The occasional indulgence in comfort foods lets us keep our sanity when we're on a diet, but if we aren't careful, those comfort foods can end up becoming the diet itself. To combat this slippery slope, one study finds, the occasional indulgence may have a new outlet, and it relies more on creative expression than guilty pleasures.

According to a team of researchers from St. Bonaventure University, subjects who drew their favorite comfort foods for five minutes reported elevated mood levels and greater feelings of overall well-being, compared to subjects who drew healthier, less typically "comfort" foods.

From September to November 2012, researchers recruited 61 students — 22 men, 39 women — from the university. Most participants were slightly overweight according to their body mass index. Daily sugar and fat consumption were calculated.

Each student was placed in one of four art groups — cupcakes (high-sugar/high-fat), pizza (high-fat/low-sugar), strawberries (low-fat/high-sugar), and peppers (low-fat/low-sugar) — and were asked to draw the food for five minutes with red, green, and black pencils in order to mimic the food's actual colors.

Using a research tool that assesses mood changes known as an Affect Grid, subjects rated their hunger, mood, and level of interest and excitement before and after the five-minute drawing exercise, which was done on an empty stomach, according to the Wall Street Journal.

"Consistent with the hypothesis," the researchers noted in their report, which was published in Scientific Research Publishing, "the results show that drawing pictures of high fat foods (cupcakes, pizzas) and a food that tastes sweet (strawberries) results in greater increases in mood compared to drawing a bitter-tasting food (peppers)."

Drawing pizza, for example, boosted people's moods by 28 percent. Cupcakes and strawberries elevated the levels by 27 and 22 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, mood enhancement in the pepper group only climbed by one percent.

The researchers noted that levels of hunger and excitement did not vary between the groups. However, they did conclude that such types of visual stimulation may be used in place of succumbing to diet-busting cravings.

"These findings further suggest that interventions used to enhance mood can focus on depicting images of high fat, high sugar, and sweet-tasting foods to produce the largest positive changes in mood when foods are used as the stimulus image."

In other words, let your inner artist intervene before you decide to spring for dessert. Your waistline will thank you.