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The Connection Between Trauma and Disordered Eating

Millions of Americans are affected by an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime. This dangerous, self-destructive behavior can have many root causes, but trauma is the most common. When you understand the connection between trauma and disordered eating, you can begin the healing process.

What Is an Eating Disorder?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), eating disorders are “serious, biologically influenced medical illnesses marked by severe disturbances to one’s eating behaviors.” Eating disorders are not the same as normal concerns about health, weight, and appearance. Instead, those who experience this condition will become fixated on these concerns. This fixation or obsession can be severe. Obsession with weight loss, body weight, shape, and food intake may all be signs of an eating disorder. NIMH also mentions that eating disorders are not a choice. They can affect a person’s mental and physical health. In the worst cases, they can become life-threatening.

Types of Eating Disorders

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) says that eating disorders “involve extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors involving weight and food.” Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and binge eating.

Anorexia Nervosa

According to SAMHSA, anorexia nervosa is “a condition where people avoid food, severely restrict food, or eat very small quantities of only certain foods.” Individuals who experience anorexia nervosa may weigh themselves repeatedly and still see themselves as overweight even when they are dangerously underweight. SAMHSA notes that anorexia nervosa can be fatal, with an extremely high mortality rate compared with other mental health disorders.

Bulimia Nervosa

Another common eating disorder is bulimia nervosa. This is a condition where people feel a loss of control over their eating. They will go through episodes of eating unusually high quantities of food (binge eating), followed by behavior that aims to compensate for the overeating in an effort to avoid weight gain.

SAMSHA says that some of these behaviors can include the “excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise, or a combination of these behaviors.” Unlike anorexia nervosa, people with bulimia nervosa may maintain a normal weight or even be overweight.

Binge Eating

Many people with eating disorders feel an extreme loss of control when it comes to eating. SAMHSA states binge eating is a condition where this loss of control meets “reoccurring episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food.” People with binge eating disorders will often become overweight or obese.

Eating Disorder Statistics and the COVID-19 Pandemic

According to the Federal Register, “Nearly one in 10 Americans are expected to develop an eating disorder in their lifetime.” Eating disorders can affect people of all different backgrounds and genders. In recent years, a surge in disordered eating has happened, coinciding with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Federal Register mentions a more than 70% spike in the volume of calls and chats to eating disorder hotlines since the pandemic started. The number of hospitalizations for eating disorders has also doubled during this same period.

Trauma and Disordered Eating

According to a 2022 study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, exposure to traumatic events “has been associated with later eating disorder symptoms.” Over the years, there have been a great number of studies that found a link between trauma and disordered eating. Many of these studies found links between disordered eating and child abuse, sexual assault, and combat in veteran populations. Others sought a connection between all different types of trauma and disordered eating.

Causes for the Link Between Trauma and Disordered Eating

A 2018 study in Women’s Health sought to find out why there was such a strong link between trauma and disordered eating. The study found the link between trauma and disordered eating could be broken down into three themes:

  • Negative affect and maladaptive thoughts due to trauma exposure can result in disordered eating.
  • Disordered eating can provide some short-term relief from trauma.
  • Disordered eating is a way of hiding. Individuals who experience this condition may use the eating disorder as a means to avoid unwanted attention from “potential and past perpetrators of trauma.”

Disordered eating can also be a way for one to reclaim some control over their life. After a traumatic event, it’s extremely common for individuals to feel like they no longer have power or sovereignty in their life.

Finding Help for Trauma and Disordered Eating

In order to begin your healing journey, it’s important to find treatment that addresses disordered eating as well as the underlying trauma that may have caused it. The Guest House is a trauma-informed recovery care center that understands the delicate nature of both conditions. Our goal is to help reverse the negative effects of disordered eating to help you re-discover a healthy relationship with food.

Therapies for Healing

In order to begin healing, it’s important to get to the root of the trauma that may have caused an eating disorder. Our therapies specialize in trauma-oriented care, helping you to restore the balance between your mental, physical, and emotional health.

Individual therapy, group therapy, and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you begin processing your trauma with individuals who will lend their support and encouragement. Therapies like meditation, yoga, and conscious connected breathwork can then help you go even deeper to heal your mind, body, and soul together.

The Guest House offers an unparalleled blend of traditional care and holistic therapies. Every individual comes to our program with their own set of unique circumstances and needs. Our wide variety of healing modalities will help you discover the tools that work best for you and your personal journey.

A significant amount of research has been conducted over the years that found a strong link between trauma and disordered eating. Eating disorders may be a way for individuals to cope with their emotions or regain a sense of control after experiencing trauma. At The Guest House, we offer trauma-focused care that allows you to heal both trauma and disordered eating in the best way possible for your unique needs. Our traditional modalities are blended with holistic therapies that will help you heal your mind, body, and soul together. At The Guest House, you will re-discover a relationship with yourself and find joy in life once again. Call us today at (855) 483-7800.