Why We Want Cookies When We’re Sad (And How to Rewire Our Brain)

Most humans know all-too-well the feelings of disappointment and hurt. If it’s around something minor, we can usually get over it quickly. But when hurt feelings linger, they can pull us down into sadness or disappointment. And sometimes, the anger that goes with the hurt can make us unwilling to let go of it very easily.

During these times, it’s tempting to turn to a carton of ice cream or a bag of cookies for temporary comfort. Food seems to help us “nurse” the hurt for a while. And for some reason, we don’t usually reach for a salad or a bunch or carrots to comfort us. But the satisfaction we get from high-sugar or high-fat foods is short-lived.

Instead of eating to soothe your hurt feelings, try these strategies instead.

First, Understand Why Feelings Get Hurt

When we stop and take a look at the emotions that are causing us to want to eat, it’s a good first step to finding a better coping strategy.

Hurt generally comes as a response to statements or actions that are the opposite of what you expected. Maybe the person you thought was a good friend makes a snide comment about your weight. Or the spouse you assumed would listen to you after a hard day is out playing golf or having drinks with friends.

When you are “hurt” by someone, it harms your trust as well as your sense of emotional safety. You might feel violated or disillusioned that someone would treat you “that way.” You may shake your head in amazement or disbelief and think, “How could they do this to me?”

Look at Your Unspoken Expectations

Most of us unconsciously develop rules for other people’s behaviors, expecting them to talk or act in a certain way. When feelings get “hurt,” it’s usually because someone broke one of our unspoken expectations.

This happened to me recently. At a dinner with friends, my husband made some comments that hurt my feelings. He thought he’d said them in fun, but I felt very embarrassed and humiliated by what he’d said. My expectation was that my partner is supposed to protect me and be on my side. Fortunately, he and I were able to talk about it later that night and resolve it pretty quickly once I told him how I felt, and how his behavior ran counter to my expectations.

When your feelings get hurt, start by identifying any unspoken rule you have about the situation. Evaluate whether your rule makes sense or if you want to change it. If you choose to let go of your rule or expectation, you may find your hurt slips away almost immediately–and along with it, your urge to self-soothe with food. If you want to keep your expectation, make sure you communicate that to your friend or partner.

Validate and Express Your Feelings

Regardless of what caused them, hurt feelings are valid. They typically represent some type of loss, and it’s important that you allow yourself to feel sadness or grief.

So go ahead and cry. Express your feelings of letdown or despair. In your journal, write about your disappointments and the reasons behind them. Then instead of reaching for food as a way to heal, figure out ways you can let the feelings go and take care of your heart.

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Elena T.
Elena Poensgen4 years ago

Thank you :)

Sonia Valencia
Sonia Valencia4 years ago

I would rather eat a bag of hot Cheetos when am sad..lol

da c.
Past Member 4 years ago

I want cookies when I'm happy too! :)

Diane C.
Past Member 4 years ago

I'll give the rewiring a try, but this still doesn't address craving cookies and the like when happy, excited, relieved, etc...

Lis T.
Elisabeth T4 years ago

Thanks for the article...

Marie W.
Marie W4 years ago

Childhood comfort.

tin leng lim
tin leng lim4 years ago

Thank you.

Mike H.
Mike H4 years ago

This makes me sad

Jane Hathaway
Jane Hathaway4 years ago

Thank you for this informative article.

Katherine May Williams

So it's not because they're yummy then? Damn complex brain.