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 that 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 and 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.”
Dr Egan added that the study was 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.
Those interested in participating in this study will be asked to complete a questionnaire, take part in an interview, or both. The questionnaire is a series of tick box questions and should take people 15 minutes to complete. Interviews will take place in Laois, Offaly, Longford or Westmeath.