We have long known that a correlation between trauma and eating disorders exists, and now the picture is becoming clearer and clearer according to “The Power of Treating Eating Disorders and Trauma Simultaneously” by Megan Ross, Director of Program Development and Trauma Awareness at Timberline Knolls Treatment Center (Eating Disorder Hope’s March 2015 Professional Newsletter).
There are two types of trauma: big “T” and little “t.” The former includes catastrophic events such as physical abuse or injury, sexual assault or abuse, or natural disasters. The latter are not so much about the severity of an occurrence, but about its painful, repetitive nature, like bullying and emotional abuse by parents or relatives. According to Ross, “Big ‘T’ trauma is more likely to be associated with bulimia, while little ‘t’ trauma is often associated with anorexia” and “the earlier the trauma occurs, the more intense the outcome. This is due to the state of the individual’s brain organization and development. Trauma of sexual nature is most apt to result in an eating disorder…due to the interpersonal nature of sexual trauma and it is particularly the case if the violation was at the hand of an authority figure or family member.”
The article makes an interesting point about somatic experiencing—due to fight-flight hormones, energy builds up in us when we’re threatened by abuse, especially when it is repeated. Particularly in traumatic situations, this tension is not released by the body and neutralized. It’s held in the body and often is dealt with by disordered eating behaviors like binge-eating, anorexia or bulimia. This is why, for so many troubled eaters, post-trauma depression and anxiety accompany their eating disorders: their bodies are still holding the tension from original trauma and it often must be released in order for them to move on in life and resolve their food dysfunctions.
If you suffered trauma in childhood—including bullying or parental (or other family member) emotional abuse—or later in life, and you have been unable to heal your eating problems, please consider speaking with a therapist. Facing the truth and acknowledging the hurt of what happened to you may be painful, but it will help you clear these issues once and for all and markedly reduce the pain you are suffering post-trauma and from disordered eating. Additionally, read my previous blog entitled “Choose the Meaning of Events, Even Traumatic Ones” to understand how you can decide as an adult what meaning to assign to traumatic events in your life in order to nullify their negative power over you and clear their memory.
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