Complex-PTSD, Eating Disorders, and the Role EMDR Plays.

Nature Forest with Sunlight and Moss on Ground

Recovering from an eating disorder is deeper than just an individual’s relationship with food and body image. The relationship with food is often just the observable symptom of the individual’s suffering. It is extremely important to continue casting light on the relevance of trauma/Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in eating disorders. This connection highlights the crucial role that Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy can play in the recovery process.

What is C-PTSD

Now not everyone with PTSD will manifest an eating disorder, but there is a strong connection between Complex-PTSD (C-PTSD) and eating disorders. This form of PTSD is just as it is named. It’s more complex because it’s not from a single event or a small number of adverse events.

As Franco (2018) [1] states, C-PTSD is the result of long term abuse in a one-sided relationship such as child-parent, and the said events usually occur throughout childhood. Such events that take place in crucial times of development manifest complex symptoms that alter one’s identity and manifest significant dysfunction.

According to Franco (2018), the most common symptoms associated with C-PTSD, are deeply rooted in negative self-evaluation and self-image, as well as the inability to cope safely with strong emotions. This highlights how C-PTSD can result in an individual manifesting an eating disorder.

It is important to be mindful of the common purpose of eating disorder behaviors. They often serve as a way for the individual to cope.

Woman dealing with Self-harm in EMDR treatmentRegaining a sense of control is highly prevalent in individuals with C-PTSD due to the extensive timespan of the trauma throughout their life. The action of asserting control over one’s body, through restriction and purging, serves as a way for the individual to feel this desired sense of control.

As noted before, individuals with C-PTSD struggle with emotional regulation. Franco (2018) highlights how this significantly connects eating disorders to this diagnosis:

“the danger of falling into eating disorders is even greater…people suffering from C-PTSD typically have difficulty with ‘affect regulation,’ or managing strong emotions. Life for a sufferer from C-PTSD is an emotional rollercoaster with frequent and often unpredictable triggers sending him or her into extremes of anger or sadness. The urge to self-medicate is, therefore, very strong, and often uninhibited by the sort of ‘common sense’ instinct to hold back.”

Eating disorder behaviors such as restriction, purging, and binge eating serve as a numbing agent to these severe emotional responses. Individuals can often believe that these behaviors are the only thing that keeps them from falling apart completely, and this fear can paralyze progress in recovery.

The Role of EMDR

There are multiple ways to work with individuals with eating disorders and C-PTSD. However, the complexity of the two diagnoses poses significant barriers, and this is why EMDR is a helpful modality in treatment.

African American Woman thinking how Eating Disorders are Color BlindThe long-term trauma of C-PTSD significantly inhibits an individual’s functioning and dysfunctionally alters how memories are stored, resulting in deeply rooted negative beliefs about one’s self. EMDR specifically targets these negative beliefs that formed in response to the trauma, and this form of therapy is highly sensitive to the barriers one experiences in treatment.

The individual is not expected to recall events in detail or chronological order. In fact, EMDR puts the sufferer in the driver’s seat. The eight-phase protocol of EMDR is highly attuned to the significant need to create safety and prepare the individual enough before beginning the trauma work. EMDR utilizes one’s innate capability to heal through the activation of memory networks in the brain with dual-attention to the present moment.

Again not every individual with C-PTSD will develop an eating disorder. However, the connection between the two diagnoses is high. It is important to have trauma-focused centered care when treating individuals with either or both diagnoses, and EMDR is a great option as it can act as complete psychotherapy.


[1] Franco, F. (2018, October 08). C-PTSD and Eating Disorders. Retrieved October 16, 2020, from

About the Author:

Jessica Boghosian ImageJessica Boghosian, ACSW, is a Registered Associate Clinical Social Worker and a Clinical Therapist at Bright Road Recovery in Claremont, CA. She lives for the present moment and shares her warmth and joy at every chance she gets. Jessica currently works with individuals with eating disorders at various levels of care, including Residential, Partial Hospitalization, Intensive Outpatient, and Outpatient. She also works with individuals with other mental health diagnoses at an outpatient level of care.

She holds a Master’s in Social Work from the University of New England and is currently working towards licensure. Jessica’s love for her work with patients at Bright Road Recovery is clear to see. She aims to meet each patient where they are at and walks beside them in their journey to recovery. Jessica honors each patient’s individual journey and dedicates herself to increasing their love of life and themselves.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published October 29, 2020, on
Reviewed & Approved on October 29, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.