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Does Eating Comfort Food Reduce Stress?

Some people consider a casserole as “comfort food.” Brian Wansink and associates at Cornell University have defined comfort foods as those foods “whose consumption evokes a psychologically comfortable and pleasurable state for a person.”

What’s your comfort food? Some may seek comfort in the familiarity of their favourite childhood casserole. Others may seek out cake, ice cream or potato chips when they’re stressed.

However, results of a study surprised researchers by predicting that people may not always gravitate toward familiar foods during times of stress.

A South Carolina University study conducted with hundreds of college students tested the theory of whether people choose familiar “comforting” products during times of change.

In one part of the study, the researchers assembled groups of eight to 15 students and provided a scenario about two fictional students. One of the fictional students was in the middle of major life changes and the other was in a stable situation.

Then the participating college students had to predict what type of snack the “stressed” fictional student would most likely pick given the choice of an unfamiliar, unusually flavoured British “crisp” or a typical American chip.

Surprisingly, the students thought the student in the midst of a lot of change would choose the unusual food, not the familiar comfort food. As the students in the study indicated, changes in your life can be seen as opportunities to try new things.

Changes of all kinds, good or bad, can leave us feeling stressed. We have many outlets for managing stress, however, dealing with it by stuffing ourselves with chips or cookies isn’t the best stress management technique, nor is it the best for your overall nutrition. Try some of these techniques instead:

Prepare as best you can for events you know may be stressful.

Go for a walk.

Munch on a crunchy apple or another nutritious snack.

Get sufficient rest.

Talk with a trusted friend, relative or a counsellor.

Participate in something that you find enjoyable, whether that is listening to music, watching your favourite sport or doing your favourite craft.

Set realistic goals for yourself.

– Julie Garden-Robinson, PhD, L. R. D., is a North Dakota State

University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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