The Immense Pleasure of Indulging in Comfort Food

Something we love to indulge in at the AdventureWomen office is talking about (and eating) our favorite foods! This is a popular topic whether we’re hungry or not – maybe because we plan many of our trips around the best cuisine, chefs, and local hotspots that each destination has to offer. But it got us thinking, what, exactly, is the rationale behind the hedonistic pleasure of consuming the most delicious comfort foods?

It turns out that there’s a reason why homemade chicken noodle soup (as well as Chicken Soup for the Soul) is so popular. In fact, a fairly extensive body of research looks at why certain foods provide physical and emotional satisfaction.

The concept of “comfort food” is essentially timeless – so much so that the Oxford English Dictionary even includes a definition: “that [which] comforts or affords solace; hence, any food…that is associated with childhood or with home cooking.” Basically, it’s anything we eat to feel better – and it’s not necessarily about the calories.

The Science Behind Comfort Food

An array of research exists on how our moods influence our food choices. At the most basic level, hunger triggers emotions such as irritation and alertness, whereas eating a satisfying meal calms and satisfies us. But the relationship between mood and food is more complex: some studies say that we gravitate toward sugar and carbs when we’re unhappy; another finds that feelings of joyfulness lead to the consumption of indulgent foods. Yet another looks at the element of time – that is, how “regardless of mood, long-term, future-focused thinking led to healthier choices.”

What we don’t always consider is the social benefits of comfort food. One comfort food study notes that these culinary preferences lie at the “intersection of taste, nostalgia, and loneliness.” Another research project looking into comfort foods describes how comfort food “brings up associations of positive relationships and makes us feel less lonely.” The emotional satisfaction of comfort food ties into our attachment styles (or the ability to form healthy emotional bonds) as well as the positive, emotional associations we formed as children (that is, a grilled cheese sandwich tastes good and reminds us of a happy childhood, and chicken soup makes us feel loved and cared for). The reverse is also true: people with anxiety-ridden childhoods, for example, do not feel happy or comforted when they indulge in these same foods.

AdventureWomen Culinary Indulgences

In essence, comfort food is a near-universal concept with complex underpinnings. Here at AdventureWomen, it is probably no surprise that most of our favorite indulgences are global in nature. When we need a pick-me-up, we gravitate toward Pad Thai, Spaghetti Bolognaise, Arepas with all the fixings, Chicken Tikka Masala with garlic naan, warm milk with a blend of spices (cinnamon, turmeric, cardamom, and honey), or classic homemade mac ‘n cheese.

When you travel with us on one of our women’s adventure travel trips, one thing we can guarantee at AdventureWomen is the opportunity to indulge in the best comfort foods from around the world – and the best part is that you can do it and share it with fellow, like-minded, adventurous women! Some of our favorite trips include tortilla-making classes in Baja on the Sea of Cortez; sampling the spices of Morocco; or cooking traditional noodle and pancake dishes in Vietnam.

Tell us what’s on your list of “the best comfort foods”! What are some of your favorite comfort foods? What type of cuisine have you always wanted to try? Let us know on Facebook.


Read more on this interesting topic:

“Why Comfort Foods Comfort”

“Our Moods, Our Foods”

“Better moods for better eating?: How mood influences food choice”

“Chicken Soup Really Is Good for the Soul”

“Comfort Food: Nourishing Our Collective Stomachs and Our Collective Minds”

For an alternative take, see “The Myth of Comfort Food”