Nothing says winter like that cozy feeling of wrapping yourself in a favorite sweater and sitting down to a carbohydrate-laden bowl of deliciousness. Comfort foods can be sweet or savory, and indulging in them almost always involves nostalgic recipes and a whole lot of calories.
It’s no secret that food stimulates the brain’s pleasure center. So what is it about comfort food in particular that leads us to engage in emotional eating?
Food quickens all of the five senses, and most notably sight, smell and taste. These same senses are closely linked to memory. As a result, when a person is feeling stressed out or lonely, they may start to crave dishes that connect them to positive feelings from their past, like the simple pleasures of childhood. This is not a conscious decision, but one that’s quickly realized once you find yourself face down in a gooey bowl of mac and cheese, or devouring a hot fudge sundae. The immediate result is a positive impact on mood (and perhaps the desire to take a nap). The long-term result of repeating this pattern can be obesity. It’s all about balance.
Seasonal comfort food cravings can be tied to sentimentality toward holidays, and marketers are well aware of this. As a consumer, it’s almost impossible to walk by a coffee shop without being inundated with promotions for pumpkin-spice muffins in the fall, or gingerbread lattes in the winter.
In North America, popular comfort foods include pizza, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and ice cream. Since indulging in comfort food is driven by mood, it comes as no surprise that it’s a global phenomenon with regional favorites existing in most cultures. In the UK, you might lift your spirits with an order of bangers and mash. In Indonesia, a heaping bowl of bubur ayam might be the dish to warm your belly and sooth your nerves. And in India, if you have a sweet tooth, galub jamun is a popular dessert that is sure to hit the spot.