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Eating Disorders and Trauma

Approximately 7 million girls and women and 1 million boys and men in the United States have an eating disorder. But eating disorders are rarely about food — instead, they can be a reaction to unresolved trauma and trying to gain control over your life.

Scientific research has proven time and again that unresolved trauma often leads to the development of eating disorders. A 2012 study confirmed that one-third of women with bulimia, 20% with binge eating disorder, and nearly 12% with non-bulimia/non-binge eating disorders meet the criteria for lifetime post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

If you or a loved one has developed an eating disorder after a traumatic event, it’s important to get into treatment so you can learn how to get control of your life back in a healthy way.

Types of Trauma That Lead to Eating Disorders

There are many types of trauma that are linked to eating disorders, including neglect, sexual assault, sexual harassment, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and bullying. No one knows exactly why trauma leads to eating disorders but trauma can cause a disruption in the nervous system, which makes it hard to manage emotions.

Many people end up developing eating disorders as a way of managing these uncomfortable emotions. Sexual trauma can also cause body image issues and extensive self-criticism. Some survivors may feel like they need to be thin so they are no longer attractive, or gain weight for the same reason.

What Trauma and Eating Disorders Have in Common

Eating disorders can be a way to distance yourself from any disturbing thoughts, emotions, or memories connected to PTSD. Purging in particular can be a way to get rid of something unwanted, like a bad memory. For some, binging fills a void. We all know that purging or binging will not fix your unresolved trauma, but survivors often feel relief when they believe they have found a coping mechanism.

It is challenging for PTSD to be diagnosed with an eating disorder because there is currently no existing diagnosis of partial PTSD. Even though some symptoms may be present, no diagnosis can be given until all criteria are met. This often limits mental health professionals from drawing a line between the two.

Treatment for Trauma and Eating Disorders

If you suffer from an eating disorder and have a history of abuse, neglect, or other trauma, it’s important to get help for both issues. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most recognized and effective method for treating eating disorders because it focuses on changing thought patterns.

You should also speak to a therapist who treats eating disorders and PTSD who can address your needs. This therapy should include a nutritional plan to help your body heal as you learn to love it again. The overall goal is to resolve your ongoing trauma, so you can begin eating and living healthy again.

Having an eating disorder is a symptom of trauma that can take over your mind and body. The Guest House not only addresses trauma, but we offer a successful dual-diagnosis program to treat eating disorders and other issues. Each client is carefully evaluated to identify the right type of treatment, which may include individualized and group therapy, somatic therapy, equine therapy, cinema therapy, EMDR, CBT, DBT, and many others. Let us show you the path to a happier, healthier life. To learn more, call us today at (855) 483-7800.