Understanding eating disorders: Exploring the impact of self-esteem, emotional intelligence and health literacy on disordered eating attitudes and behaviours

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The aim of this research is to explore the factors that are involved in the development and maintenance of disordered eating attitudes and behaviours. While major strides in research have provided an understanding into the complexity of these disorders, considerable gaps remain with little evidence existing for the effective prevention and treatment of these disorders. The theories of self-esteem, emotional intelligence and health literacy are considered as central themes to understanding the onset and maintenance of these disorders. This study aims to explore these onset and maintenance variables using a mixed methods sequential design. Phase one used a qualitative design conducting a series of semi-structured interviews, focus groups and personal narrative to explore the experiences of individuals with personal or professional experience of eating disorders (n=32). Phase two used a quantitative design to statistically test and model the findings within a large general sample (n=435). The results from this study provide an in-depth qualitative and quantitative exploration of the variables which motivate and maintain disordered eating. These results provide insights into the unique barriers and risk factors which are associated with disordered eating. The results indicate these three variables have considerable impact on the onset and maintenance of disordered eating, with interactions occurring between these variables, suggesting unique pathways towards clinical risk of eating disorder development. This indicates the need to develop holistic interventions that help target programs towards the barriers and factors which maintain an eating disorder. This study provides a unique contribution to the field of eating disorders as it offers new insights into the impact of low self-esteem, emotional intelligence and health literacy as key variables within disordered eating onset and maintenance. It is envisaged that the findings of this study can be used to inform and further develop intervention areas to promote positive, and timelier, interventions.
Date of Award2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Ulster
SupervisorDiane Hazlett (Supervisor) & Pauline Irving (Supervisor)

Cite this