The relationship between trauma and eating disorders has been studied a great deal, and both are found to have a strong correlation to one another.
In fact, the U.S. National Comorbidity Survey-Replication Study found that “virtually all women and men with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder reported a history of at least one post-traumatic event .” This relationship has been found in children, adolescents, and adults, regardless of gender.
What is Trauma?
What constitutes “trauma” is often subjective and depends on the experience, the person, and their predisposition. An experience that may not affect one could floor another. Studies have found that childhood sexual abuse is the most common trauma associated with eating disorders, as well as “physical and emotional abuse, teasing and bullying, and parental break-up and loss of a family member .”
While all EDs have a high correlation to trauma, there seems to be a stronger relationship to binge/purge subtypes of EDs (bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder). Researchers posit that this may be an attempt to engage in self-soothing or tension-reducing behaviors .
People are also more likely to turn to EDs after experiencing one or more traumatic events if they have an avoidant coping style. This method of coping often involves one blaming themselves for their trauma and becoming overwhelmed with self-punishing thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors .
Additionally, the risk of experiencing both an eating disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) increases with lower social support .
Coping With Trauma
The strong relationship between traumatic experiences and development of EDs does not mean that one who experiences a traumatic event is tied to this fate. It is possible to survive and thrive after experiencing trauma and/or an ED.
When coping with a traumatic event and an ED, it can be easy to forget who you were before everything fell apart. Taking the time and energy to reconnect with yourself can make all the difference in recovery. Remember what you enjoyed doing, who you loved, what made your life worthwhile, and use it to overcome. Be it music, religion, or family, allow it to light your way out of the darkness.
As previously mentioned, social support is important. Surround yourself with a positive support system and engage with them often. You are not alone in your experiences of trauma or your ED, and finding a support group to help you with each can be a wonderful way to feel understood and safe while processing those difficult moments.
Hearing the success stories of those who have been where you are can be incredibly comforting and motivating. If you need a reminder that recovery is possible, read some inspiring stories of hope here.
We cannot help it when terrible things happen to us. It can be frustrating and isolating to have our lives up-ended without our consent and, in that challenging moment, we may not always cope in the best way possible. Be compassionate with yourself as you process your experiences and learn the best way to cope with them. It is admirable and courageous to fight for survival, and full recovery is possible.
About the Author: Margot Rittenhouse is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth. As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.
References:: Backholm, K., Isomaa, R. Birgegard, A. (2013). The prevalence and impact of trauma history in eating disorder patients. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 4.
: Tagay, S. et al. (2014). Eating disorders, trauma, ptsd, and psychosocial resources. Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention, 22:1, 33-49.
: Brewerton, T. (2016). Trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, and eating disorders. National Eating Disorders Association. Retrieved from: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/trauma-posttraumatic-stress-disorder-and-eating-disorders.
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.
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 May 26, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on May 26, 2017.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com