Understanding the Relationship Between PTSD and Eating Disorders

Published On: June 29, 2022Categories: Eating Disorders, Mental Health

Eating disorders do not discriminate. People of all ages, genders, races, cultures and backgrounds can be diagnosed with an eating disorder. 

There are a wide variety of factors that can influence the development of an eating disorder, including mental health, environment, social expectations and, most notably, trauma. Individuals who have experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse are more susceptible to developing an eating disorder.

Additionally, people struggling with eating disorders are at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of self-abuse.

In this article, we’re going to dive into the relationship between PTSD and eating disorders in order to better understand how these two conditions are related.

Which comes first, PTSD or an eating disorder?

Eating disorders might manifest as unhealthy eating habits, but they are rarely solely about food.

Trauma — especially trauma that has not been addressed or processed — can lead to PTSD or a high level of anxiety. Some individuals may turn to disordered eating as a coping mechanism for dealing with those negative emotions and symptoms.

While destructive, disordered eating habits may develop as a way to cope with the pain and distress associated with trauma. Trauma leaves many people feeling out of control or helpless, and these behaviors may provide a false sense of control. 

In addition, those who have experienced trauma might experience feelings of guilt or shame and develop a negative view of themselves or their body. This can manifest as body dysmorphia, which can potentially lead them to develop disordered eating.

There are also instances in which an individual develops PTSD as a result of their eating disorder. In some cases, dangerous or self-harming behaviors associated with these conditions make the experience of having an eating disorder traumatic.

Signs of an eating disorder and PTSD

People can experience a wide range of symptoms when they’re struggling with the dual diagnosis of an eating disorder and PTSD.

Some signs that suggest an eating disorder are:

  • Dramatic weight gain or weight loss
  • Consistent negative talk about weight, appearance and food
  • Excessive, rigid exercise patterns
  • Additional medical complications, such as hair loss, dry skin, dental problems, dizziness or fainting and organ failure

Common signs of PTSD include:

  • Withdrawing from social activities
  • Increased irritability, impatience or aggression
  • Panic attacks, severe anxiety or depression
  • Excessive alone time and resistance to spending time with others

If you think you or a loved one might be suffering from PTSD, an eating disorder or both, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help.

Contact us for personal support

We know it can be overwhelming to realize you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder or PTSD, so we want you to know you aren’t alone in this.

The number one priority of our team here at Tapestry is your recovery. With a core philosophy that anyone can successfully heal and live a meaningful life, we’re proud to offer a variety of client-centered, relational treatment models that are all customizable to your unique needs.

To learn more about how we can support you on your journey to mental and food freedom, submit a form or give us a call today at 828-490-4032.

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