How the Strength of Your Relationships Affect Your Cravings for Comfort Food
Whether it’s hot dogs cooked over a campfire, holiday cookies baked with Mom, or an ice cream cone at the summer fair, the sight and smell of comfort foods conjure up positive memories of the past. In a recent article published in the journal Appetite, researcher Jordan D. Troisi and colleagues reported that the strength of our personal relationships has a significant impact on our perception of comfort foods. Specifically, comfort foods taste better and make us feel better when we have close relationships in our lives. For people in secure relationships, comfort foods actually provide more comfort.
In the first of two studies, college students were asked to remember upsetting events or conflicts with someone close to them. Researchers asked the students to relive the feelings they experienced during the fight. Soon afterward, they were asked to rate the tastiness of potato chips. Students who had strong relationships (who were securely attached) rated the potato chips as tastier and enjoyed them more than students with weaker emotional connections.
In a second study, students kept a food log, ranking their feelings of isolation and food intake, including those foods they consider comfort foods. Students with secure emotional attachments were more likely to prefer and consume more comfort foods when they felt isolated.
The research suggests that comfort foods helped students with close relationships feel better, especially when they felt isolated or threatened. In other words, just as the name has always implied, comfort foods remind us of our close relationships at times when we need them.
The link between food and relationships may begin with biology. Smell (olfactory sense) is the strongest component of flavor and is processed differently than visual, auditory or tactile information. Food smells are picked up by the olfactory bulb located in the nose, and a message is sent to the limbic system of the brain. The limbic system, considered one of the most primitive parts of the brain, includes the amygdala and hippocampus, regions involved in memory and emotion. New smells create unique imprints in the brain very close to the regions that store memories – almost like a date-time stamp. The smell of apple pie brings you back to grandma’s house because the smell was identified and labeled back when you were creating positive emotional memories with your grandma.
How can you use this information to help you with your eating? The next time you crave comfort foods, have a MealEnder lozenge instead, and take a moment to think about how you are feeling. If you’re lonely, make a call or schedule a walk with a friend to reconnect. A MealEnder can provide you with the pause you need to get a better understanding of your emotional needs and how they relate to your desire for specific foods. So if you’re craving some comfort food, it’s okay to let yourself have a few bites–just be sure to have a MealEnder on-hand to help you stop.
Troisi, J., Gabriel, S., Derrick, J., & Geisler, A. (2015). “Threatened belonging and preference for comfort food among the securely attached.” Appetite, 90, 58-64.