Why Your Comfort Food May Actually Be Bad For Your Mental Health

You've probably found yourself reaching for comfort food when you feel anxious, stressed, upset, or a little blue. But comfort eating is not always associated with negative feelings. Psychology Today explains that we sometimes eat comfort food on special occasions, or because it brings to mind a pleasant memory.

Comfort eating is also known as emotional eating. Comfort foods often fall into the yummy category that includes cookies, chips, pizza, ice cream, French fries, and pastries. It turns out that there is a reason why we resort to these kinds of foods when we eat emotionally. They are often high in salt, sugar, or fat, and these ingredients activate the brain's reward system, making us feel good — at least temporarily. And if that's not enough, Psychology Today explains that some palatable foods activate the same reward center of the brain that drugs do, which means they can create addictive behaviors.

Some comfort foods can contribute to anxiety and depression

But there is more going on when we comfort eat. Psychiatrist and nutritional expert Uma Naidoo explains to MindBodyGreen that comfort eating can actually be bad for your mental health. Sugar, fried goodies, and processed foods can worsen your mood once the joy of eating wears off. This happens because too much of these processed foods can lead to inflammation, and Naidoo points out that inflammation can make us feel tired, anxious, and depressed. 

You don't have to avoid all tasty foods when you want something comforting to eat. Healthline reports that the best comfort foods are the ones that have nutrients that are known to lift your mood and support brain function. While it may take some getting used to, finding truly comforting foods will serve you better in the long run. Some options include dark chocolate (in moderation), fermented foods, bananas, berries, oats, nuts, and seeds.