Trauma and Eating Disorders

Research shows that most eating disorders rarely have to do with food and instead develop due to a number of different factors. For many people with bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa, traumatic experiences in life can trigger disordered behaviors like restricting their meals or binge eating. In fact, for many people, emotional abuse and eating disorders are linked. When mixed with high-stress levels and anxiety from a painful past experience, many individuals are also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD and eating disorders. While this can be a difficult time for anyone to navigate through, with the help of early intervention, patients of all ages have a much better chance of making a full recovery from their co-occurring disorders.

What Is PTSD?

PTSD is a very common psychological disorder that is characterized by severe to chronic levels of stress, fear and anxiety. These feelings are the result of a traumatic or disturbing past experience. PTSD patients may be dealing with recurrent flashbacks, intrusive thoughts nightmares and more negative experiences that are related to past traumatic experiences. When dealing with these painful emotions, an individual will often result in a disordered way of eating as a coping mechanism. Because of this, PTSD and anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa are often linked.

Causes of PTSD

To better understand the relationship between past trauma and eating disorder treatment, patients and their families must take a closer look at the causes of PTSD first. Any traumatic event that causes PTSD may be the result of a wide range of environmental, social or situational stressors, including:

  • Painful childhood experiences
  • Being hurt emotionally or physically
  • Experiencing or watching someone close go through a difficult or dangerous experience
  • Witnessing a loved one get hurt emotionally or physically
  • Being diagnosed with a substance abuse or psychological disorder
  • High levels of stress caused by environmental or social factors

PTSD Symptoms

Individuals diagnosed with PTSD may display any of the following symptoms:

  • Re-experiencing painful nightmares, flashbacks or intrusive thoughts stemming from a past event
  • Avoiding certain places, people or things that may lead to disturbing memories or thoughts
  • Distancing themselves from friends and family that may be connected to the past event
  • Feelings of intense stress or anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Questions their self-worth
  • Giving up previously enjoyed activities

PTSD and Eating Disorders

The National Institute of Mental Health has found that PTSD is prevalent in about 24 percent of eating disorder cases, confirming that these disorders often co-occur together. Whether a patient is dealing with the after-effects of sexual abuse and anorexia or emotional abuse and other common eating disorders like bulimia – the co-occurring disorders can result in feelings of defeat or helplessness. To cope with these negative feelings, those with PTSD may cope by restricting their caloric intake, binge eating and/or purging.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, many people who have been diagnosed with an eating disorder will exhibit a predisposition to stress that consumes them with negative thoughts and emotions surrounding their self-image. These obsessive thoughts can then lead to a loss of self-control and heightened levels of anxiety – both of which are found in PTSD patients.

Trauma and Eating Disorder Treatment

For those experiencing negative feelings as the result of past abuse and eating disorders, early intervention is extremely important. Treatment for both conditions is also vital for eating disorder and trauma recovery and should put emphasis on multiple components. Most importantly, treatment for past abuse and eating disorders should focus on education about the common symptoms involved in the co-occurring disorders, the best ways to identify personal triggers of these symptoms and positive coping skills to help manage symptoms.

Contact Oliver-Pyatt Centers Today

At the Oliver-Pyatt Centers, we place a much higher focus on providing both medical and psychiatric care to our patients than most other eating disorder treatment centers. Our cutting-edge approach to disordered behavior modification and recovery can help patients of all ages to discover their healthy self once again. Providing the highest level of care available outside of a hospital setting, we can help patients recover with thorough medical and psychiatric management.

For more information on the services provided at Oliver-Pyatt Centers or our affiliates, please contact our team today.