If you or someone you know is experiencing an eating disorder, get help from a Nashville trauma therapist as soon as possible. There are scientific studies that link eating disorders to trauma, and for treatment to be effective, both conditions may need to be addressed.
Common Eating Disorders
Eating disorders, or ED, are serious mental conditions that affect an individual’s relationship with food. Those who suffer from ED may have thoughts and beliefs about food and eating that lead to harmful behaviors, such as severely restricting their food intake, purging, and eating uncontrollably.
The most common eating disorders include:
ED can be fatal. Up to 20% of sufferers who have not received treatment die from the condition. With treatment, the fatality rate drops to about 2% to 3%. In the United States, at least 30 million people are known to suffer from ED, and while the disease can afflict both men and women, about 80% to 85% of sufferers are female.
Eating disorders often come with other mental health conditions, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety disorder, depression and substance abuse.
ED and Trauma
While the causes of ED are not clear, studies have established a correlation between these conditions and trauma. In one research, it was found that about 30% of subjects with ED have experienced sexual abuse in childhood.
Sexual abuse, however, is not the only form of victimization that can lead to trauma. Other negative childhood experiences, such as physical or emotional abuse, bullying and neglect, can also result in developmental trauma. Certain experiences may also trigger trauma regardless of the person’s age, including accidents, serving in combat and natural disasters.
When we have support and resources around us that we utilize when we experience a trauma, most of us are able to go on with our lives without long-lasting mental health concerns. However, a good number develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD), with about 6.4% of those affected exhibiting lifetime prevalence. In many cases, PTSD and ED, particularly ED with symptoms of bingeing and purging, occur at the same time.
The Effects of Abuse
It’s believed that ED symptoms are consistent with the behavior of those who suffered emotional abuse in childhood. Abuse can result in a negative self-image, with the sufferer believing they are unlovable. The experience can lead them to struggle with their emotions and relationships, manifesting in chaotic behaviors to maintain both.
Sufferers may also be detached from their emotions and relationships, causing them to believe they need to change their body shape to protect themselves from harm. When bingeing and purging give them relief from intense PTSD symptoms, these negative behaviors are reinforced.
Treatments for ED and PTSD
If a person suffers from both ED and PTSD, both conditions must be addressed with complementary treatments. Treating ED requires the cooperation of the patient, but their mental health condition may prevent them from trusting their caregivers and following instructions. Fortunately, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been found to be effective in treating both ED and PTSD. It’s also suggested that you have a nutritionist on your care team that is highly versed in eating disorders that will help you create a healthy relationship with food again and not perpetuate the anxiety around food that is already there. Intuitive Eating is a great approach that helps one view nutrition and eating as a mind/body way of healthy eating.
A trauma therapist may also recommend other evidence-based therapies to address the trauma attached to the ED, including Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Animal Assisted Psychotherapy, and Trauma Sensitive Yoga, among others.
Helping an ED Sufferer
It’s not easy to convince someone suffering from an eating disorder to get help. Understanding the condition is the first step. With understanding comes empathy, and empathetic acts are often the best way to reach out to a person in need and encourage them to get help.
PTSD and Eating Disorders, VeryWellMind.com
The Influence of Trauma and Abuse on Eating Disorders, VeryWellMind.com
Helping Someone with an Eating Disorder, HelpGuide.org
Intuitive Eating, IntuitiveEating.org