Disclaimer: The content here is for informational and educational purposes only. it is not intended for medical advice. It does not take the place of medical advice or treatment. Readers should consult their own qualified healthcare professional for specific health concerns and questions.

Understanding Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are behavioral conditions characterized by severe and persistent disturbance in eating behaviors and associated distressing thoughts and emotions. These can be very serious conditions affecting physical, psychological, and social functioning. Types of eating disorders include:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Binge eating disorder
  • Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder
  • Other specified feeding and eating disorders
  • Pica
  • Rumination disorder

Eating disorders can affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, body shapes, and weights, and is a very serious but treatable mental and physical illness. Often, eating disorders are not entirely about food, but rather a way to control a specific aspect of an individual’s life.

The Link Between Trauma and Eating Disorders 

Eating disorders can often be connected to the experience of trauma. Research has shown that up to 75 percent of women seeking treatment in a residential setting for an eating disorder, also reported experiencing some form of trauma. The exact reason trauma can lead to an eating disorder can be different among individuals. Often, the behaviors associated with disordered eating develop as a coping mechanism or means of self-protection. Following a trauma, an individual may have trouble regulating their emotions or coping with distressing memories. This can cause someone to feel out of control or powerless after experiencing a traumatic event. As a result, the use of restricting or binging eating behaviors may develop to try to control that aspect of their life or to hide associated feelings of shame, guilt, hopelessness, or fear.  Other times, trauma can cause body dissatisfaction or self-criticism, especially following sexual assault or sexual abuse. When an individual experiences distorted views of their body or appearance, it can lead to wanting to alter their appearance by gaining or losing weight. Trauma changes the way one relates to their bodies and their bodies can become a tool for dealing with their trauma.

At Serenity Trauma Healing center, we can offer an individualized program, where our therapists who specialize in trauma help individuals uncover emotions associated with traumatic events to fully understand and treat the eating disorder at hand. Once the underlying trauma and the associated emotions are addressed, treatment for the eating disorder can begin. Therapists can work with clients to repair their relationship with food, as well as working on body image, addressing emotional dysregulation, weight restoration, body-weight maintenance, and development of neutrality toward food.  Eating disorder treatment and treating trauma, such as PTSD, may include various therapies, such as:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)- Examines the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to rectify disordered eating symptoms.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) – A unique and scientifically-validated form of trauma therapy that stimulates the brain through rhythmic eye movements, allowing subconscious events to be brought forth and safely processed.
  • Brainspotting – A modified form of EMDR that allows the client and therapist to lead the process with more flexibility. Brainspotting is just as effective as the stricter protocols of EMDR and can be more useful in certain situations.
  • Somatic Therapy – Strengthens the connection between mind and body through a specialized combination of mental and physical exercises, directed awareness, and dialogue. It works to heal the disruptive feedback loop of trauma and its effect on the Automated Nervous System and physical health.
  • Nutritional Therapy- A nutrition counselor works with you to repair your relationship with food, as well as working on body image, addressing emotional dysregulation, weight restoration, body-weight maintenance, and development of neutrality toward food. Nutritional therapy discusses the various nutrients the body needs, as well as how much food someone of a specific age, body type, and gender generally requires to adequately nourish the body and remain healthy.
  • Art Therapy- Art Therapy is not about being an “artist”, but rather it is the willingness to express feelings and thoughts using materials such as markers, crayons, pastels, collages, and/or clay. It is a wonderful tool that helps us to tap into our intuition and problem-solving abilities.
  • Mindfulness – Teaches the lifelong skill of sorting, examining, and controlling physical and emotional responses to the daily challenges we face. It allows an individual to be more aware of their current surroundings and feelings in the moment.
  • Neurofeedback – Non-invasive EEG biofeedback can train the brain to operate on an advanced level. Specific frequencies and areas of the brain are targeted and shaped to achieve more positive long-term mental patterns.
  • Interpersonal Psychotherapy- Helps patients understand their eating disorder within the context of relationships and can address grief, interpersonal deficits like isolation, and more.

If you are seeking treatment to recover from trauma and/or eating disorders, consider reaching out to Serenity Trauma Healing Center for more information about how we can help you on your journey to recovery.


Blog References:  

Davison, G. (n.d.). Complex trauma and eating disorders: Treating co-occurring C-PTSD. https://withinhealth.com/learn/articles/complex-trauma-and-eating-disorders

Sussex Publishers. (n.d.). The intersection of trauma and eating disorders. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-brain-on-body-dysmorphia/202306/the-intersection-of-trauma-and-eating-disorders

The relationship between trauma and eating disorders. Center For Discovery. (2021, March 9). https://centerfordiscovery.com/blog/relationship-trauma-eating-disorders/


Edited By:   

Kerry-Ann Sleep-Frankel, MA, LPCC, NCC, CCTP   


Lead Trauma Therapist at Serenity Trauma Healing Center