Trait emotional intelligence and eating problems in adults: associations with alexithymia and substance use

Roberta Biolcati, Giacomo Mancini, Federica Andrei, Elena Trombini


Background: Eating Disorders (EDs) often co-occur with substance use contributing to increasing concern about the individual’s health; both the conditions share several core features such as the tendency to use maladaptive emotion regulation strategies. The present study investigated associations between trait emotional intelligence (Trait EI), alexithymia and EDs, namely dieting, bulimia and oral control, in a nonclinical sample of adults. Moreover, the relationships with substance use frequencies were also examined with the aim of exploring the links between personality emotional competence traits (trait EI and alexithymia) and different addictive risk behaviours (EDs and substance use) in adulthood.

Methods: Data were collected from a convenience sample composed of 394 (312 women; between ages 18 and 65; mean age = 32.34; SD = 11.97) participants, through online administration of questionnaires assessing trait emotional intelligence (TEIQue-SF), eating problems (EAT-26), alexithymia (TAS-20) and frequency of substance use (in the last year).

Results: The group that exceeds the cut-off for EDs (n = 58; 14.7 %) has significantly lower trait EI scores (in all dimensions) and higher alexithymia scores than the other group. Some differences between the two groups were found on frequencies of nicotine and diuretics use. Age and all trait EI factors were negatively associated with eating disorders and alexithymia. Weak inverse correlations have emerged between EI and frequencies of substance use (namely cocaine, amphetamines, alcohol and tobacco). Female gender, well-being and self-control factors of EI emerged as significant predictors of EDs in adulthood.

Conclusions: Our results suggest the importance of targeting emotion dysregulation for EDs and substance use behaviours. Interventions aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles could benefit from trait EI enhancement efforts. Practitioners and health educators need to recognize the potential efficacy of including trait EI within gender specific interventions planned to address ED symptoms and addictive behaviours in general.


Eating disorders; Trait Emotional Intelligence; Alexithymia; Substance use.

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