Why Trump Has You Craving Mac ‘n’ Cheese and Chocolate Cake

The science of why you crave comfort foods in times of stress.

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

This week’s political news has left me feeling panicky. The more I scroll Twitter, the more often I find myself craving my favorite snacks: chocolate chip cookies and canned Diet Coke.

I’m not alone in my attachment to specific foods for certain moods. Studies suggest that when we’re sick, tired, sad, or stressed, we often eat in aims of feeling better. And given this year’s political climate, some of us may be experiencing an extra strong hankering for a greasy slice of pepperoni pizza or fresh buttercream frosting. A Market Watch survey of food businesses on election night showed spikes in cupcakes, wine, pizza, and other junk food orders.

On a recent episode of our food politics podcast, Bite, we asked listeners to tell us what dishes they’re turning to under the Trump administration.

There’s some science to suggest that we’re wired to crave certain kinds of foods in times of duress. Common comfort foods usually include a salty, sweet, or fattening element. A study by University of Colorado medicine professor Richard Johnson argues that our preference for these flavors may trace back to our early development as humans. To our Paleolithic ancestors, sweetness was a sign that a fruit was ripe and safe to eat. The excess calories helped us put on weight. “Foods that were good for survival are often things that are cemented in your neural pathways as being good for you, so you want more of them,” said San Diego Miramar College anthropology professor Laura González, who has researched emotional eating and comfort foods.

The stress response is similar. The moment we feel threat or impending doom, our bodies are flooded with chemicals that can affect our appetite and metabolism. Hormones like cortisol and ghrelin flood our system and, for some people, increase appetite and caloric intake. It’s common to look for that boost in calorie-dense dishes. “Foods that we turn to in times of stress reward the pleasure centers of our brain,” González said. “So they actually produce more dopamine and more serotonin.”

In González’s research on emotional eating, she found people linked favorite foods with memories of childhood, family, and holiday traditions. She noted that people across various cultures often reach for warm food. Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham’s theorizes that once our ancestors starting using fire to cook, they used less energy to digest, leading to stronger bodies and bigger brains—in short, cooked foods is what made us human.

It’s possible that Donald Trump himself isn’t safe from the effects of stress on appetite. During a recent visit to the White House, Time reporters noted that the president was the only one to receive extra sauce on his entree and two scoops of vanilla ice cream with his chocolate cream pie.

Here are some more favorite comfort foods from the Twittersphere:

A BETTER WAY TO DO THIS?

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and we can't afford to come up short. But when a reader recently asked how being a nonprofit makes Mother Jones different from other news organizations, we realized we needed to lay this out better: Because "in absolutely every way" is essentially the answer.

So we tried to explain why your year-end donations are so essential, and we'd like your help refining our pitch about what make Mother Jones valuable and worth reading to you.

We'd also like your support of our journalism with a year-end donation if you can right now—all online gifts will be doubled until we hit our $350,000 goal thanks to an incredibly generous donor's matching gift pledge.

payment methods

A BETTER WAY TO DO THIS?

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and we can't afford to come up short. But when a reader recently asked how being a nonprofit makes Mother Jones different from other news organizations, we realized we needed to lay this out better: Because "in absolutely every way" is essentially the answer.

So we tried to explain why your year-end donations are so essential, and we'd like your help refining our pitch about what make Mother Jones valuable and worth reading to you.

We'd also like your support of our journalism with a year-end donation if you can right now—all online gifts will be doubled until we hit our $350,000 goal thanks to an incredibly generous donor's matching gift pledge.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate