Understanding The Link
Statistics show that there is an undeniable link between those who suffer from eating disorders and a history of experiencing abuse. As many as 30% of individuals who have some form of an eating disorder have also been the victim of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. The trauma of experiencing things such as neglect, accidents, forms of abuse, or sexual assaults or rape leaves an indelible mark on an individual’s psychological makeup.
This doesn’t mean that every person who experiences abuse or trauma will develop an eating disorder. Psychologists consider abuse to be a nonspecific risk factor, meaning it can be a factor behind many types of mental and psychological disorders. For example, depression and anxiety have also been linked to experiencing abuse in early years.
There is also a biological predisposition to eating disorders that needs to be taken into consideration. Those who already have that biological factor will be at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder after experiencing some form of trauma or abuse.
For those who have experienced abuse, an eating disorder becomes a way of coping with the aftermath. These individuals use their eating disorder as a means of survival and a way to take back control over their lives. This makes it very difficult for a person with an eating disorder to clearly see how much their behaviors are damaging their health and well being. They may even believe that their eating disorder practices are healthy and necessary for maintaining happiness and balance.
It’s very common for the eating disorder practices to arise more often when stress and anxiety levels are high. This is how the behavior and the strong emotions linked to trauma and abuse become interwoven. A person with the disorder may not even be aware of how the two are connected. The practices of their disorder become their way of coping and controlling the uncomfortable emotions tied to their past abuse. Because of this, they will strongly believe that giving up their eating disorder will only lead to more pain and chaos.
Treatment For Eating Disorders And Abuse
The first thing that must be addressed during treatment is restoring the body to a normal weight and stopping behaviors such as binging and purging, or self starvation. Just by restoring nutrients to the body, an individual may notice an improvement in their emotional state. This happens as hormones and chemicals in the brain and body are restored, and the individual has more energy. By replenishing the body and mind, an eating disorder sufferer will be better equipped to do the challenging work of recovery that comes next.
The next step of treatment is counselling or therapy. A professional who specializes in eating disorder and abuse issues should be utilized. A survivor of abuse especially needs a safe environment with a therapist that they trust and feel comfortable with. Intense emotions will arise during this stage of treatment, so it’s important that the individual has support from family, friends, or others in the recovery community.
It’s important for everyone to be familiar with the signs of a relapse during this period, as it is very common for a patient to feel overwhelmed by their experience. Recovering from an eating disorder while simultaneously dealing with abuse or trauma is a delicate healing process that can sometimes take years. But with proper treatment and a strong network of support, the link between the two can broken.