Link Between Eating Disorders and PTSD

A loss of control and power, panic, and disorders are defining emotions of trauma. Those emotions come flooding back when a victim experiences Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Through therapy, victims try to regain that sense of safety and control. But these PTSD fears are the very emotions that may be causing victims to seek their own therapy, by controlling their diet to the point that it is harmful to their health.

A team of researchers led by Rachel Yehuda, PhD, professor at Mount Sinai Medical Center and mental health patient care center director at the James J. Peters Veterans Affairs Medical Center, have found links between PTSD and eating disorders. Dr. Yehuda’s research adds to the statistics from previous studies that have seen a link between the two disorders.

From Coping Mechanism to Controlling Mechanism

When life is stressful, people often grasp at anything that can make them feel that they have at least some control of their own lives. Researchers believe that victims of PTSD are trying to find this control in managing their diet to extremes. Eating disorders are about controlling your intake and choices of food. During traumatic experiences victims felt a loss of control. While meticulous self-management of food might begin as a mechanism for coping with PTSD victims, it may develop into a serious eating disorder.

From Mental Trauma to Physical Trauma

Dr. Yehuda stresses that PTSD victims who also develop eating disorders are only adding more stress and damage to their lives. The mental depression and anxiety that PTSD survivors already experience will be compounded by physical pains of hunger and a lack of proper nutrition.

Multiple studies revealed that out of the people who have both PTSD and an eating disorder, their PTSD came first. The April 2012 issue of the International Journal of Eating Disorders, stated that 66 percent of men and 40 percent of women suffering from bulimia nervosa were also suffering from PTSD. Lead author, Karen S. Mitchell, PhD, of the National Center for PTSD at the VA Boston Healthcare System, said that a significant number of people with bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, and binge eating disorder had suffered a traumatic life experience.

A July 2011 research article in Psychosomatic Medicine found the same links between anorexia and PTSD. The eating disorders would follow the trauma.

Careful Patient Assessments Might Prevent More Damage

Researchers suggest that doctors screen their PTSD patients carefully for any signs that they may be trying to manage their PTSD by controlling their diet. Likewise, doctors should screen eating disorder patients for any previous traumatic experiences.

The process of healing involves the total person. Often, mental health disorders interact and feed upon one another. It is not simply good enough to only treat the most recognizable symptoms. The roots of that disorder need to be found in order to keep it from growing back once again.

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