By Heather Murphy – CNN Headline News

(CNN) — When people eat something that isn’t necessarily good for them but makes them feel better, it’s called “comfort food.” For instance, my mom’s meatloaf and mashed potatoes can put a stressful week behind me. Macaroni and cheese does it for some people.

Maybe you find peace in pirogues, or feel all cozy when you get a whiff of hot cider. Any food that evokes memories of happiness and safety can be called a “comfort food.” I think there are movies that have the same effect, without the fat or calories.

This theory came to me a few weeks ago as I sat on the couch, grumbling about a stressful day at work and feeling a little blue over the end of the holidays. I was flipping through the channels and scowling, until I stopped on “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” Just the sight of Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn, with her freckles, moon-pie eyes and backwoods drawl was enough to erase my scowl.

I put away the remote control. This was just the comfort movie I needed. Is the movie good? Does it belong on any “Best Films of All Time” list? I don’t care if it does. It’s good to me, and it’ll bring me out of any bad mood my brain can conjure — just like a helping of Mom’s mashed potatoes.

“Comfort movies” can calm your soul or put a smile on your face. If “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” had a food equivalent, for me, it would be a strawberry ice cream cone: completely unnecessary and nothing but fun. Yes, I’ve seen it more times than I can count, but it takes me back to my high school days (even though my teenage years weren’t nearly as exciting as Ferris’), and makes me laugh.

“Driving Miss Daisy” has a more peaceful effect on me. It was filmed in my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, and I watched the movie’s progress from the lawn of a boyfriend’s home. When I watch the movie now, I enjoy the story and scan the background for familiar sights. “That’s Decatur! That’s Little Five Points! That’s Oakdale Road!” It’s like reminiscing with an old friend over a glass of sweet iced tea.

My list of comfort movies isn’t all about reminiscing, laughter and serenity. There’s a time to laugh and a time to cry. This next category probably applies only to women. It’s a sub-genre of movies known as “chick-flicks.” These are movies that make our male counterparts run for other rooms as soon as the opening credits roll.

Top of the heap is “Steel Magnolias.” It’s my first pick for a good, old-fashioned, break out the hankies boohoo movie. If “Ferris Bueller” is a strawberry ice cream cone, “Steel Magnolias” is like plopping down to eat the whole carton of ice cream and a box of Girl Scout cookies. Watching the movie may put a dent in my supply of tissues, but it’s much better for my waistline than the comfort food alternative.

You’ve probably noticed that my list of comfort movies runs in the sweet and sappy vein. Maybe your comfort foods are more along the lines of hot wings or jambalaya. Your comfort movies might be “The Big Easy” or “Terminator.” Whatever you watch to reclaim a little bit of comfort, bon appétit.