Comfort foods: Is our body trying to tell us something?


We all have that moment where we get that inkling for a sweet sugary fix. Food is the shoulder you cry on when everything seems to go wrong, the celebratory meal when things go right and the instinctive ritual when nothing is really happening. For what seems like a lifetime of confectionary microwave minutes researchers have pondered at what triggers comfort food preferences and so have we.

So what does determine our preference between that chocolate coated donut and warm hearty soup – recent studies are painting an enticing picture into how our taste buds work. It’s all got to do with a few basic principals, your gender and age and they’re both influencing what appeals to those good old opiate and serotonin sensors.

It’s all a balancing act

The science is simple our bodies are constantly correcting energy and nutrient imbalances to fuel our lifestyles. In between the ‘phy’s ‘and ‘psy’s’ of physiology and psychology that’s the easy part – then there’s our relationship with food and pleasure.

In two studies that explore comfort food in age and gender, females and males are posed as practically polar opposites. On one end of the spectrum you have females who are suggested to reach for comfort food when they’re experiencing negative emotions (I can safely say I’ve had one of those moments).Females tend to opt for what researchers refer to as ‘High Calorie Sweet’ foods – in non-technical terms otherwise known as sugary, fatty goodness. So far the only comforting thing about these results for females is that we seem to be glutton for punishment feeling increasingly guilty compared to males after indulging in a seemingly comforting bite to eat.

“A study on chocolate addiction showed 92% of self-selected addicts were female – I swear we didn’t eat the last piece!”

On the other hand you have males who seem to get in touch with their primal side when it comes to engaging in the art of comfort eating. Studies suggest that males are more likely to opt for high protein dense foods such as a steak – appealing to the inner caveman perhaps? Nothing but positive vibes fuel what you could consider males as celebratory eaters when it comes to pleasure foods.

The age old leveller

Although it’s clear males and females are turning to food for different agendas, age seems to be the single defining factor that evens the gender inspired playing fields of comfort eating. Studies have shown if you’re young you have a particular affliction for saltiness and intense sweetness, something you can get away with in your twenties.

The matured comfort eater seemed to of mastered their emotions and food with age where both genders had increased levels of positive emotions seeking comfort meals. When asked about the types of food preferred for pleasure seekers; 18-25 year olds favoured ‘high calorie sweet’ food in the form of a seductive slice of strawberry shortcake, 25-55 year olds reached for high calorie non sweet food like bacon and 55+ participants opted for low calorie health foods such as broccoli.

If the studies predict right it’s all looking up from here on! Why these trends occur is a whole different blog post, but hopefully we can seek solace in the fact that there’s a good chance the food you favour in those finer comforting moments is predetermined by your body, so don’t feel too guilty! Comfort foods have shown that they can play a vital part in our mood so in moderation be sure to treat yourself and keep happy.

This post was inspired by what you told us on Facebook. So if you want us to do more research on those age old questions join the conversation!


Wansink, B., Cheney, M. M., & Chan, N. (2003). Exploring comfort food preferences across age and gender. Physiology & Behavior79(4), 739-747.

Dubé, L., LeBel, J. L., & Lu, J. (2005). Affect asymmetry and comfort food consumption. Physiology & Behavior86(4), 559-567.


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