The Hard Facts: Eat Your Way Out of Loneliness

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“Mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, meatloaf…they may be bad for your arteries, but according to an upcoming study in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, they’re good for your heart and emotions.” (“Chicken Soup for the Soul: Comfort Food Fights Loneliness,” Science Daily, 3/23/2011)

This is both awesome and dangerous news.

It’s no surprise that we turn to food when we feel lonely… or sad, or angry, or frustrated, or happy, or celebratory.  We reward ourselves with food and sulk with food. But now the research is here: Eating comfort foods (for me: french fries!!) is helpful. It staves off loneliness, and makes us feel more connected on the days when we’re feeling uber-BFFless.

The truth is, I don’t need any more excuses to eat fries. Seriously. If given a reason why I should inhale them, I will take them down one handful at a time. So as soon as I finish this blog post I am going to erase this memory from my brain.


But until then, it’s worth noting that on the days when you’re feeling isolated, eating your favorite warm-and-fuzzy dish could erase your sense of aloneness. “We have found that comfort foods are foods which are consistently associated with those close to us,” said one of the study’s authors. “Thinking about or consuming these foods later then serves as a reminder of those close others.” (Um, just thinking about the food does the same trick? Where’s the fun in that?)

Back pre-search, when I had moments of loneliness, I usually drowned my sorrows in a TV marathon rather than a food binge. But it’s the same concept really—I indulged in the activity that reminded me of my pals. As the authors of this study said regarding TV. I “bonded with a favorite TV show” rather than a favorite person.

What surprises me is that I figured this kind of behavior—basically wallowing in negative feelings—would make a person feel worse. Shouldn’t doing stuff that reminds you of loved ones make you miss them more? Feel more alone?

Nope. “Comfort food can serve as a ready-made, easy resource for remedying a sense of loneliness. Keeping in mind this new research, it seems humans can find a number of ways to feel like we’re connected with others.”

So next time you’re missing your cross-country BFFs, a burger or chicken nuggets or, yes, fries might be the pick-me-up you need.

I’ve admitted my vice, now it’s your turn. Which comfort food would pull you up from the dumps?


Filed under The Search

16 responses to “The Hard Facts: Eat Your Way Out of Loneliness

  1. Joanna

    Angel hair pasta with marinara sauce and parmesan cheese. I think it’s because that meal is what my hard-working lawyer mom used to cook for us when she didn’t have time or energy for anything else, but it still felt like a home cooked meal. My sister and I both eat this dish when we just want to drown our sorrows in a bowl of carbs.

  2. Hmm. Cookies or anything with chocolate, I think. What interesting research. (And I hear you on the TV thing – I sometimes drown my sorrows with a few episodes of Friends, which I know won’t surprise you, Rachel.)

    I also tend to make burritos and guacamole when I’m missing Texas…though I don’t only make it on those occasions. Really, any night is a good time for burritos at our house.

  3. Maria

    I totally agree with this research. The other day I found this take out place that makes Italian food. It’s all set up in refrigerators. You just browse and pick what you want. I bought broccoli rabe with sausage and I felt like my grandmother had made it for me. Very comforting! It was a very nice way to remember my grandmother.

  4. Two words. Ice cream.

  5. Macaroni and cheese. Kraft if I’m feeling lazy. Martha Stewart’s version if I’m not.

    I have to play devil’s advocate here, though. Does this research risk putting us on a one-way track to drowning our sorrows in pints of Haagen Dazs? I see where one harmless night of comfort could turn into an unhealthy pattern. I wonder if the research talked at all about boundaries when treating sadness with food?

    • Totally agree! It seems a slippery slope to me. That’s why I was so surprised. I thought the study would be a warning, but as far as I could tell they were saying that sure, mac ‘n’ cheese is bad for your figure/health (at least in large doses, but good for your mental state/feelings of connectedness. I’m not totally sure I buy that though…

  6. Timely, yet again! Cookies. cookies. CoOkIeS. I just found two recipes I am going to try soon–Oreos baked INSIDE chocolate chip cookies, and Oatmeal S’mores cookies. Excuse me while I wipe the drool off my keyboard.

  7. …and must not forget the tall very-cold glass of milk to go with the cookies.

  8. Suzannah

    I love food so much that it was hard to decide what I use for comfort. But I have been known to send my husband to the Jack ‘n the box drive thru…as he leaves, I am hollering ” make sure to get a lot of food” that is when stress is in a state of overload… and you know what? I always feel a Hell of a lot better after!..

  9. Lorrie Paige

    Peanut butter cookies. Vanilla ice cream with peanuts in it. French fries. Vegetarian pizza. Vegetarian Mexican food.

  10. Something with cheese. Quesedillas, or pasta with tomato sauce and cheese. And a TV show or book.

    I think this might work once in a while, but never more than two days in a row. On the first day I’d be thinking “I need a break, it’s ok for me to do nothing and indulge in this food” and on the second day I’d feel guilty.

  11. Kate

    I’m from the South so we drink a lot of coffee – morning coffee, afternoon coffee, evening coffee, etc. We congregate around the dining table my dad made and drink our way through a pot or two (now my parents have Keurig, but whatever :)). My coffee consumption increased dramatically when I left for college and it always made me feel better when I was feeling homesick. Now that I’m a big girl, I like my coffee stronger and with less sugar but it’s still a source of comfort I can always count on and when I’m holding a warm mug, everything is okay.

    • Suzannah

      No matter where I am driving home from, all I can think is I need to get a pot started first thing after I walk in the door. kinda can’t relax fully til I fix a cup.

  12. It’s totally true, even with non-food stuff. My long-distance BFF and I randomly text each other that we’re watching old episodes of Grey’s Anatomy or Sex & The City and thinking about each other. We remember when we watched it with a few bottles of wine while we were roommates, and it makes us feel connected. It’s our thing.

    Chipotle always makes me feel better if I’m having a rough day. Or I’ll cook one of my mom’s recipes to feel closer to home. I still insist on lemon meringue pie for my birthday, since that’s what my mom always made me when I was growing up.

  13. Husband

    Mom-made mandelbrot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. Ashley

    My favorite is Farina! I could eat it all day, everyday! My grandmother used to make it for me all the time. It’s just as comforting as her hug!

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