Is a Failure to Regulate Difficult Emotions the Reason for Binge Eating?

In Eating by Yuliya Richard

In a recent study ‘Comfortably Numb: The Role of Momentary Dissociation in the Experience of Negative Affect Around Binge Eating’, researchers propose that dissociation (which can be described as a disruption in some processes of consciousness: thoughts, feelings, memories) might be experienced by people in moments of particularly negative affect (experience of difficult emotions and poor self-concept). In the study’s sample of women diagnosed with Bulimia Nervosa who experienced an increase in momentary dissociation, the women experienced a sharp increase in negative affect prior to the episodes of binge eating. The finding that dissociation coincides with moments of particularly negative affect is considered to be consistent with the Escape Theory, which suggests that people engage in escape behaviors in order to avoid an unpleasant psychological reaction. In a way, focusing on food and eating does redirect an individual’s attention away from the experience of negative affect. However, one of the problems with redirecting your attention to food and eating is that it maintains the practice of using food to cope with negative feelings and poor self-concept.

If you are concerned about your eating habits, talk to your GP about it. Get help and learn how to regulate your emotions in a healthier way. Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with an eating disorder, you need to ask for help if you are struggling to develop a healthier relationship with food.

Consistently using food to deal with your emotions can lead to significant negative consequences for your mental and physical health. Start with reflecting on how you usually deal with your difficult emotions. Spend a few moments reflecting on some of the emotions that you struggle with then explore alternative ways of dealing with them.



1. Mason, Tyler B., et al. “Comfortably Numb: The Role of Momentary Dissociation in the Experience of Negative Affect Around Binge Eating.” The Journal of nervous and mental disease 205.5 (2017): 335-339.