The identification of particular items as comfort food may be idiosyncratic, though patterns are detectable. In one study of American preferences, "males preferred warm, hearty, meal-related comfort foods (such as steak, casseroles, and soup), while females instead preferred comfort foods that were more snack related (such as chocolate and ice cream). In addition, younger people preferred more snack-related comfort foods compared to those over 55 years of age." The study also revealed strong connections between consumption of comfort foods and feelings of guilt.
Comfort food consumption has been seen as a response to emotional stress, and consequently, as a key contributor to the epidemic of obesity in the United States. The provocation of specific hormonal responses leading selectively to increases in abdominal fat is seen as a form of self-medication.
Further studies suggest that consumption of comfort food is triggered in men by positive emotions, and by negative ones in women. The stress effect is particularly pronounced among college-aged women, with only 33% reporting healthy eating choices during times of emotional stress. For women specifically, these psychological patterns may be maladaptive.
A therapeutic use of these findings includes offering comfort foods or "happy hour" beverages to anorectic geriatric patients whose health and quality of life otherwise decreases with reduced oral intake.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comfort_food
For myself, I find that these conclusions are true. My comfort food now seems to be emotionally stress related and not a particularly good food choice. Now I'm sad, excuse me while I get a bowl of chocolate ice cream.