The famously tragic story of singer Karen Carpenter brought eating disorders to the attention of mainstream America. After her death in 1983, more attention was paid to the primarily young girls who literally starved themselves into poor health and even death. Now, it is widely understood that anyone with an eating disorder is in need of help and support.
Discovering the “why” behind eating disorders has been a long journey that still has not reached an end. It is proven to be a far more complicated problem than many initially thought. Now, a number of studies have confirmed a link between eating disorders and trauma for a surprisingly large number of people.
Food is Seldom the Problem
When someone develops abnormal eating habits, the root cause is seldom about a dislike of food or eating. Instead, the eating problem has become a means of coping with another deeply buried issue.
No two cases are identical, but researchers have found that unresolved trauma is involved for a large number of individuals suffering from eating disorders. When the root cause of an eating disorder remains untreated, a person is at risk of developing further psychological and physical problems.
Binge Eating, Anorexia and Bulimia
Someone with an eating disorder will typically follow one of three patterns.
Anorexia Nervosa: People with this disorder are unnaturally fearful of becoming fat. They do not look at their bodies objectively but consider themselves “fat” even if they are actually dramatically underweight. They restrict their calorie intake to far less than is needed to remain healthy (the lettuce leaf diet).
Bulimia Nervosa: People with this common disorder will binge eat and then make themselves vomit. They may also overuse or misuse laxatives or use other extreme measures to avoid gaining weight at all costs.
Binge-eating Disorder: This is a milder, although still dangerous, form of bulimia. They will not resort to extreme vomiting, use of laxatives and other compensatory actions.
The Link Between an Eating Disorder and Traumas
Studies have linked unresolved traumas to as many as half of those with bulimia or binge eating disorders. Traumas has also been identified as the probable root causes of their eating disorder for a smaller percentage of anorexics. Traumas are not the root cause of every eating disorder but should always be considered as an important – perhaps the most important – factor.
Other possible root causes of an eating disorder include self-esteem issues, childhood sexual abuse, picky eating habits, gastrointestinal problems and irrational worries about weight.
The Link May Be Stronger Than Reported
The percentages of people with an eating disorder who were also diagnosed with trauma or symptoms of post-traumatic stress (PTSD) vary from study to study, ranging from fewer than 5% to over 50%. It is possible that the reason for such a great variance could be how traumas are diagnosed. If someone met some, but not all, of the criteria for PTSD, for example, they would be considered as not having PTSD.
However, it is not so obvious with people. Just because a particular diagnostician did not check all the boxes for a formal PTSD diagnosis does not mean that someone is not suffering from the after-effects of a traumatic experience.
People develop their own unique coping mechanisms. Some will develop an eating disorder. One researcher speculated that if a partial PTSD diagnosis could be considered, the link between bulimia, binge eating, anorexia and unresolved traumas or PTSD would be even stronger than the studies indicate.
The Bottom Line
If you have PTSD or other symptoms resulting from a traumatic experience and also have an eating disorder, you need help with both. You may have developed the eating disorder because of the trauma, so you need to deal with the root cause first. Otherwise, it will continue to affect your behavior, dreams and relationships.
Accelerated Resolution Therapy® (ART) is a novel, evidence-based psychotherapy that initially focused on treating veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress (PTSD). Over time, ART’s success at helping veterans led to the application of the treatment for other trauma-related issues. If you have been struggling with an eating disorder, the root cause could be a traumatic experience in the past.
You do not have to worry about committing to a year or two of therapy or many thousands of dollars. Most people find significant relief in one to five sessions or less. The research shows four being the average. Take a look at the research.
Contact Accelerated Resolution Therapy Training and Research today to learn more about finding relief from your eating disorder and to find a clinician near you.