When you’re feeling down on a drizzly day, a steaming hot bowl of mac and cheese can really hit the spot. But why is comfort food so, well, comforting?

At the chemical level, high carb comfort foods trigger your brain to release serotonin, which temporarily boosts your mood. But there may be more to the story. This study shows that comfort food may fulfill our need to belong by reminding us of close relationships. (The way pancakes might remind you of weekend mornings with your fam.)

College students who ate chicken soup and thought of it as “comfort food,” associated the soup with loved ones. What’s more, comfort foods reduced feelings of loneliness.

Even just thinking of comfort foods helped: When subjects wrote about a relationship conflict, they felt less lonely if they were allowed to write about their comfort food after.

Of course, college students may have an extra dose of homesickness, but if life experience tells us anything, comfort foods can still tug heartstrings long after you’ve flown the nest.