What’s eating you? Study reveals common emotional eating triggers

Boredom is, at most, a mildly annoying emotional state, but having nothing to do on a lazy Saturday afternoon could be a gateway to more problematic behaviors. It comes down to a simple Freudian principle: We are motivated to seek pleasure and avoid pain. This is the reason why many people reach for comfort food to deal with negative emotions, like the clichéd container of ice cream after getting dumped.

Recent research conducted by PsychTests reveals nine factors that can trigger emotional eating.

Analyzing personality, emotional, and behavioral data from 438 emotional eaters who took the Emotional Eating Test, researchers at PsychTests were able to establish the most common eating triggers.

Lack of Intimacy

For some emotional eaters, food may provide the comfort that they yearn to receive from a partner, friend or family. Moreover, even if they have a large support network, some emotional eaters feel lonely quite often. The desire to seek comfort from food fulfills a need – albeit temporarily – for intimacy.

Feelings of Shame

If an emotional eater has committed a transgression in the past, they will continue to blame and punish themselves, even if they have been forgiven. Emotional eaters dwell on regrets and relentlessly focus on their disappointments, failures, and what they don’t like about themselves and their life.

Fear of Challenges

Emotional eaters struggle to muster up the fortitude and motivation to face a daunting task. They don’t believe they have the skills to achieve what they desire and are more likely to give up on a difficult goal. They’d rather quit than risk failure. These feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, and disappointment can compel emotional eaters to seek food for comfort.

Fear of Judgment

Emotional eaters have high expectations about what they believe their body should look like – and because they haven’t achieved this ideal, they punish themselves. They are also terrified of being rejected. Emotional eaters who fear judgment will often hide food so that others won’t see how much they eat.

Conflict Avoidance

When a person avoids speaking up, doesn’t bring up grievances, and “swallows up” their emotions, this form of “avoidance coping” can result in emotional eating. Emotional eaters who dodge confrontation may turn to food to distract them from the issue that’s bothering them and/or to mask the negative feelings surrounding it.


For many emotional eaters, an idle mind triggers a yearning for novelty or a change – but rather than satiating this desire with an engaging activity, they turn to food.

Self-sabotaging Beliefs

A desire to end the cycle of emotional eating or adopt a healthier lifestyle can be hindered by an eater’s limiting beliefs about their ability to break bad habits, develop self-discipline, and change their body. Some emotional eaters may feel that their health is pre-determined by their genes and, therefore, cannot be changed. They may believe that being an emotional eater is simply who they are.


Children who grew up in a very rigid household may find themselves manifesting their desire for freedom through food. This may be particularly true if the child was forbidden to eat certain foods (e.g. junk food, sweets), and/or if his/her food intake was strictly monitored (to prevent weight gain, for example).

Physical, emotional or sexual abuse

Several research studies have shown that trauma is a risk factor for eating disorders and other pathological eating behaviors. While the relationship between abuse and eating is complex and can vary from person to person, research suggests that emotional eaters may turn to food to relieve feelings of shame or to punish themselves, as some may falsely believe that the abuse was their fault. Researchers also theorize that abuse survivors may purposely gain or lose a great deal of weight as a form of protection (i.e. they believe it will make them less attractive and therefore, less likely to be taken advantage of), or as a reflection of their shattered self-image.

“When it comes to unhealthy eating patterns, the crux of the issue is not so much what we’re eating, it’s why we’re eating it,” explains Dr. Jerabek, president of PsychTests. “Emotional eaters don’t consume junk food simply because it tastes better than vegetables; they do so because this type of comfort food makes them feel better. After all, a celery stick won’t elicit the same feeling of enjoyment as ice cream. The same concept applies to people who struggle with weight issues, whether it’s being too overweight or too thin. Their eating habits are certainly a contributing factor, but the undercurrent of negative emotions – shame, guilt, anxiety, lack of self-worth – are what’s breeding the habit and keeping it going. More often than not, there is a combination of several factors. It goes without saying that finding solace in food is not going to resolve what’s really bothering you. If you want to break the cycle of emotional eating, you need get to the root of what’s eating you up inside.”

Do you have a propensity for emotional eating? Check out https://testyourself.psychtests.com/testid/2090



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