Alexithymia in Eating Disorders: Systematic review and meta-analyses of studies using the Toronto Alexithymia Scale. Westwood,H., Kerr-Gaffney, J., Stahl, D., & Tchanturia, K. (2017). Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 99, 66-81.
Alexithymia literally means “no words for mood” or difficulty with identifying and articulating internal states. Over the years this trait/characteristic has been implicated in the development and maintenance of eating disorders and has been shown be a negative predictor of treatment outcome.
The current study utilizes PRIMSA and Cochrane strategies to do a Meta-Analysis on the existing literature related to his concept as measured by the Toronto Alexithymia Scale. 44 studies were included in the Meta-Analysis, separated into ANR, ANBP, BN and BED. For all groups, there were significant differences with medium or large effect sizes between the clinical groups and healthy controls. The authors conclude: “Across the spectrum of eating disorders, Individuals report having difficulties recognizing or describing their emotions. Further research to develop and evaluate treatments for alexithymia are warranted”.
Why is this important?
Alexithymia continues to be an important risk factor for eating disorders and definitive treatments have not been established. Clinical papers have recommended a variety of forms of therapies including Journaling, reading novels, experiential/expressive techniques and skill based psychotherapies that focus on mindfulness training to treat the difficulty. Furthermore, the Toronto Alexithymia Scale appears to be an efficient way to measure the concept. The TSA-20 is a brief (20 questions) measure yielding a total score as well as subscales that include: difficulty identifying feelings(DIF), difficulty describing feelings (DDF) and externally oriented thinking (EOT).