Attachment anxiety, disinhibited eating and body mass index in adulthood

LL Wilkinson, AC Rowe, RJ Bishop, JM Brunstrom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Disinhibited eating is related to a higher body mass index (BMI). Therefore, understanding the aetiology of disinhibited eating should be given a high priority. Other ‘disinhibited behaviours’ (e.g., alcohol consumption, substance abuse, or sexual promiscuity) have been associated with an ‘insecure attachment orientation’. Attachment orientation is a self-constructed model of personal relationships that is developed in response to early-life interactions with caregivers. Importantly, measures of attachment remain highly stable throughout adulthood. Participants (N = 200, females N = 135, BMI range 17.4–41.1) completed a measure of disinhibited eating and measures of attachment orientation (attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance—high scores indicate insecurity). Attachment anxiety (but not attachment avoidance), disinhibited eating, and BMI were significantly correlated with each other. Therefore, mediation analysis was conducted. Disinhibited eating was a significant mediator of the relationship between attachment anxiety and BMI (p = .02). In conclusion, our data indicate that attachment anxiety (a personality trait) promotes disinhibited eating and, through this relationship, a higher BMI. Our interpretation is that attachment anxious individuals are, by overeating, engaging in ‘external affect regulation’ (using particular activities to alter emotions—to soothe, distract or excite). Thus, disinhibited eating may be part of a more general ‘affect regulation’ strategy, which allows individuals to alleviate the anxiety associated with poor interpersonal attachments.
Translated title of the contributionAttachment anxiety, disinhibited eating and body mass index in adulthood
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)543 - 543
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2011

Bibliographical note

Name and Venue of Conference: British Feeding and Drinking Group, University of Maastricht

Structured keywords

  • Brain and Behaviour
  • Cognitive Science
  • Social Cognition
  • Nutrition and Behaviour


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