This study investigated the perceived function of eating for women with bulimia nervosa (BN) and subclinical (SC) BN. Although previous studies suggest that, independent of eating, BNs report using food as a way of coping, research has not assessed eating as a coping response in the naturalistic setting. Two hypotheses regarding the perceived function of eating were tested, an avoidant coping and a self-nurturance hypothesis. For 1 week, 20 women with BN, 32 women with subclinical BN, and 28 non-eating disordered women completed food diaries assessing the occurrence and severity of negative events, the use of self-nurturance and avoidance coping, and positive and negative affect before and after eating. Results suggest that women with BN were more likely to report the occurrence of negative events before eating episodes compared to SCs and controls. BNs were also more likely to report the use of food as an avoidance coping mechanism compared to SCs and controls. The affect analyses suggest that eating is associated with an increase in negative emotions for BNs. Taken together, the results suggest that eating for women with BN may be viewed as an avoidant coping response. This attempt by women with BN to cope, however, appears to be maladaptive in that it perpetuates their high level of distress.