I have a sweet tooth. This is not good with depression, as the combination leads to impulsive comfort eating. However, is there something more behind the psychology of why we like comfort foods than the slight addiction of sugar and the storing of fat for cold times without food?
There’s no denying that a low mood can cause one of two effects on appetite: increase or decrease. Most often, however, it has been seen to increase the level of a person’ hunger. Why? Why is it that we so desire a sweet taste?
Psych Central explains that sweet taste is one of the innate tastes that we develop in utero and retain after birth. This is a contrast with bitter and sour foods. However, the article also states that savoury taste is one of the innate tastes, so both savoury and sweet are innately preferred.
From a behavioural point of view, one could count humans as plant-eating animals, and thus we are more innately ‘tuned’ to sweet tastes because of non-toxicity, and that idea I mentioned above about the safety of having more sucrose than necessary than having too few. Though we live in a ‘fast food’ society, we still retain some of ideas of our ancestral genetic heritage.
A mother’s milk is generally more sweet than savoury- perhaps this reflects a subconscious sense of security within us? We go to sweet foods when we are down because we want to remind ourselves of the tender protection that our mother would give us as an infant.
Is comfort eating behaviour-based and conditioned on mood? The Psychologist, Davis showed, in the 80s, that a lower mood caused binge eating, especially in those already with an eating disorder such a bulimia. This could come about because we have learnt to expect to be happier once we have eaten (and, in prehistoric times, would then not have to hunt or search for food for a little while, leaving other pursuits open), and so we reach for the chocolate, which produced the expected endorphins.
This begs the question: is comfort eating all just in the mind?
However, this idea is based on my sense, of course; I know that there are many people who would not crave a dessert every day, simply because they have no innate reaction to quantities of sweet flavour. For instance, it has been tested that women are more likely to eat greater amounts of sweet food after a sad event, whilst men, if they would ‘comfort eat’ would go for fruit to snack on in stressful times.
In addition, as I researched today, I particularly liked this article I found on a blog: Sweet-Tooth and Sweet-Natured . This article looks at the perception of agreeableness in those who like or dislike sweet things, whether giving someone sweet foods makes them more helpful, and linguistic ideas involving endearments.