Science

Why we indulge in comfort foods decoded

PTI Melbourne | Updated on April 29, 2019 Published on April 29, 2019

French fries   -  REUTERS

Emotional consumption is usually food because it is easily accessible and available to most people

Scientists, including one of Indian origin, have decoded why emotional events, such as break-ups, make us binge on ice-creams and sweets -- a finding that may help curb this unhealthy behaviour.

According to researchers from University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia, a post breakup ice-cream binge is actually a scientific phenomenon.

“When you’re sad you tend to go for overconsumption -- hedonic consumption -- as therapy. Be it ice cream or a luxury handbag, there are always emotions attached,” said Nitika Garg, an associate professor at UNSW.

“The influence of emotion is subtle -- you don’t know it’s driving you in a systematic fashion, but you have motivations arising out of emotional experience that influence your choices and behaviour,” said Garg.

According to the researchers, one of the mechanisms to curbing hedonic consumption is making people aware of the behaviour by providing nutritional information.

“But the problem is, it doesn’t take care of the emotion, you just have to find an alternate outlet,” Garg said.

On the flip side, experiencing happiness actually curbs the consumption of unhealthy food products.

“Happiness is shown to increase the consumption of products people believe to be healthy,” Garg said.

For the study, researchers offered both M&Ms (a chocolate candy) and sultanas (a type of sweet dried grape) to happy and sad people.

“Happy people don’t eat M&Ms, but they do eat sultanas a lot more,” Garg said.

“Some research suggests hedonic consumption does not help because it could lead to a vicious cycle of eating unhealthily and its associated guilt factors,” Garg said.

Emotional consumption is usually food because it is easily accessible and available to most people. Other outlets like smoking or gambling tend to have a history with the individual.

“People go for what seems easiest to them in terms of familiarity and in terms of accessibility for hedonic consumption,” she said.

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Published on April 29, 2019
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