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Ice cream, pizza and cake: Why we reach for comfort food after a bad breakup

Break-up Week: The best foods to deal with a broken heart
The Sweet Potato Chronicles’ Laura Keogh shares some easy recipes to help you get over a bad breakup, including taco pizza and a skillet brownie cookie.

Breakups can cause different reactions for everyone — from tears to anger or the largest pair of sweatpants you own. No heartbreak is complete, however, without the iconic breakup diet. 

Elle Woods throws chocolate at her TV after a bad breakup in Legally Blonde. Bridget Jones clings to a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream tub while wrapped in a blanket in The Edge of Reason after her breakup with Mark Darcy. 

Using food as a source of comfort in times of grief is common, said Toronto-based food blogger Laura Keogh, especially if you’re hurting. 

READ MORE: How to break up with your partner as smoothly as possible

“When you go through heartache, you need something comforting. Obviously, we turn to food,” Keogh told hosts on Global News’ The Morning Show

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A 2017 survey by market research firm OnePoll research and Yelp Eat 24 found that two-thirds of people have a specific comfort food they rely on when they are upset. Ice cream was the most popular choice followed by pizza, fried foods and cake. 

The study found those dishes are most needed in the first five weeks following a breakup, when despair is usually at its height. 

While “emotional eating” has been stigmatized as bad or poor behaviour, eating in response to your emotions is fairly normal and often harmless, New York-based dietitian Christy Harrison told The Washington Post.

How to deal with a breakup
How to deal with a breakup

Those who overly restrict their eating, instead of allowing themselves indulgences, are more likely to engage in stress eating long term, according to a 2018 study from researchers in the Netherlands. Most people don’t gain weight from treats following a breakup, according to a 2019 study.

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Turning to food when depressed

The period of sadness following a breakup will usually alleviate within a matter of months, depending on the individual, according to the OnePoll survey. 

READ MORE: Own a house with your partner? Here’s what happens if you break up

However, if it develops into more serious mental health issues like depression, your diet can change, psychologist Dr. Simon Sherry previously told Global News

“Depression can have appetite-promoting effects… and [these people will] describe something like an eating-to-cope pattern. This is sometimes known as emotional eating,” he said. “They’re eating to try to regulate the often difficult emotions that go along with depression.”

Food can be an escape from self-criticism or a negative view of self that are associated with depression, Sherry explained. 

Losing your routine during depressive periods can prevent you from wanting to cook or make healthier dietary choices, which is why some people crave junk food or takeout, he said.

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READ MORE: From neighbours to co-workers, how to break up with people you see all the time

If you’re dealing with grief or sadness, keeping protein bars, peanut butter, dried fruits or other balanced snacks around could help address cravings, according to a previous Global News report.

But if you need to indulge following a bad breakup, Keogh recommends recipes like wine-infused spaghetti, taco pizza and a skillet brownie cookie. 

“Carbs are a hug of comfort,” said Keogh. “When you’re crying, you need this stuff fast.”

For instructions on how to make breakup recipes, watch Laura Keogh in the video above.

— With files from Global News reporter Meghan Collie