The Scientific Reason People Eat Ice Cream After Breakups

We never truly fall in love. We fly in it. Lovers hover above cloud nine as they quiver with the sweet ache of Cupid's arrow. Ardent hearts feel unbeatable, ready to attack all obstacles because love conquers all. But all too often, love conquers itself. That's when we truly feel like we're falling. Cupid's arrow twists like a knife as our lips quiver and our cloudy eyes rain buckets.

Few things cushion that crash back to earth like landing face-first in a pile of ice cream. Katie Holmes told The New York Times that after her marriage to Tom Cruise fell apart, her father took her and her daughter out for ice cream on a nightly basis. "Spouse Like a House," a mix of chocolate-coated pretzels, caramel, and vanilla ice cream became her favorite flavor. Delish relates that days after Jeff Bezos officially ended his marriage to MacKenzie Scott, he bought soft serve. That technically isn't ice cream, but love is blind to such distinctions.

Some can even turn unwanted lovers into insignificant others with the aid of ice cream. MyRecipes reports that the Canadian company Nora's Non-Dairy created a breakup-themed ice cream line with bluntly named flavors like "Bye Bye Brownie" and "Strawberries and You're Mean." The pint-sized containers displayed deflating messages, like "I can't do this," "It's over," and "We're done." While it might seem like cold comfort, the bittersweet pairing of desertion and dessert makes scientific sense.

Binge & Jerry's

As Science Daily observes, Cupid's arrow is really a syringe loaded with dopamine, norepinephrine, adrenaline, and other chemicals that together cause immeasurable pleasure and emotional bonding. Writing for Psychology Today, licensed psychologist Shauna Springer, Ph.D. declared, "Falling in love is like smoking crack cocaine." That's not just a provocative headline but a scientific throughline. For instance, a 2010 study at the Stanford School of Medicine found evidence that love behaves like "painkillers or such illicit drugs as cocaine," per Stanford Medicine. Having study subjects view photos of their mates lessened the pain of holding a hot object. So where does ice cream fit in the picture?

Neurobiology professor Gert ter Hors explained to Vice, "The areas of the brain in charge of emotions and emotional pain also [regulate] how we eat." Heartache suppresses appetites but later makes emotional eaters crave comfort food. Furthermore, food psychologist Jen Batemen told HuffPost that people who received ice cream to cheer them up earlier in life may seek it out after a breakup.

Like love, ice cream gives us a rush of dopamine, which is intimately tied to the brain's reward center. According to clinical psychologist and psychology professor Ashley Gearhardt, "Ice cream has two of the ingredients that we're engineered to have a big reward response to: fat and sugar." Dopamine is also highly linked with addiction. So when we binge on Ben & Jerry's to mourn a lost relationship, we're arguably using a sugar high to simulate painkilling love-cocaine.

We all cry for eyes scream

While going through the throes of romantic crack withdrawal, some lovesick people are more likely to self-medicate with ice cream than others. Speaking with HuffPost, New York University assistant professor of clinical nutrition Jessica Bihuniak highlighted that "some research suggests that women are more likely to use eating to numb, distract, and soothe emotions." Meanwhile, men tend to seek solace in a bottle.

Choosing to booze the blues away or eat a pint of Blue Bell might be informed by norms that say it's less acceptable for women to drink. "If you're not societally allowed to go to the bar and pour a whiskey and drink the pain away," explained Gearhardt, "then ice cream is the gendered-appropriate alternative." That idea is arguably both reflected and reinforced by romcoms and sitcoms, where brokenhearted men oftentimes tap into their inner barfly while women's crying eyes scream for ice cream.

The role of gender increasingly seems fluid, as more women turn to alcoholic beverages to submerge their hurt. But regardless of what kind of body a broken heart belongs to, they can blend the best of both worlds by going on an endless bender full of booze-infused Häagen-Daz and ice-cream-scoop-filled frozen cocktails.