Did you know that your version of Internet Explorer is out of date?
To get the best possible experience using our website we recommend downloading one of the browsers below.

Internet Explorer 10, Firefox, Chrome, or Safari.

Comfort Food and Stress

Posted by On 12-06-2024
Comfort Food and Stress Pic with caption

In this post, from the Wills Wellness Committee, we’ll chew our way through why we crave comfort food and how stress leads us to those foods.

Then, we’ll talk about the foods that help to relieve stress, so comfort food is a treat and not your regular all-you-can-eat buffet.

Why Do You Crave Comfort Food?

To begin with, have you ever wondered why you crave comfort food? Why does food like pasta, mashed potatoes, and banana bread sound better than a salad?

Well, it’s because comfort food provides pleasure and temporarily makes us feel better. Especially when we are feeling STRESSED!

They are usually high in fat, sugar, or salt and activate our brain’s reward system. This increases our good feelings and reduces our tension when we are stressed.

Comfort Food and Emotional Eating


Dopamine is Triggered

Yes, your brain does feel better on comfort food. When you eat comfort food that tastes good and feels rewarding, your brain gets a rush of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that sends messages between your brain cells. Those messages are all about motivation, reward, and pleasure. It gives us a feel-good sensation that’s actually addictive.

Social ConnectionSocial Pic for Comfort Food and Stress Post

The food that produces dopamine often helps us feel socially connected. It incorporates all five of our senses and is an expression of love. Comfort food reminds us of our relationships and helps us feel less lonely, especially during times of isolation and stress.

Nostalgic Eating

Comfort food helps remind us of childhood memories and can even be linked to a person. Think, Grandma’s ginger cookies or red velvet cake for a special birthday party celebration.

You’re not just eating the food, you’re feeling the love, warmth, and security that associates the food with the event. Sometimes the smell alone can bring you there.

Certainty and Routine

Are you craving something you grew up having as a kid? Are you feeling down or insecure? Do you crave the security of chicken and mashed potatoes, spaghetti, mac n’ cheese, or mom’s lasagna? It could be you need to feel loved, protected, and secure.

What Comfort Food do you crave?

When we’re feeling upset or low, our brain seeks out the feeling of pleasure. The feeling it knows it can get by eating certain foods.

Let’s take a bite out of some of these foods to better understand our cravings.


When you’re feeling emotionally tired, stressed, or tapped out, you may feel like bread, pasta or crackers hits the spot. Similar to craving sweets.

SweetsComfort Food and Stress Cookie Pic

Maybe you got sweets as a reward or for a special occasion like a birthday or family holiday. Those happy thoughts are recreated when you eat the food associated with the memory. Not something most of us get when we eat a salad!


Salt is a highly addictive taste. Our brains and bodies are designed to enjoy salt because it’s necessary for our survival. Salt also makes us feel good because it aids in releasing the happy hormone, dopamine.


Oh, the crunch factor! Humans tend to crave crunchy foods because we perceive them as being fresh. Additionally, we think that with a certain degree of crunchiness, food is more flavourful and better tasting. Something the potato chip manufacturers are well aware of.

Is your Craving Physical?

With the exception of salt, our cravings are rarely physical and more often mental. A strong craving usually happens when you have an emotional need. Being aware of your need may help you to identify what triggers your food cravings. Once you know the triggers, you can ultimately reduce them.

The best thing you can do is connect with yourself and figure out what you need. Do you need love, connection, or activity? How about taking a walk, calling a friend, or snuggling with your dog or cat?

You might think your comfort food will meet your need, but your mind knows better!

What Foods Help Relieve Stress?

Now that we know why we crave comfort food, let’s talk about food that actually helps relieve stress.

1. Snack on Nuts

Snack on nuts. Nuts help our bodies restore vitamin B. Vitamin B keeps our neurotransmitters in their happy place and helps us handle the fight-or-flight stress response.

2. Add in Red PeppersComfort Food and Stress Red Peppers Pic

While oranges get all of the vitamin C hype, red peppers actually have about twice as much. People who eat high doses of C before engaging in stress-inducing activities have lower blood pressure. In fact, a diet loaded with vitamin-C-rich foods lowers cortisol and helps people cope better in stressful situations.

3. Serve Salmon Twice a Week

To keep your wits about you when life gets hairy, you need omega-3s to help reduce your stress hormones. So, shoot for about 2 servings a week of wild salmon or other oily fish. Hey, salmon may even be your social connection comfort food.

4. Bust Out the Spinach

This leafy-green veggie is rich in stress-busting magnesium. Magnesium helps regulate cortisol and blood pressure. And since magnesium gets flushed out of the body when you’re stressed, it’s crucial to get enough. Besides, the crunch factor makes you feel great!

5. Fill Up on Oatmeal

Oatmeal is warm and comforting-and it also helps your brain generate the destressing neurotransmitter serotonin. How? Well, carb-eaters feel calmer than those who shun carbs. Any carb won’t do, however. Refined carbs (white bread and pasta) digest faster and spike blood sugar, messing with moods and stress. Complex carbs like oatmeal are digested more slowly and don’t spike blood sugar.

6. Enjoy Dark Chocolate

If you crave chocolate when you’re on edge, go for it! People who eat an average-size candy bar daily for two weeks have lower cortisol and fight-or-flight hormone levels. To reap the feel-better rewards, choose chocolate that’s at least 70 percent cocoa. And remember dark chocolate is a high-calorie food, so mind your portions.

7. Sip TeaSip Tea Pic

Tea drinkers de-stress faster and have lower cortisol levels than those who don’t. Why? Because drinking herbal teas can be soothing to the digestive tract, which can help with stress.

Comfort Food and Stress, Final Thoughts

Consciously and unconsciously, we connect our feelings with food. This is why it’s so important to think about how and why we eat, rather than just what we eat.

Many people experience emotional eating at one time or another. However, when emotional eating happens frequently, and comfort food becomes the primary coping mechanism for a stressful situation, it can affect both our health and mental well-being.

So, have a healthy portion of mac n’ cheese when things are good and not because you’re stressed or lonely.

As with anything in life, balance is the best approach.

Wills Wellness Committee