Dealing with Trauma in Eating Disorder Recovery


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5 MIN READ People with an eating disorder often have more than their ED alone to overcome. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, one study found that 97 percent of individuals hospitalized for ED had at least one other co-occurring condition. Of those with co-occurring conditions, 22 percent also had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Another clinical study revealed that 70 percent of women diagnosed with an eating disorder were exposed to a traumatic event in their life. 50 percent of these women reported symptoms that met the criteria for PTSD. Additionally, a research overview by the Society for the Advancement of Psychotherapy discovered that clients with an eating disorder are four times more likely to have a PTSD diagnosis than the general population.

Surviving trauma affects people in a range of ways, leaving severe lasting effects. The comorbidity between trauma and the development of an eating disorder is important to look at. Dealing with trauma in eating disorder recovery is necessary to provide the individual with the greatest likelihood of lasting results.

Thankfully, some facilities recognize the intricacies that come with treating people who have an eating disorder and a history of trauma. How can individuals in recovery for an eating disorder find the trauma-informed care they need?

How Does Trauma Lead to an Eating Disorder?

A traumatic event is any event that causes physical, emotional, or psychological harm to an individual. Traumatic events include a wide range of experiences such as surviving an assault, living through abuse or neglect, or being involved in war combat. Severe medical complications, natural disasters, or even witnessing a traumatic event qualifies as trauma.

Many people are left with residual psychological effects after they experience or witness a traumatic event. Sometimes these effects resolve themselves after a while, but other times they remain long after the event passes. Lasting effects can lead to poor performance at work or school, lost friendships or relationships, or even self-destructive behavior.

Additionally, traumatic experiences affect a person’s self-esteem and self-worth. Trauma affects their ability to tolerate or regulate severe emotions. Individuals who experience trauma are also more at risk of looking for areas they can control as a result of feeling little to no control in their lives.

One particular area they turn to for control is their eating. They may feel out of control in other areas, but they can regulate their eating behaviors. This search for control may lead to disordered eating behaviors that eventually progress into an eating disorder.

The Importance of Trauma-Informed Care

Survivors of traumatic events who are in treatment for an eating disorder benefit most from trauma-informed care. Their treatment must consider the relationship between their trauma and their disordered eating behaviors. Unless both are treated, their chances of relapsing increase significantly.

Trauma-informed care addresses both the trauma and the eating disorder. Effective treatment needs to evaluate the relationship between a person’s trauma and their ED diagnosis. Was their eating disorder present before the traumatic event occurred? Or did their disorder develop after they experienced the trauma?

For example, survivors of childhood abuse or sexual trauma develop extreme negative thoughts and beliefs about themselves. Their distorted self-image affects various aspects of their life as they grow up. Body image and weight are one particular area of focus and they may develop disordered eating behaviors as a coping mechanism.

Even if an eating disorder was present before a traumatic event, the event likely exacerbates the person’s disordered eating. Trauma-informed care looks at the relationship between a person’s trauma and their eating disorder. Oftentimes the two are interwoven and facilities cannot treat one aspect without looking at the other.

Finding an Understanding Treatment Program

If you struggle with an eating disorder and are a trauma survivor, you understand the intricacies from personal experience. Learning to handle and overcome your trauma is vital if you also want to overcome your eating disorder. How can you find an understanding treatment program that works with both your ED and your trauma?

First, recognize that you cannot treat one condition without treating the other. You must address both your trauma and your eating disorder together. Then you need to look for a facility that also understands the connection between these co-occurring conditions.

Selah House is an eating disorder treatment facility located in the beautiful countryside of Indiana. We offer a wide range of programs and services built to fit the needs of every person looking to overcome their disordered eating behaviors and any other co-occurring disorders. Selah House focuses on addressing not only your ED but the underlying factors that contribute to it.

We realize there is no one-size-fits-all model for treating eating disorders. Considering each person’s story is a necessity for effective treatment. Providing trauma-informed care is an integral part of the way we work with each individual at our facility.

Would you like to learn more about treatment at Selah House? We’re here to help with any questions or concerns you may have. Whether you’ve been through treatment before or this is your first time asking for help, Selah House is here. Get in touch with us today!

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