PTSD and Eating Disorders

PTSD and Eating DisordersPost-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is caused by exposure to a traumatic event and results in recurrent or interfering recollections of the event. These recollections can occur in the form of dreams or flashbacks, and cause intense amounts of physical and psychological stress. Any traumatic event can lead to PTSD, but it is especially common in the cases of physical or sexual abuse. When left untreated, co-occurring mental illnesses often develop.

According to the 1999 National Women’s Study, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), PTSD has been linked to an increased risk for the development of eating disorders, particularly bulimia nervosa. Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by frequent cycles of binging and compensatory behavior. People who suffer with bulimia nervosa may choose to compensate for a binge through purging, excessive exercise, laxatives, or food restriction. This study found that physical and sexual assault in women were linked with a significantly higher lifetime prevalence rate of bulimia nervosa, at about 37 percent. One of the main factors connecting the two disorders is the need to gain and maintain control.

Control and Eating Disorders

Eating disorders tend to be an outward physical expression of emotional pain and chaos. Often, eating disorders arise from a loss of control over life’s situations. A large proportion of people with these disorders have experienced some event or situation that made them feel a loss of control. Eating disorders serve as an outlet to deal with these situations in a way that may seem less emotionally demanding.

Those with eating disorders tend to be preoccupied with food, weight, and consumption rituals. These things are constantly on the mind, serving as a distraction from those feelings they are trying to avoid dealing with. Instead of confronting the trauma, those with eating disorders can focus on emotionally detached details, such as calorie counts or numbers on a scale. If they eat too much, they may choose to take control by purging or restricting. The ability to avoid unpleasant thoughts in this way can be one of the ways they find control over their life.

Initially, these behaviors are used as a way to emotionally detach from situations that are overwhelming. The start of an eating disorder can be hard to recognize, as these thoughts and habits do not always seem distressing. Counting calories may begin in a healthy way, and many people can justify stepping on the scale once a day. However, the control found in behaviors like these can lead to an eating disorder that is detrimental to both physical and psychological health. In the end, an eating disorder can produce emotions that may be just as difficult to confront as the trauma that initiated those behaviors.

Get Help for PTSD or Eating Disorders

If you or someone you know suffers from PTSD or an eating disorder, it is important to get advice about appropriate treatment services. For those with co-occurring mental disorders, treatment is essential in reclaiming a happy and fulfilling life. Please call our toll free number today. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to answer any questions you might have about PTSD or eating disorder treatment.