The association between alexithymia and eating behavior in children and adolescents

Lisa M. Shank, Marian Tanofsky-Kraff*, Nichole R. Kelly, Manuela Jaramillo, Sarah G. Rubin, Deborah R. Altman, Meghan E. Byrne, S. LeMay-Russell, Natasha A. Schvey, Miranda M. Broadney, Sheila M. Brady, Shanna B. Yang, Amber B. Courville, Sophie Ramirez, Alexa C. Crist, Susan Z. Yanovski, Jack A. Yanovski

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104381
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • 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


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