Comfort food helps fight loneliness: Study

Comfort food helps fight loneliness: Study

Though these comfort food -- which gives a sense of wellbeing or satisfaction -- may be bad for arteries, they are good for heart and emotions, found the study to be published in the journal Psychological Science.

"For me personally, food has always played a big role in my family," said Jordan Troisi, a graduate student at the University of Buffalo, and lead author on the study. The study came out of the research programme of his co-author Shira Gabriel, which looked at social surrogates and non-human things that make people feel like they belong.

Some people counteract loneliness by bonding with their favourite TV show, while others do so by building virtual relationships with a celebrity or a movie character, or looking at pictures and mementos of loved ones.

Troisi and Gabriel wondered if comfort food could have the same effect by making people think of their nearest and dearest. In one experiment, in an attempt to make participants feel lonely, the researchers had them write for six minutes about a fight with someone close to them. Others were given an emotionally neutral writing assignment.

Then, some people in each group wrote about the experience of eating a comfort food and others wrote about eating a new food. Finally, the researchers asked participants to complete questions about their levels of loneliness.

Writing about a fight with a close person made people feel lonely. But people who were generally secure in their relationships -- something that was assessed before the experiment -- were able to rescue themselves from loneliness by writing about a comfort food.

"We have found that comfort foods are foods which are consistently associated with those close to us," said Troisi. "Thinking about or consuming these foods later then serves as a reminder of those close others."

In their essays on comfort food, many people wrote about the experience of eating food with family and friends. In another experiment, eating chicken soup in the lab made people think more about relationships, but only if they considered chicken soup to be a comfort food -- a question they'd been asked long before the experiment, along with many other questions, so they wouldn't remember it.

Troisi said: "Throughout everyone's daily lives they experience stress, often associated with our connections with others. "Comfort food can serve as a ready-made, easy resource for remedying a sense of loneliness. Keeping in mind this new research, it seems humans can find a number of ways to feel like we're connected with others."