At least 30 million Americans suffer from some kind of eating disorder, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, and most people are unaware that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental health issue.
While we’re still learning about what causes people to develop eating disorders, there is solid evidence of a direct link between trauma and eating disorders — and some of the most common causes of that trauma are emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. That doesn’t mean every victim of abuse is going to develop an eating disorder, nor does it suggest that if someone you know has an eating disorder that they’ve experienced abuse.
However, the correlation happens often enough that it’s something counselors who work with people who have eating disorders and issues with the bodies usually explore. Why is there a connection between the two? Psychologists who have studied the connection believe that victims who develop eating disorders do so as a way of survival.
While people without eating disorders see those disorders as unhealthy and even dangerous, people who have been affected by trauma may see the disorder as a coping mechanism that gives them a way to deal with the emotions resulting from that trauma. In fact, we frequently see eating disorders become more severe when abuse victims find themselves in stressful situations. That can make therapy more challenging, because at the same time a counselor is trying to help the person who has the disorder see it as something unhealthy, that person’s brain is convincing him or her that the disorder is necessary.
If you’ve been the victim of some kind of trauma such as abuse, and if you’re also dealing with an eating disorder or body issues that are interfering with your happiness and well-being, there may be a connection. But that knowledge probably isn’t enough to allow you to heal on your own. The behaviors associated with eating disorders can become so ingrained that they’ll interfere with your ability to care for yourself.
That’s why scheduling an appointment with a counselor who specializes in eating disorders can be very helpful. The good news is that treatment such as trauma informed movement and EMDR can make a difference, and we have counselors trained in both. We can help you walk through the healing process and keep you focused on positive steps so your disorder stops controlling your life. By taking action now, you can ensure that the abuse won’t have to haunt you for the rest of your life, and so you can learn to love the person you see in the mirror.