Food Psychology in Survival Situations

The Psychological Benefits of Food in Emergency and Survival Situations

The Psychological Benefits of Food in Emergency and Survival Situations

In emergency and survival situations, food is not just essential for physical sustenance, but it also plays a crucial role in promoting emotional well-being. The psychological benefits of food include helping individuals cope with the stress and uncertainty that comes with emergencies and provide a sense of comfort and familiarity in a challenging situation.

The impact of stress and uncertainty on appetite and food preferences

During an emergency, stress and uncertainty can significantly impact a person's appetite and food preferences. For example, in a study conducted by the University of Chicago, individuals who experienced stress were more likely to choose high-calorie, high-fat foods than those who were not under stress.

Furthermore, stress can also affect the way the body digests and processes food, leading to digestive problems and a reduced ability to absorb nutrients. In situations where food is scarce, the body's ability to absorb nutrients becomes even more critical, and stress can hinder this process.

The role of familiar foods and comfort foods in reducing stress and anxiety in emergency situations

Familiar foods and comfort foods can provide a sense of stability and normalcy in uncertain situations, reducing stress and anxiety. Comfort foods are often associated with positive emotions, nostalgia, and memories, providing a sense of emotional comfort and familiarity in stressful situations. Note that the British Red Cross recommends including "comfort foods and foods that provide a sense of normality" in emergency food supplies.

Research has shown that consuming familiar and comforting foods can activate the reward centres of the brain, releasing endorphins and promoting a sense of well-being. In an emergency situation, comfort foods can help individuals feel more relaxed, which can lead to better decision-making and problem-solving.

According to a report by the World Health Organization, "mental health is an integral part of emergency preparedness, response, and recovery" and hence suggests that if food selection can help reducing stress and anxiety then it needs to be built in to our emergency food supply approach.

Suggested foods to include:

  • Pack shelf-stable, easy-to-prepare versions of familiar foods such as canned soups, popular freeze-dried meals, instant noodles, and instant oatmeal. The UK government's emergency planning guidance endorses this approach, suggesting storing foods that are familiar and easily prepared, such as canned soup, pasta, and rice.
  • Include comfort foods that can provide a sense of emotional comfort such as chocolate, tea, coffee, or any snack that a person may find comforting.
  • Pack spices and seasonings to add flavour to meals and provide a sense of variety and familiarity.

For a helpful list of 50 long-life ambient foods ideal for an emergency food supply, we suggest reading our Building Your Food Stockpile article.

Ensure that you have the means to prepare the food as required, even in the event of a power outage.  For preparing soup and pasta for example, heat will be needed - having a back-up wood burning stove available for food preparation would be wise.

Additionally, make sure that you store food supplies in a designated area, so they are easily accessible in an emergency situation, providing a sense of stability and preparedness.


In conclusion, the psychological benefits of food in emergency and survival situations cannot be overstated. Familiar and comfort foods can provide a sense of emotional stability, reducing stress and anxiety, and promoting a sense of normalcy and comfort. By incorporating these types of foods into emergency food supplies, individuals can better cope with the challenges of emergency situations, promoting both physical and emotional well-being.

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