PTSD and Eating Disorders

PTSD and Eating DisordersPost-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be a direct cause of the following eating disorders:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Binge eating (compulsive overeating)

This is because eating disorders often arise as a sort of coping mechanism for people suffering from other co-occurring disorders.

What Is PTSD?

Trauma often overwhelms the emotional circuitry of the brain. The following experiences can cause PTSD:

  • Combat or battlefield violence
  • Sexual abuse or rape
  • Long-term verbal abuse
  • The sudden loss of a loved one
  • Natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes and tornados

When traumatic events like these happen, the brain tends to partially shut down as a form of self-defense against an emotional breakdown. Individuals suffering from PTSD are significantly more likely to self-medicate their negative emotions through substance abuse or compulsive behaviors that trigger feelings of pleasure and control in the brain.

How Do Eating Disorders Happen?

The brain manages appetite, eating, impulse control and emotional functioning through a fragile and intricate system of chemical signals and responses in the central nervous system. Certain “feel-good” chemicals are released when a person eats and when they deny themselves food or cause themselves to vomit. Endorphins and adrenaline, for instance, are released in the brain by eating and by intense hunger. For some people, these naturally occurring chemicals become addictive in the same way as alcohol or heroin. Whichever behavior triggers the “pleasure center” of the brain will be craved by the brain thereafter.

For many people with eating disorders, the compulsion to overeat and purge or to starve themselves is addictive because it gives them a sense of control. Some people are born with a biological predisposition toward addiction, and the slight chemical responses in their brain are enough to trigger compulsive behaviors.

Treating PTSD and Eating Disorders Comprehensively

Individuals suffering from co-occurring PTSD and an eating disorder will require comprehensive and fully-integrated treatment of both issues and any other emotional challenges they face. This will often require some combination of the following:

  • Personal counseling
  • Support groups
  • Education
  • Coping skill development
  • Emotional and spiritual support
  • A healthy diet and opportunities to exercise
  • Family support

If left untreated, eating disorders are some of the most deadly emotional challenges a person can face. Long-term anorexia can cause permanent muscle and bone loss, as well as brain damage, depression and suicide. Substance abuse is common among PTSD and eating disorder sufferers. Treatment can be challenging, but with the right help, individuals facing these issues can find healing.

24 Hour Eating Disorder and PTSD Helpline

If you are ready to confront your eating disorder and the underlying PTSD that fuels it, please call our toll-free helpline today. We can help you find comprehensive and holistic treatment for everything that you are facing. The call is free, and our coordinators are available 24 hours a day. Call now. You have nothing to lose.