Finding Healing for the Deeply Wounded Eating Disorder Sufferer

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Article Contributed by Staff of The Meadows Ranch

Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder, are complex illnesses with severe consequences.

These disorders often develop as the result of a combination of factors, including biological components, environmental stressors, and psychosocial triggers.

Understanding the various factors that may have contributed to the development of an eating disorder can be helpful in addressing underlying issues during treatment, as well as more effectively facilitate the healing process.

The Connection between Trauma and Eating Disorders

The experience of trauma can also be a contributing factor to the development of eating disorders.

Research has found that having a history of a traumatic experience is linked to the severity of eating disorder symptoms, psychiatric comorbidity, negative self-image, and psychosocial impairment [1]. A traumatic event can be experienced in multiple forms, including:

  • Sexual abuse or assault
  • Emotional abuse
  • Psychological maltreatment
  • Abandonment or neglect
  • Bullying
  • Terrorism
  • War
  • Community-based violence
  • Physical abuse or assault
  • Victim or witness to domestic violence
  • Natural or man-made disasters
  • Grief or separation

It has also been identified that approximately 30 percent of eating disorder sufferers have experienced a traumatic event at some point in their lives [2]. Studies have found a statistically significant connection between individuals who suffer some form of trauma and the later development of an eating disorder [3].

It is hypothesized that eating disorder behaviors and associated symptomatology serve as a coping mechanism for the individual who has experienced trauma. Unaddressed trauma often results in psychological distress and uncomfortable feelings or effect.

Engaging in eating disorder behaviors, such as restricting intake, binging and/or purging can develop as an inadvertent way of numbing or relieving distress experienced from painful past events.

Many individuals who have a history of a traumatic event and who also struggle with an eating disorder, will maintain a recurrent cycle of destructive behaviors as a means of dissociating with psychological distress.

It is not uncommon for trauma sufferers to project feelings of guilt, shame, and regret on their own body. These feelings can trigger eating disorder behaviors, especially if not appropriately dealt with through healthy coping mechanisms.

For the eating disorder sufferer, it is imperative to determine if unresolved trauma may be a contributing factor to these mental illnesses. Addressing trauma through therapeutic measures in eating disorder treatment is necessary for improving recovery outcomes.

Forms of Therapy for Addressing Trauma

In order to provide maximum effectiveness, eating disorder treatment should be comprehensive, particularly for individuals who have also experienced trauma.

Because there is often a dissociation between body and mind because of trauma, psychotherapy work in eating disorder treatment can promote overall healing.

Some of the effective forms of psychotherapy for the experience of trauma in eating disorder recovery include Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Somatic Experiencing® (SE).

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

EMDR is an effective form of therapy for addressing trauma, in that allows an individual to reprocess the trauma experience in a more therapeutic manner.

Typically, when an individual has suffered a traumatic event, the information associated with the experience can be stored improperly in the brain, including related feelings, thoughts, body sensations, and sounds.

As a result, traumatic material that has not been processed therapeutically can serve as a developing factor for eating disorders.

A therapist specialized in EMDR therapy can support a person in effectively processing the trauma without having to re-experience the event itself.

Whereas eating disorder behaviors serve in dissociating a person from painful memories connected with trauma, EMDR assists an individual in developing new and safer associations between a traumatic incident and more adaptive information.

This can result in the elimination of emotional distress, as a person develops new associations that result in complete information processing of past trauma memories.

Decreasing emotional distress connected with trauma can be effective for reducing urges to engage in eating disorder behaviors, thereby allowing a person suffering to find healing and recovery.

Somatic Experiencing

SE is a form of alternative therapy aimed at relieving the symptoms of past trauma and other mental and physical trauma-related health problems. SE provides a gentler means of processing and overcoming unresolved symptoms related to trauma.

Woman sitting on rock ledge Healing from Body Dysmorphic DisorderSimilar to EMDR, SE works by helping an individual develop body awareness in order to negotiate a traumatic experience without having to relive the trauma itself.

SE operates on the premise that trauma occurs deep within the body and mind, and suppressed emotions from trauma can trigger broader issues, including physical symptoms and mental illnesses, such as eating disorders.

This body-focused modality promotes healing on an emotional and physical level by aiming to release buried emotions.

Trauma is thought to overpower regular responses to stressful states, making it difficult for a person to cope, or becoming reliant on maladaptive behaviors in an effort to manage psychological distress.

SE helps restore regular stress responses in the body by releasing stored emotions from trauma through a sensory focused treatment.

Addressing Trauma to Find Healing

EMDR and SE are effective forms of psychotherapy that can be integrated into eating disorder treatment to facilitate healing from trauma.

By addressing the underlying issues associated with traumatic experiences, a person will be less likely to rely on maladaptive coping mechanisms, including restricting intake, binging, purging, compulsive exercising and other destructive behaviors.

Therapy that is specifically targeted at addressing underlying trauma can be a powerful resource for resolving eating disorder symptomatology, ultimately, helping a sufferer find healing from the deepest wounds that may have been incurred from trauma.

EMDR and SE can be components of eating disorder treatment that specifically supports healing for a trauma sufferer.

Psychotherapy, when combined with other components of eating disorder treatment, such as medication management, nutrition therapy, and medical stabilization, can be an invaluable resource for the recovery process.

How The Meadows Ranch Can Help

If you or a loved one has suffered from an eating disorder and a history of trauma, it is important to know that there is hope for healing. The first step in the recovery journey is connecting with help.

Woman trying a knew hobbyAt The Meadows Ranch, we understand the comprehensive treatment that is needed for individuals to effectively heal from eating disorders and co-occurring conditions.

Our integrated trauma services specifically support individuals who may be suffering from chronic trauma symptoms along with an eating disorder.

By providing evidenced-based treatment in a nurturing atmosphere, our multidisciplinary treatment team is committed to helping you or your loved one on the road to recovery.

Connect with our admissions team today to learn more about our unique programs that can meet your individual needs.

Article Contributed by Staff of The Meadows Ranch:

For over 25 years, The Meadows Ranch has offered an unparalleled depth of care through its unique, comprehensive, and individualized program for treating eating disorders and co-occurring conditions affecting adolescent girls and women. Set on scenic ranch property in the healing landscape of Wickenburg, Arizona, The Meadows Ranch allows for seamless transitions between its structured multi-phase treatment. A world-class clinical team of industry experts leads the treatment approach designed to uncover and understand the “whys” of the eating disorder through a host of proven modalities. Providing individuals with tools to re-engage in a healthy relationship with food – and with themselves – disempowers eating disorders and empowers individuals with a renewed enthusiasm for life. Contact us today at 888-496-5498 and find out why The Meadows Ranch is the best choice for eating disorder treatment and recovery. For more information call 1-888-496-5498. or visit


[1]: Backholm, K., Isomaa, R., & Birgegård, A. (2013). The prevalence and impact of trauma history in eating disorder patients. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 4, 10.3402/ejpt.v4i0.22482.
[2]: Mirror Mirror Eating Disorder Help, “Abuse and Eating Disorders”, Accessed 6 December 2017
[3]: Psychiatric Times, “The Link Between PTSD and Eating Disorders”, Accessed 6 December 2017

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.

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

Published December 28, 2017
Recently Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on July 2, 2018
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