Direct and indirect effects of alexithymia on disordered eating in a non-clinical female sample: Determining the role of negative affect

Deborah J. Wallis, Nathan Ridout*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Alexithymia is an independent predictor of symptoms of eating disorders, but also influences disordered eating in clinical samples indirectly via negative affect (depression and anxiety). The aim of the current work was to establish if alexithymia predicts disordered eating in a non-clinical sample directly and indirectly (via negative affect). Methods: A sample of healthy females (n = 248) completed measures of depression, anxiety, alexithymia, and disordered eating (drive for thinness, bulimia, and body dissatisfaction). Bias-corrected bootstrapping was used to conduct parallel mediation analyses to determine if negative affect (depression and anxiety) mediated the influence of alexithymia on disordered eating. Results: The relationship between alexithymia (difficulty identifying feelings) and drive for thinness was mediated by depression but not anxiety. The link between difficulty identifying feelings and bulimia was mediated by anxiety but not depression. The correlation between alexithymia (difficulty describing feelings) and body dissatisfaction was mediated by both depression and anxiety. However, after controlling for negative affect, difficulty identifying feelings remained an independent predictor of drive for thinness, and difficulty describing feelings remained an independent predictor of body dissatisfaction. Conclusion: Facets of alexithymia (DIF and DDF) directly predict disordered eating in healthy participants as well as indirectly via depression and anxiety. These findings suggest that targeted interventions to improve the ability of individuals to identify and describe their feelings could be beneficial in reducing disordered eating, particularly in those “at risk” of developing eating disorders.
Original languageEnglish
Article number994024
Number of pages12
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Early online date24 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 24 Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

© 2022 Wallis and Ridout. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.


  • Psychiatry
  • emotional awareness
  • affect
  • eating disorders
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • mediation


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