Mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, chocolate cake-there's a reason that comfort food makes you feel, well, comforted. We're attracted to foods that we associate a positive social memory with, reports new study from the University of Buffalo. (Craving something salty? Find out What Your Food Cravings Mean.)
Our favorite indulgences are often the very same meals our loved ones whip up when we were kids, and it's this feeling of security that draws us to the food during times of rejection or isolation, explained study author and psychologist Shira Gabriel, Ph.D. (Try the Surprising Ways to Slim Down Comfort Food Favorites.)
Comfort food is, therefore, defined as whatever foods make you feel reassured and supported. And yes, that means those lucky folks who came from a vegetable-loving household may actually feel just as comforted binging on carrots and hummus as you do on cheese and bread (unfair!).
While the health nut in you probably wants to dig in your heels the second a comfort craving arises, consider indulging. Yes, too much comfort can wreck your diet, but trying to eliminate the entire category of "bad" foods may actually make you indulge more often, a Stanford study says. Researchers found that you're actually better off trying to balance the healthy and indulgent foods. Instead, cook up one of these Healthy Recipes For Your Favorite Comfort Foods.
More good news: We're constantly creating new social memories. That means if you insist on lighter barbecue menus and low-cal birthday cakes, your friends and family will start to associate your healthy and delicious cooking with positive feelings!