Zu Magazine is a publication of Zu Media. Below is an article from Issue 2: Contentment

Staff Writer | Katrina Williams

We’ve all been there. It’s a lonely Friday night. It’s a bad breakup, a difficult final exam or an emotionally taxing day. The result: many of us indulge in comfort food.

No matter what this looks like to you, food has likely been a friend at times when we have needed it the most.

Despite the day-after guilt that comfort food might generate, an occasional indulgence is surprisingly healthy for the individual psyche. Experts have found that ultimately, comfort food makes us feel less alone.

Psychology professor and Co-Director at Sewanee: University of the South, Dr. Jordan Troisi has dedicated a large portion of his professional career researching and redefining comfort food.

According to Troisi, comfort foods are not simply unhealthy alternatives to a meal. Instead, they influence the way we view social factors within our lives.

“There are lots of reasons why people come to think about a particular food item. Cultural, societal, family…” Troisi said. “Foods are the driving thing in people’s behavior in events, ideas, and rituals.”

According to Troisi, most people misunderstand the true definition of comfort food. It is not necessary unhealthy. Rather, comfort food is whatever foods connects you to your past and social connections.

This is why comfort foods change from person to person. Even though pizza may be comfort food for one, the Filipino raspado or Chinese lumpia may be comfort foods to others.

In a 2015 research study, Troisi and a team of other researchers conducted a 14-day diary study asking 77 undergraduate participants to record their daily food consumption and life events over the course of two weeks. To Troisi, the results were surprising.

“Individuals who had good relationships were more likely to consume comfort food after they had a loss or a friendship breakdown,” he said.

Overall psychological health is connected to indulgence in comfort food. If, however, your choice of comfort food is unhealthy, moderation is key.

According to Troisi, “it only takes a little [bit of comfort food] to do the trick.”

Senior writer and co-host of “The Stuff You Should Know” podcast, Josh Clark, said that the comfort foods we crave represent people we know, experiences we have, and artifacts from our past.

“We all have memories of happier times,” Clark said. “By eating foods that remind us of those times, we symbolically consume that past happiness.”

Essentially, individual contentment is enhanced by the consumption of comfort food. According to Troisi, people are looking for things to help them deal with their hardships.

They think, “‘this may be a remedy to how I’m feeling right now.”’ Comfort food triggers positive memories of the past, which ultimately makes us feel happier.

Associate professor at the University of Illinois, Shahram Heshmat, published an article for Psychology Today entitled “Five Reasons Why We Crave Comfort Foods,” and in it, he discusses the effects on comfort food on loneliness.

Heshmat uses the example of freshman students who have just moved away to college.

“Comfort foods may serve as a reminder of family or other relationships in times of stress or isolation,” Heshmat said.

Next time you find yourself alone after a difficult day, think about giving in to your comfort foods. Understand, however, that moderation is important.

Find what your comfort foods are. What makes you think of home? What foods connect you socially to others? Whatever they are, science is proving that eating in times of loneliness can benefit your psychological health.