Investigating why people ‘comfort’ eat

May 15 2013 Posted: 10:40 IST

A new research project at NUI Galway aims to better understand the underlying causes of comfort eating, which may stem from childhood. Comfort or emotional eating happens when we are not hungry but perhaps in need of stress relief or a reward.

NUI Galway researchers are conducting a study, which aims to examine the influence of emotional factors in childhood on comfort eating and weight. They have devised a questionnaire which investigates these issues, and will also be conducting individual interviews. Volunteers are being sought to take part in this study, the only requirement being that participants are over-18.

“We’re hoping to explore the relationship between a range of factors, such as how people learned to cope with their emotions in childhood, or how people relate to others, and how this influences eating patterns and BMI in adulthood”, explains Roisín Finnegan, who is a Trainee Clinical Psychologist and carrying out this research under the supervision of Dr Jonathan Egan, Lecturer in Psychology at NUI Galway. The research is being funded by the Millennium Research Fund at NUI Galway.

While the wide availability of convenience foods and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle are recognised as significant contributing factors to the spike in obesity rates, research is finding that psychosocial factors in childhood, such as abuse, lack of parental support, depression, may also play a role.

“We believe that children growing up in an environment where they feel unable to express their emotions may turn to food as a source of comfort,” explains of Dr Jonathan Egan. “This pattern of coping with emotion through food continues into adulthood, and may well contribute to weight problems. These are just some of the factors we’re interested in investigating further as part of this research. We’re also interested in the concept of mindfulness, and how the ability to attend to how one is feeling in the present moment may act as an antidote to emotional eating.”

For those interested in participating in this study, it will involve completing a questionnaire, taking part in an interview, or doing both, though it is not a necessity of the study that you take part in both. The questionnaire is a series of tick box questions, and hopefully should only take people 15 minutes to complete. Interviews will take place in Laois, Offaly, Longford or Westmeath. “It would be great if people could share their experience with us,” concluded Róisín.

Those who wish to complete the questionnaire online should log onto

Participants can also complete the questionnaire in paper format by contacting Róisín on Anyone interested in taking part in interview should express this through email also, and more detail will be provided. All participants’ data will be kept strictly confidential.


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