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Consuming Your Feelings: The Mechanisms Underpinning Emotional Eating / Aimee E. Pink
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DOI (Published version): 10.23889/Suthesis.50331
Obesity continues to have a huge impact on society, with emotional eating considered to be one of many driving factors. Consequently, the overarching aim of this thesis is to investigate the mechanisms underpinning emotional eating, paying specific attention to the role of emotional dysregulation. E...
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Obesity continues to have a huge impact on society, with emotional eating considered to be one of many driving factors. Consequently, the overarching aim of this thesis is to investigate the mechanisms underpinning emotional eating, paying specific attention to the role of emotional dysregulation. Emotional dysregulation involves a combination of emotional vulnerability and an inability to regulate emotional responses which can lead to the adoption of maladaptive coping strategies, including emotional eating. However, emotional dysregulation also encompasses many of the features characteristic of alexithymia, including difficulty identifying and describing feelings. As a result, and in order to further elucidate the complex mechanisms underpinning emotional eating, alexithymia is used as a correlate of emotional dysregulation in this thesis. In addition, as alexithymia has been related to both impulsiveness and negative affect, and that emotional eating is grounded in the idea that the consumption of food follows an emotional experience, negative urgency and negative affect will also be explored as key constructs. Chapter One reviews the current literature on emotional eating, alexithymia, impulsivity and negative affect. It also sets out the aims and objectives of this thesis, putting forward a novel theoretical model to examine the influence of emotional dysregulation on emotional eating, and in turn, body mass index. Chapter Two presents the results of two studies (an exploratory analysis in a student sample and a self-replication in a more representative general population sample) examining the factors mediating the relationship between emotional dysregulation, emotional eating, and body mass index. In addition to significant associations between emotional dysregulation and emotional eating in the student sample, negative affect and negative urgency were found to mediate the relationship between alexithymia and emotional eating. However, even though significant associations between emotional dysregulation and emotional eating were confirmed in the general population sample, different pathways emerged. Specifically, negative affect was the only significant mediator between alexithymia and emotional eating. Chapters Three and Four focus on whether simulating emotional dysregulation in an experimental setting directly affects food intake. Specifically, a novel method of inducing emotional confusion as an analogue of alexithymia is developed and piloted in Chapter Three, followed by a fully powered mood manipulation study in Chapter Four to assess food intake following the induction of positive, negative and emotionally confusing mood states. Compared to a control condition, food intake did not differ significantly across experimental mood conditions. Finally, in Chapter Five, the initial theoretical model described at the end of Chapter One is extended to include interoceptive awareness and feeling fat. Here, the ability to trust bodily sensations and the experience of feeling fat was found to significantly mediate the relationship between emotional dysregulation and emotional eating. The model is also extended to include negative urgency, with increased levels of alexithymia related to a reduction in trusting bodily sensations, which in turn increases the tendency to experience sensations of feeling fat, followed by reacting rashly to alleviate the associated feelings (negative urgency), and therefore, an increased propensity to engage in emotional eating. Overall, the research presented in this thesis takes the first steps in developing an inclusive theoretical model of emotional eating. Whilst the precise nature in which emotional dysregulation influences emotional eating remains unclear, the results of this thesis nevertheless supports the role of emotional dysregulation and has important implications for the development of interventions to aid weight loss/management.
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College of Human and Health Sciences