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Why You Crave Comfort Foods

Plus, how to indulge mindfully.

While comfort foods such as mashed potatoes and chicken soup may remind you of a happy time or loved one, consuming them won't actually improve your mood. Research suggests that they don't truly provide pleasure or even relieve the stress that triggered their consumption in the first place.

“If eating a cookie really made us happy, we’d stop after one,” says Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., the author of The Willpower Instinct. “But we tend to check out as we indulge, which is numbing, not satisfying.”

Plus, relying on comfort foods can morph into stress-eating, which can become habit. If you crave one, have the cookie, McGonigal says. But to change behavior if you’re prone to emotional eating, be mindful. Chew slowly and pay attention to taste and texture. 

Then, to evaluate whether the actual experience lived up to the hype, ask yourself how you feel, she suggests. Studies show that people felt better after finishing a healthy meal versus something celebratory and supposedly comforting.