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What’s the Relationship Between Trauma and Eating Disorders?

Relationship Between Trauma and Eating Disorders

Among the psychiatric profession and the experts at most modern eating disorder treatment centers, there is a push to provide eating disorder treatment solutions which not only allow for short term eating disorder recovery but to provide a sustainable change in the lifestyles of the patients.  This often entails examining not only the symptoms of the eating disorder but also the underlying, contributing causes of the disorder.  A common impediment to sustainable eating disorder recovery is the existence of past trauma, which can trigger both the initial onset of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa and trigger relapse after eating disorder treatment has been completed.

What Is Trauma?

Trauma is any kind of distressing, fearful, violent, or emotional experience that affects a person negatively.  In the past it was commonly associated with soldiers who had been in combat, calling it “shell shock” or “battle fatigue.”  However, the psychological and psychiatric communities have come to understand that a wide range of experience can cause trauma, which can then develop into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Some examples (aside from combat) which can contribute to this in both the short- and long-term include:

  • A divorce or bad breakup (or witnessing your parents’ divorce)
  • Losing a job
  • Failing out of school
  • Being robbed or mugged
  • Being in a car accident
  • Witnessing a violent crime
  • Domestic or sexual abuse
  • Prolonged or severe illness (like cancer)

How Does Trauma Relate to Eating Disorder Recovery?

1. It’s a causative factor.

One of the most common contributing factors in people admitted to eating disorder treatment centers is the presence of past trauma.  It doesn’t need to be recent.  In most cases, childhood trauma is something the client has been dealing with for years, and one of the main starting points for a disorder which would require eating disorder treatment.

One frequent childhood trauma is “weight-shaming” at a young age.  If a person’s parents or friends say things like, “you should lose some weight, you’re getting fat” in a shameful way, this can lead to recurring body image issues.  These sensitivities regarding body weight and shape are almost always associated with the onset of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

2. Trauma treatment is part of an evidence-based treatment methodology.

In decades past, eating disorder recovery was mostly a combination of medication and psychiatric care, but in recent years eating disorder treatment centers tend to focus on evidence-based treatments.  This means a series of techniques that have been proven to work in scientific studies over the years.

Instead of the generalized talk therapy used for many mental health disorders, specialized techniques like Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) can be introduced.  CPT focuses on helping the client identify the traumatic experiences and the feelings that surround them which have contributed to the onset of the eating disorder.  Following that, through a back-and-forth with a trained therapist, the client can begin to modify their feelings and reactions to past trauma and understand how those feelings are negatively impacting their lives.

3. Trauma treatment helps a long-term recovery by avoiding triggers for relapse.

Left untreated, the negative thoughts and feelings that come with PTSD are powerful triggers for a relapse of the disordered behaviors that define eating disorders.  After completing a stint at an eating disorder treatment center, clients have to put the lessons they learn into practice in the “real world,” with all the stresses that daily life can entail.

If the symptoms of PTSD are not addressed, the chances for a sustainable recovery are lowered.  As noted above, past trauma is one of the most common contributing factors in the development of eating disorders in the first place, and also one of the most common relapse triggers.  BY engaging in evidence-based PTSD treatment methodologies, people in recovery can become fully recovered by removing a risk factor for relapse.

Find an Eating Disorder Recovery Center That Factors in Trauma Treatment

When you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, it may feel like there’s nothing you can do.  However, there are plenty of options for a full eating disorder recovery available online and locally.  It’s best to do your research to find a helpful facility that not only treats the symptoms of the eating disorder itself, but also the various underlying causes that can hamper a full recovery.

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