Eating Disorders, Trauma & Mindfulness

Contributor: This article was written by the Castlewood Treatment Team.

Portrait of a young attractive woman laughingTrauma histories and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) are often correlated with individuals who struggle with Eating Disorders.

The National Women’s Study found that 54% of a non-clinical, representative sample of women in the U.S. with eating disorder trauma had lifetime histories of a major crime victim event; such as rape, molestation and/or aggravated assault.

In the more recent, National Comorbidity Replication Survey, 100% of men and women with bulimia nervosa (BN) reported a major traumatic event, most of which was of an interpersonal nature, and 45% of both women and men with BN had lifetime PTSD.1

Assessment and Treatment for Trauma

With such a high incidence of co-morbidity it is essential that Eating Disorder treatment include assessment and treatment for trauma, as well as an understanding of how trauma affects the sufferer. Those who suffer with both Eating Disorders and PTSD can struggle with intense feelings of shame and self-criticism.

Often trauma survivors blame themselves for abuse they have experienced, or for the traumatic events, adopting a sense of failure to earn the love and approval of others. Also, individuals who experience excessive criticism, repeated insults, physical or sexual abuse may come to develop a similarly critical view of themselves.

This shame and self-hate may be directed toward the body as a way of making sense out of the traumatic event or to create a sense of control. Some sufferers may project blame or anger onto the body, thus exacerbating Eating Disorder behaviors, self-harm behaviors or negative body image.

Overwhelming External and Internal Resources

walkTraumatic experiences overwhelm an individual’s internal (neurobiological) and external (psychosocial) resources, and can be a trigger for the onset of an eating disorder. There have been numerous studies about the relationship between ED’s and PTSD, but the most recent wave of interest and demonstrated effectiveness of mindfulness practices has begun to garner new attention.

Simply defined, mindfulness is the act of focusing awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting bodily sensations, feelings and thoughts.

Mindfulness is similar to meditation, except that instead of pulling away from outside stimulus and quieting the mind; Mindfulness asks that a person acknowledge what they are experiencing physically, mentally and emotionally, openly and without judgment.

Confronting the Emotions of Trauma

This can be particularly helpful for trauma survivors in how the practice prompts facing and acknowledging emotions and experiences that have become buried or hidden by dysfunctional behavior.

While it may seem counterintuitive for someone who has experienced trauma to confront the emotions associated with their experience, by carefully bringing the trauma into awareness, there is the potential to eventually change one’s relationship to it.

The Goal of Working Through Trauma

closeup portrait of cute young woman in the parkThe goal of working through trauma in therapy is to arrive at a nonjudgmental awareness, so that the emotional reaction from the trauma memory is no longer overwhelming.

Mindfulness is essentially the core skill of Dialectic Behavior Therapy, and applied in the lives of individuals with eating disorders and trauma survivors, can promote a non-reactivity to disruptive thoughts and emotions.

Mindfulness is also incorporated into other treatment approaches such as EMDR, Exposure and Response Prevention and Internal Family Systems Therapy.

Accepting Their Authentic Self

By operating without judgment of thoughts, feelings and sensations, a person can begin to accept their authentic Self. Being centered, the true Self, promotes acting and making decisions more effectively and creatively. Mindfulness encourages people to meet each moment of life as it is, not as one would have it be ideally.

Everyone has this capacity, but trauma and resulting coping mechanisms such as eating disorder behaviors block access to this capacity.

Many who struggle with eating disorders and past histories of trauma need to learn skills and develop basic capacities that have been missing or replaced with negative coping mechanisms. Developing practices of grounding and mindfulness help individuals to better alleviate stress and anxiety and are healthy tools for emotional regulation.

Mindful Awareness and Mindful Eating

smartphone-381237_640Mindful awareness and mindful eating are also helpful for individuals who struggle with eating disorders and trauma. Being in tune with how one feels and having an awareness of what is going on inside one’s body can provide groundwork for experiencing a healthy relationship with food and eating.

Self-care and mindful eating develops consideration for all the extraordinary things the body can do.

Mindfulness is a large part of body based and creative arts therapies as well because they incorporate awareness of the body’s functions and feelings. With practices such as yoga, drama therapy, dance therapy, meditation and mindfulness, individuals learn to understand and trust the messages of their own body and focus on inner qualities and strengths.

If you or someone you love has struggled with trauma and an Eating Disorder, or you have any questions about mindfulness practices, take the time to reach out. The first step is always the hardest, but it is possible to change and learn new strategies which will provide effective solutions for the future.


Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

How do you practice mindfulness in your eating disorder recovery?


  1. Trauma and Eating Disorders: Updates & Advances in Managing the Complex Comorbidity. (2012, April 13). Retrieved February 18, 2015, from

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.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on February 21st, 2015
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