The Real Reason Why We All Crave ‘Comfort Foods’ When We’re Stressed & Depressed

If there is a universal panacea for all that ails us – ice cream would be it! When we were kids, ice cream helped to heal scraped knees and even though we are all grown up now, our favorite comfort foods still have the power to heal a broken heart or simply help us recover from a long workday.

But what is it about comfort foods that makes them so damn comforting?

Why Comfort Foods Console Us

“If you are stressed out or depressed for a lengthy period, your body produces a hormone called cortisol that increases appetite & causes intense food cravings”

Stress is an evolutionary response that prepares your body for ‘fight or flight’. When you are stressed for a brief period, your appetite is suppressed, but if you remain stressed out, the process goes into reverse and your body produces a hormone called cortisol that increases appetite instead.

Depression and stress have similar effects on the body, which is why either one of these can trigger your food cravings. But why is it that we don’t crave salad or fruit, no… at the end of a long workday all we want to do is wolf down a huge burger with fries and a large coke on the side!

 Sugar Vs Fats: What’s Your Poison?

“Comfort foods are generally calorie dense foods that are high in either sugar, fat, or a combination of the two”

What is it that you crave the most when you are stressed? Most comfort foods are either high in sugar or fats… or both! You might crave a high fat meal like pizza, but then you also want to complete it with a nice high sugar drink like coke, or you may have some butter chicken and then finish your meal with a serving of caramel custard.

And then there are the ‘perfect comfort foods’ like chocolate and ice cream, which combine sugar and fats perfectly – most people would agree that the best comfort food in the world is a large bowl of chocolate chip ice cream!

Comfort Foods Help To “Shut Down” Our Brain & Ease Stress

“Foods that are high in sugar and fat slow down activity in those parts of the human brain that process stress, depression, and other related emotions”

Scientists say that there are 2 main reasons why we crave foods that are high in sugar and fats. One reason you crave foods that are high in fat and sugar when you are stressed or depressed is because they inhibit activity in those parts of your brain that process stress, depression, and other related emotions.

As all of us know, stress makes us feel overloaded and overwhelmed and we often wish we could just “shut down” our brain – it seems that junk food does just that! Our comfort foods offer temporary relief and so when our stress levels get too high, we subconsciously reach out for these foods.

The other reason we crave comfort foods when we are stressed or depressed is because it is hot-wired into our system. Our ancestors would expend a lot of energy when attacking or escaping a wild animal, the resulting stress increased their appetite for high-calorie foods to replenish energy that they lost. This response is hardwired into our DNA, which is why we still crave high calorie foods, even though we don’t really need the additional calories.

Why You Need To Cut Back On Comfort Foods & Stress

“Comfort foods alone are not lethal (although unhealthy & fattening), but in combination with stress, they promote a rapid buildup of abdominal fat”

While you might want to blame the junk food giants for your burgeoning waistline, scientists now say that this alone does not account for the obesity epidemic. Researchers have found that it is a combination of stress and a high-fat, high-sugar (HFS) diet that leads to weight gain.

This is because stress releases a chemical called neuropeptide Y, which goes directly into fatty tissue and increases abdominal fat. In fact, animal studies show that the combination of stress and an HFS diet in mice led to a 50 % increase in stomach fat in just 2 weeks!

Our Take

Comfort foods may give you temporary relief from stress and depression, but think about the long-term effects that they have on your physical and mental health. You’ve barely finished your meal, you’re wiping the crumbs and gravy off your lips and you’re already ashamed and guilty for the indulgence! Instead of turning to food, there are better and easier ways to de-stress, so try to sacrifice your comfort foods, not your waistline!

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