Macaroni and cheese is the king of comfort foods, a children’s dinner staple, and an all-around cheese lover’s favorite dish. However, it might be more than just a yummy meal choice. That dish and others may actually have a profound impact on our mental state.
If you’re an emotional eater like myself (ugh, someone stop me), then you understand the immediate pleasure you get from tucking into a big, warm bowl of something you ate as a kid. Now new research has found that certain foods resonate with us emotionally due to their connection to our childhood and the people who served the food to us (most likely mother or father), the Washington Post reports. Therefore, eating these foods don’t just tickle your taste buds — they remind you of a comforting time in your youth, filling you with warm, fuzzy feelings of nostalgia.
Shira Gabriel, a professor at the University of Buffalo who worked on the study, explained:
“Comfort foods are often the foods that our caregivers gave us when we were children. As long as we have a positive association with the person who made that food, then there’s a good chance that you will be drawn to that food during times of rejection or isolation.”
Gabriel has been studying the emotional associations of food for years, but this most recent study, published in March, shows us not only that people seek out comfort foods when feeling down, but that people actually tend to enjoy them more during their low emotional state. Due to its emotional associations to our childhood, Gabriel finds that comfort foods can help people feel socially connected and safe, therefore receiving a bit of a mood boost from the food.s
In one of the studies conducted, the researchers tracked a group of about 100 people over the course of two weeks. Participants were asked to document their feelings and eating habits in a journal. Researchers found that people who had positive relations with their caregivers, tended to reach for comfort foods more frequently when feeling down. In other words, the macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes or chicken noodle soup might feel a bit like a hug from mom and dad, which is exactly what some need when their feeling down on themselves.
Minding your diet? The next time you’re feeling a bit down, instead of grabbing your childhood favorite meal, maybe give your mom a call to lift your spirits without the outrageous calories.