Effects of distress, alexithymia and impulsivity on eating

Eat Behav. 2007 Apr;8(2):251-7. doi: 10.1016/j.eatbeh.2006.06.004. Epub 2006 Jun 27.


Objective: To improve our understanding of possible mechanisms underlying emotional overeating this study examined the effects of a distress manipulation on food intake in relation to alexithymia and impulsivity.

Method: Participants were 86 females who were subjected to a distress manipulation (the anticipation of a public speaking task) prior to an ad lib taste task and filled out questionnaires on impulsivity and the alexithymia constructs difficulty identifying and describing feelings.

Results: Alexithymia significantly (p<.05) moderated the relationship between food consumption and distress. Instead of eating less in the distress condition, alexithymic females ate the same or even more, this showing a 'biological unnatural' and 'inapt' response.

Conclusion: Findings suggest that for the 'natural' distress response (reduction of food intake) good ability to identify and describe feelings to others is required, and that the presence or absence of these abilities may predict which people respond to distress by undereating or by overeating. The results provide empirical support for Bruch's conceptualisation of poor interoceptive awareness as possible predictive factor for emotional overeating.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affective Symptoms / psychology*
  • Awareness
  • Body Mass Index
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hyperphagia / psychology*
  • Impulsive Behavior / psychology*
  • Motivation
  • Netherlands
  • Personality Inventory / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychometrics
  • Set, Psychology
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*