Health Watch - Food and Feelings: Comfort Food

Health Watch is a Public Service of the University News Bureau and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

This week on Health Watch, we’re talking about how food can affect the way you feel. When we’re under stress, a lot of us reach for comfort foods, which are usually rich, tasty and high in calories. There may be a scientific reason why we want mashed potatoes or chocolate cake when we’re tense.

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have found that the craving for comfort food is related to a hunger hormone that’s released during periods of high stress, and laboratory mice under stress sought out fatty, high-calorie foods. Dr. Jeffrey Zigman, a psychiatrist and internist at UT Southwestern, says this could explain why some people overeat in response to stress. When humans were hunter-gatherers, it was important for them to remain calm while hunting, so this mechanism led them to look for high-calorie food in stressful times, which led to a more successful hunt. But today, when high-calorie food is plentiful and stress isn’t so life-or-death, the result can be obesity.


July 2011

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