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Comfort food might taste delicious — but it doesn't make you happier

Mac & cheese pizza.
Mac & cheese pizza.
(Kelly Garbato)

There's an old Yiddish proverb about comfort food that says, "Worry goes down better with soup." But is it true? Not according to a recent study. The concept of comfort food, say researchers, is a gigantic lie.

The study, published in the August 18 issue of Health Psychology, sought "to investigate whether comfort foods actually provide psychological benefits, and if so, whether they improve mood better than comparison foods or no food."

Here's how the study was conducted. Researchers had 100 participants (who were split into various groups) take an online survey to indicate their comfort foods. They were then shown an 18-minute film that "induced a negative effect" (i.e. anger, fear) in them. Afterward, some of the participants were fed their comfort foods, some were given other foods, and some were given no food whatsoever. According to researchers, all of the participants — regardless of whether or what they ate — reported an improvement in mood.

Wrote the researchers: "Although people believe that comfort foods provide them with mood benefits, comfort foods do not provide comfort beyond that of other foods (or no food)."

So if comfort food isn't really a thing, then why does a steaming pot of mac-n-cheese help us feel better after a long day?

PSYBlog attributes this to our psychological immune system, which is our body's "natural ability to recover from bad moods." New York Magazine had a different theory: "Happiness was achieved by the boring practice of waiting. Time, not food, remains the healer of all wounds."

So no more giving credit where credit isn't due. Our bodies are capable of curing our bad moods if they are given enough time. No carbs necessary.

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