The effects of trauma can affect your mental and physical health for years after the fact. Many people struggle with eating disorders as a result of past trauma.
Eating disorders can present with different symptoms, but for the most part, eating disorders are an attempt to regain control when you feel you have lost agency in life.
While not everyone who suffers from an eating disorder has experienced trauma, it is extremely common for people who have been diagnosed with eating disorders to report that they have lived through a traumatic event.
Here’s why eating disorders are so deeply connected with trauma.
Sense of Control
People develop eating disorders for a variety of reasons. But it is very common for in many cases, the desire for control is at the root of eating disorders.
When someone lives through trauma, they temporarily lose control over their own circumstances. And someone who has lived through years of ongoing trauma may have never had the opportunity to take control of their own life.
Storing Trauma in the Body
Trauma is not just experienced in the mind. Our bodies can store the effects of trauma for years. And for some people, the traumatic event they went through is directly linked to their bodies.
They might develop an eating disorder because of the physical symptoms of their trauma. Restricting food intake or binge eating might provide a temporary sense of relief. But in the long run, an eating disorder can only worsen your overall health, and in some cases, these disorders can prove deadly.
Internalizing Messages After Traumatic Upbringing
Growing up, many people face criticism of their bodies over and over again. This is particularly common for young women, who might face judgment from their families, their peers, and society as a whole for their appearance.
Trying to fit into society’s ever-changing beauty standards is impossible. But when you are consistently told that something is wrong with your body even when you are a healthy weight, it can be hard to ignore the unrelenting pressure to be thin.
Therefore, eating disorders can occur because of the trauma inflicted by society. This is often reinforced by authority figures like parents or coaches.
Influence From Triggers
Engaging in restrictive food patterns, binge eating, or purging can happen because of encounters with triggers. When someone experiences trauma, reminders of the event can cause them to relive everything that happened and worsen their symptoms. They might experience panic attacks when faced with a trigger.
People often develop maladaptive behaviors in order to cope with triggers, especially if they cannot avoid them entirely. Someone might binge eat for a momentary sense of comfort after facing a trigger to escape the emotions that it brings up.
In the same sense, someone might restrict their food intake because a trigger causes old insecurities about their weight to resurface.
After living through trauma, someone might wonder if they deserved what happened to them. Trauma victims did nothing to “deserve” the experience, and trauma is never the fault of the victim.
But this misconception can cause a trauma victim to wonder what was wrong with them and drive them to develop a perfectionist mindset. Often, someone with an eating disorder comes up with strict rules that they must follow when it comes to food, and they may feel “safe” if they stick to these rules.
It can be difficult to let go of the idea that certain foods and eating habits are “good” or “bad.”