College is full of stress, with presentations, projects, midterms and finals. So, it’s not a surprise that stuffing our face with some cheesy goodness or some delectable sweets is our go-to for relieving stress.

Comfort food

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The downside is the feeling of regret afterwards that comes with overeating comfort food. But ever wonder why stress makes you want to eat everything in sight? Turns out there are some physiological and psychological factors influencing our appetite.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only who’s going through a party-sized bag of Doritos the night before a test.

According to the journal Appetite, the average student gains about 10 pounds during college, with a large factor being academic stress. So why does stress drive us to reach for another doughnut and not something healthier?

When you’re stressing over long periods of time, like during finals or midterms, your body releases the “stress hormone” called cortisol. This hormone triggers cravings in your body for salty, sweet, and high-fat foods – foods that give you that burst of energy and make you happy. In other words, high levels of stress leads to high levels of cortisol, which makes you eat lots and lots of comfort foods.

You’re probably thinking: I don’t feel so stressed anymore after engorging on four slices of pizza, so cortisol must be helping me. WRONG.

Comfort food

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Unfortunately, that sweet relief after eating a gooey chocolate chip cookie isn’t the best cure for stress that we wished it was. Despite their names, these high-calorie, high-fat foods’ “comfort” only lasts for a short while.

One study found that chocolate only boosted people’s mood for three short minutes before the “high” wore down. Dopamine, a “feel-good” hormone, is released when we eat these yummy treats, making our minds less stressed. We therefore associate comfort food as a solution to stress. The problem comes when we find ourselves needing to eat more and more comfort food every time we’re stressed in order to get that dopamine “high” again, causing us to overeat and gain weight.

Comfort foods get their name because of the pleasure, or “comfort” people get from consuming these sweet or salty, high-fat foods, allowing them to have a decreased perception of stress. Although indulging in comfort foods occasionally is okay, the danger comes when people resort to eating large amounts of the comfort foods every time they are stressed.

Although eating comfort food is mega delicious and makes us happy, it is not the healthiest way to de-stress. Next time you’re feeling stressed, take a break from whatever you’re doing and find an alternative to relaxing that’s healthier than eating comfort foods!