Under the Hood

Does Comfort Food Really Comfort Us Or Are We Just Emotional Eating?

You are sad, angry or feeling anxious. You go straight to the kitchen to find some sweets as your “comfort food” but not everything you eat can help you escape. 

Many people believe that emotional upset directly causes overeating. However, eating problems are actually triggered by desire, according to Glenn Livingston, a psychologist and author of “Never Binge Again,”

“There's not really an automatic link between emotion and overeating, even though it really feels like there is,” he said in an article posted on Psychology Today. “There's more going on behind the scenes than people realize.”

Wanting to escape uncomfortable emotions is what encourages people to indulge in food. Livingston said people think comfort foods help them reduce their depression, sadness and anger. 

But comfort foods could actually lead to other problems or even make negative emotions worse. That is because most people make unhealthy choices, commonly options that are high in sugar, salt and starch. 

Since emotional patterns can remain for a long time, unhealthy eating patterns may also continue and potentially lead to overeating. Livingston cited heartbreak can last months or even years and frequently seeking comfort foods at the same time “can do a lot of damage” to a person’s health. 

Aside from overeating, comfort foods may also cause more emotional upset. When people realize that they have been eating unhealthy foods because of “automatic emotional reasons,” it may lead to escalated emotions.

“I'm just saying it’s worth considering whether the ‘comfort food’ we feed ourselves when we're upset isn't actually comforting at all, but may actually be reinforcing the upsetting feelings we are trying to escape!” Livingston said. “Sever the connection between emotional upset and overeating and your emotions may become easier to manage, not harder.”

However, he noted that people should not give up any particular food, restrict their intake of calories and ignore their nutrition. Eating may still help improve emotions and even improve mental health. 

Livingston said people should rely on their best thinking rather than emotions when making food choices. Find the comfort food based on their health benefits that would really make you feel good with a healthy body and mind. 

doughnuts A psychologist warned that "comfort foods" may not always help people escape their negative emotions and may even lead to more problems. Pixabay