Objective: Alexithymia, or the difficulty identifying or describing one's own emotions, may be a risk factor for dysregulated eating and excess weight gain. However, the relationships between alexithymia and eating behaviors in community samples of non-clinical youth have not been well-characterized. We hypothesized that alexithymia would be positively associated with disordered and disinhibited eating in a community-based sample of boys and girls without an eating disorder.
Method: Two hundred children (8-17 years old) across the weight spectrum completed an interview to assess loss of control (LOC) eating and eating-related psychopathology, a laboratory test meal designed to induce disinhibited eating, and questionnaires to assess alexithymia, eating in the absence of hunger, and emotional eating. Linear and logistic regressions were conducted to examine the relationship between alexithymia and eating variables, with age, sex, race, and fat mass as covariates. Test meal analyses also adjusted for lean mass. Given the overlap between alexithymia and depression, all models were repeated with depressive symptoms as an additional covariate.
Results: Alexithymia was associated with an increased likelihood of reporting LOC eating (p < .05). Moreover, alexithymia was positively associated with disordered eating attitudes, emotional eating, and eating in the absence of hunger (ps < .05). Greater alexithymia was associated with more carbohydrate and less fat intake at the test meal (ps < .05). After adjusting for depressive symptoms, alexithymia remained associated with eating in the absence of hunger and carbohydrate and fat intake (ps < .05).
Discussion: In healthy children, alexithymia is associated with some facets of eating behavior and food intake. If supported prospectively, these preliminary findings suggest alexithymia may be a modifiable risk factor to reduce disordered eating and excess weight gain in youth.
Keywords: Adolescents; Alexithymia; BMI-z; Body mass index standard deviation score; Children; Disinhibited eating; Disordered eating; Food intake; LOC eating; Loss of control eating; adjusted for age and sex.
Copyright © 2019 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Latent profile analysis to determine the typology of disinhibited eating behaviors in children and adolescents.J Consult Clin Psychol. 2013 Jun;81(3):494-507. doi: 10.1037/a0031209. Epub 2012 Dec 31. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2013. PMID: 23276121 Free PMC article.
Examination of the interpersonal model of loss of control eating in the laboratory.Compr Psychiatry. 2017 Jul;76:36-44. doi: 10.1016/j.comppsych.2017.03.015. Epub 2017 Apr 3. Compr Psychiatry. 2017. PMID: 28410467 Free PMC article.
Associations of adolescent emotional and loss of control eating with 1-year changes in disordered eating, weight, and adiposity.Int J Eat Disord. 2017 May;50(5):551-560. doi: 10.1002/eat.22636. Epub 2016 Oct 18. Int J Eat Disord. 2017. PMID: 27753140 Free PMC article.
[Assessing various aspects of the motivation to eat that can affect food intake and body weight control].Encephale. 2009 Apr;35(2):182-5. doi: 10.1016/j.encep.2008.03.009. Epub 2008 Jul 7. Encephale. 2009. PMID: 19393389 Review. French.
Alexithymia and eating disorders: a critical review of the literature.J Eat Disord. 2013 Jun 18;1:21. doi: 10.1186/2050-2974-1-21. eCollection 2013. J Eat Disord. 2013. PMID: 24999402 Free PMC article. Review.