• There can be many reasons why we comfort ourselves with food 

  • Eating disorder therapist Jayne Cox explains what might trigger binge eating and how we can address the issues we may be faced with

  • If you are living with binge eating disorder, you can find a therapist here

Emotionally driven eating is common. I know that from the number of woman who share their experiences with me. I also know because I once did it. But it's not only women who binge eat, and it can affect all ages.

When you live with emotionally driven compulsive eating you can feel very alone, isolated with your behaviour, ashamed and invisible. It’s difficult to find the words or the right person to speak to. The guilty secret can eat away at self-esteem, because though it's often referred to as ‘comfort eating’ there is nothing comforting about this behaviour. Not having the means to deal with life’s problems can lead us to reach for the solace and comfort of food. Our own physiology can also trigger binge-eating episodes.

The common triggers for emotional binge eating are:

Stress and anxiety

Managing stress isn’t as simple to do, as it is to say. It takes time to reduce stress but you can begin by creating a diary of what you currently do and how you feel about it. Rate your anxiety levels through the day and check in on yourself. I have found mindfulness techniques a really effective starting point.

Unmanaged anger

Understanding and managing your anger effectively will help you in the long term. Again it takes time but it will be worth it for you in all aspects of your life. Talking therapies and professionals can help you manage your anger. A traffic light system to recognise your anger levels is also something that can be useful. You start to notice yourself both mentally and physically going from green through to amber and red. The aim is to learn to deal with anger at the green and amber stage


Too much free time, not enough to interest you? This requires you taking the time to see where the boredom lies in your life, again perhaps finding someone to talk things through with and to get your imagination going. Remember, we all deserve to feel fulfilled in life.

Unrecognised feelings

We can misunderstand our signalling systems or switch them off temporarily because of binge eating. So we feel hunger instead of recognising feelings. Again mindfulness can help. You can begin by noticing situations you encounter and seeing if you can name a feeling or emotion before you reach for food and ask yourself, is this hunger or something else?


There is only one way to turn things around and that’s to balance your day and to deal with underlying stress that you may have. Obviously enough quality sleep is essential too. If work or study is causing you to feel this way, do reach out and seek support.


Over and over again I see clients who feel hooked on sugar. Notice what foods you crave and what foods make you feel out of control. Sugar is everywhere, natural or hidden in foods, it does not matter to the mind. The mind loves it and wants more. I have found only one way to work with this and that’s a reduction plan and to learn your tolerance levels. Do check the labels, carbs as sugar is still sugar content.


Daylight and hormonal fluctuations can influence your feelings and appetite. If you keep a diary of your symptoms you can speak to your GP about it. I find daylight lamps very useful and dawn simulators. It’s important to start using them frequently from September to Spring and on any dull days.

Food availability

Food is everywhere 24/7. If your route takes you past places that trigger you, in the car or on foot, take a new route and see what happens. For example, you could hang the car keys upstairs so you have to mindfully choose to get them to go to the shop for food.

The good news is we can all change. With courage and the right support in place you can build a positive new relationship with what you eat.

Further reading

The benefits of mindful eating

5 signs of disordered eating

How Rachel Kelly found happiness in eating well

9 ways to stop binge eating today