At last, some welcome news for overworked chocaholics and doughnut junkies. Scientists have discovered that comfort eating can relieve chronic stress.
Researchers have found a biological mechanism which shows that the body craves sugary and high-fat foods because comfort foods actually help block the effects of high levels of stress.
In other words, said Norman Pecoraro, a physiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, many stressed or anxious people instinctively turn to junk food because it works. "Our studies suggest that comfort food applies the brakes on a key element of chronic stress," he said.
They discovered that rats under continuous levels of stress released a flood of a hormone similar to one found in humans. In response, the rats instinctively turned to sugar and lard, which made their stomach areas fatter. They found this fat directly blocked the stress hormone's damaging effects on the brain and the body.
But regular comfort eating will increase long-term health risks, such as heart disease, obesity and strokes, Dr Pecoraro warned. "In the short term, if you're chronically stressed it might be worth eating and sleeping a little more to calm down, perhaps at the expense of a few pounds," he said.
"But seeking a long-term solution in comfort foods - rather than fixing the source of the stress - is going to be bad for you."