The other day I was really upset, very emotional. Everything just seemed to be going wrong, so I turned to food like I often do to bring me comfort during this difficult time. Sometimes it is food from my childhood like macaroni and cheese or pizza rolls, but on that day my snack of choice was chocolate and red wine.
I knew it wouldn’t fix my problems, but I always feel like these comfort foods really do make me feel at least a little bit better. It turns out, science backs up my feelings… sort of. Although a study in 2014 said eating ANY food can boost your mood, other studies show that certain foods have certain effects.
For example, when we are under stress, the pleasure we feel from sweet foods increases. Studies have shown that there could be an evolutionary reason for this. Maybe the energy that we get from sugar is just what we need in order to deal with the stressful situation we are going through. This may explain why people turn to sweeter comfort foods when they are stressed more often than when they are not. Another possibility is that eating sweet, high-calorie foods (chocolate, cookies, or ice cream) have been linked to the release of opiates and serotonin which may help elevate moods. Serotonin is often called “the happy chemical” for its effects.
Looking a little closer at chocolate specifically, chocolate contains phenylethylamine. This chemical is a natural anti-depressant. Our brain produces this chemical when we fall in love. Another chemical present in small quantities in chocolate is tryptophan. When I think of tryptophan, I think of Thanksgiving turkey which puts us to sleep, but when we consume tryptophan our body also produces serotonin, that “happy chemical” I talked about earlier. Although this seems to point towards chocolate being a naturally comforting food, most of these chemicals are only present in small quantities and the comfort we feel may actually come from the experience of eating chocolate rather than the chocolate itself. We are satisfying a food craving and that releases endorphins more than the content of the chocolate itself. So the science is mixed, the jury is still out.
BUT there is one food that I consistently find comfort in, without fail! That is the gift of the Eucharist.
In the Eucharist, Christ comforts all of humanity across all time. In this meal, all powers opposed to Christ are pacified. In that moment, nothing can overcome the power of the Eucharist which brings us peace. On the night before he died, when Christ gave us the Eucharist, he was purposefully giving us comfort, knowing the difficulty that would follow.
This is echoed in the prayers of the Eucharist that we pray at each Mass. It calls out to God, asking Him for peace and comfort in our lives right now instead of waiting for the coming of the kingdom at the end of days.
Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil,
graciously grant peace in our days,
that, by the help of your mercy,
we may be always free from sin
and safe from all distress,
as we await the blessed hope
and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
For some of us it has been a while since we have physically received the Eucharist. This may be adding to our discomfort, but the gift is still there. The sacrifice was still made. So even while many of us are unable to physically eat the greatest comfort food, the eternal bread, I pray that we may find comfort knowing that Christ died for us, died to bring us the knowledge of eternal joy in heaven with Him. I pray that this brings us comfort in our lives today.