PTSD, Eating Disorders and Trauma

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a serious anxiety disorder that may occur as a result of an exposure to a traumatic event that results in psychological trauma.  Such traumatic events may include a history of physical, emotional or sexual abuse, an unexpected death of a loved one, terrorism or war-all which can overwhelm an individual’s ability to cope.

PTSD is known as a co-occurring disorder, which means that it may develop alongside another illness, such as substance abuse or an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – PTSD Signs and Symptoms

If you or a loved one is struggling with trauma or PTSD, you may experience the following signs and symptoms in a varying manner.

Signs and symptoms of PTSD can fall into three categories:

  • Reliving the event, which disrupts normal activity:  This includes flashback episodes, repeated nightmares or upsetting memories, and discomforting reactions to circumstances that bring about remembrance of the past trauma?
  • Avoidance:  This includes feeling emotionally detached or numb or avoidance of places or people that have correlations with the traumatic experience
  • Stimulation:  This includes being startled easily, having difficulty sleeping, or experiencing an exaggerated response to surprising events.

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What Causes Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The cause of PTSD is not completely understood, though it is thought that various components contribute to the risk of developing this disorder. These factors are psychological, physical, genetic, and social as well as having a history of trauma.  Research has also demonstrated that parental PTSD may play a part in the risk of the progression of this disorder.

Untreated PTSD can have damaging effects on the individuals’ ability to function, their relationships, and their role in society.  Additionally, PTSD can also have significant negative consequences on the sufferers’ social and emotional development as well as on their capacity to learn.  Moreover, people suffering from PTSD have a greater likelihood of developing an eating disorder.

Connection and Relationship between Eating Disorders and Trauma

Girl struggling with Eating Disorders and TraumaPTSD and eating disorders often co-occur, particularly as individuals suffering from an eating disorder usually report a history of trauma.  It is suggested that engagement in eating disorder behaviors may be a method of coping with the discomforting emotions and experiences correlated with PTSD.

Thus, the chances are great that an individual who has suffered traumatic events will develop an eating disorder as a means of controlling or coping with their circumstances.

Treatment for Eating Disorders and Trauma / PTSD

Since eating disorders may develop indirectly as a method of dealing with overwhelming tragedy or trauma, it is essential that both disorders be addressed simultaneously in treatment to resolve the underlying issues appropriately.

Effective treatments for both conditions would ideally occur under the care of experienced professionals in an accredited center for eating disorders and address the medical, nutritional, and therapeutic processes of care for these illnesses.  A comprehensive treatment plan for you or your loved one will allow the behaviors of both disorders to resolve more efficiently.

Articles on PTSD and Trauma

  • Individuals that struggle with eating disorders may develop an eating disorder as a way to cope with pain or emotional scarring. Understanding the source of this pain or trauma can, therefore, be the key needed to unlock the path to eating disorder recovery.

Last Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 2, 2017

Page last updated: April 2, 2017
Published on, Online Eating Disorder Resources