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Is Unresolved Trauma Preventing a Full Eating Disorder Recovery?

There is a strong correlation between trauma and eating disorders. A number of studies have shown that people who struggle with eating disorders have a higher incidence of neglect and physical, emotional and sexual abuse. In particular, binge eating disorder is associated with emotional abuse while sexual abuse has been linked to eating disorders in males.

So what constitutes trauma?

Trauma comes in many forms, including childhood abuse or neglect, growing up in an alcoholic or dysfunctional home, environmental catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina, a serious accident, loss of a loved one, and violent attacks such as rape and sexual assault. What all of these experiences have in common is that they leave the individual feeling helpless and out of control.

Trauma isn’t the same as having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a specific diagnosis with distinct criteria, involving a serious or life-threatening experience that results in nightmares, flashbacks, attempts to avoid situations similar to those that led to the trauma and a hyperactive startle response, among other symptoms.

3 Comments to
Is Unresolved Trauma Preventing a Full Eating Disorder Recovery?

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  1. This subject matter you would thing would be listed under the “everybody knows this” category. The fact that it isn’t is a testament to our dangerous lack of understanding of our minds and how that relates to the environment of our upbringing.

    It seems simplistic. We need nourishment (food), warmth (clothing), and emotional and physical security (shelter)to maintain emotional balance. When we satisfy one of these “needs” chemicals are released in out brain that make us feel all calm and fulfilled. When we can’t obtain one of those needs, we try to supplement by increasing indulgence in another of those needs. Security is rocked, we eat. Every funeral and wedding is supplemented with food. Doesn’t matter if we are happy, sad, or anxious, we use it as a means of reinforcing or supplementing our condition. I think a guy names Pavlov proved food can be a powerful behavioral conditioning tool. If our emotional and physical security are threatened, such as in rape, we often deny ourselves “reward”. Blaming ourselves for our lack of attentiveness. For all the same reasons some cut themselves people deny themselves food. It is all part of the same pathology.

    But, get a patient or parent who doesn’t understand what dysfunctional behaviors are, let alone willing to admit they are at fault for their own condition, well good luck with that. Everybody wants to blame their dysfunctions on things outside their control, thus absolving them of guilt and responsibility. Instead it must be such things as “genetics”, “chemical imbalances”, and/ or “big bones”. Who do you tell an entire culture “your parents where uniformed, because their parents were uniformed. Now you are misinforming your children.”

  2. I believe the trauma of losing a loved one can be eased a little if you know somebody else is going through the same thing. I thought I’d share this site for anyone who lost a loved one as it helped me once to get over the loss of someone really special to me.

  3. Great article. As a therapist who specializes in eating disorders, I have to say that 1/3 of my clients have been sexually abused. It’s difficult to treat on an outpatient basis because when the client starts processing the abuse, the eating disorder behaviors usually increase. It’s important to go slow and continue assess the appropriate level of care (outpatient vs. residential treatment).



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