According to a report from Harvard University, over 28 million people in the United States suffer from eating disorders every year in the United States.
Eating disorders are serious and complex mental health conditions that are characterized by abnormal and unhealthy thoughts and behaviors surrounding food, weight and body image. These disorders do not discriminate and can affect males and females of all ages and in all walks of life, though they are most prevalent in adolescent girls and young adult women.
The toll that eating disorders take on a person’s mind and body can be significant, particularly when faced with situations or events that have the potential to trigger a relapse. In this article, we’re going to break down if and how PTSD can act as a trigger to those already struggling with an eating disorder, and how it can exacerbate existing symptoms.
What is a trigger?
A trigger, specifically through the lens of eating disorders, is any situation, event or factor that intensifies or provokes the behaviors associated with the eating disorder. As a result, eating disorders are highly personalized to each individual, as every person has different sensitivities and vulnerabilities, as well as different experiences.
Some of the most common eating disorder triggers include:
- The habit of self-comparison and -criticism
- Social pressures or beauty expectations
- Highly critical people or those who encourage extreme dieting
- Having a scale in the house
- Counting calories or excessive food tracking
- Phrases or conversations around weight loss
Another trigger is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which often develops as a result of trauma. Experiencing PTSD can either lead to the development of an eating disorder or the exacerbation of an already-existing eating disorder.
PTSD and eating disorders
PTSD and eating disorders are often connected to each other because of how closely related trauma and eating disorders can be. The behaviors and traits commonly associated with eating disorders have often developed from overwhelming emotions that stem from past traumatic events.
The relationship between PTSD and eating disorders can exist in many different ways. In some cases, individuals are struggling with PTSD and develop an eating disorder in an attempt to cope with the symptoms of their mental health disorder. Other individuals struggle with an eating disorder first, and that makes them more vulnerable to developing additional conditions, such as PTSD. Other individuals may develop PTSD from the trauma of suffering from the eating disorder itself.
How does PTSD affect daily life?
How PTSD affects your daily life largely depends on how severe the PTSD is, if other mental or physical health conditions are also present in the individual and whether or not they are in active recovery. Many people experience PTSD manifesting in their life through various mental and mood changes or issues, including decreased cognitive function, a “short fuse” and emotional detachment from loved ones. In many cases, suffering from PTSD leads an individual to substance use as a coping mechanism, as many people are reluctant to seek professional help.
The impact PTSD has on an individual’s life can vary, but it’s not uncommon for PTSD to be so crippling that it leaves a person unable to function regularly in their daily lives. Research from the National Center for PTSD shows that PTSD increases the risk of suicide.
Begin healing today
Seeds of Hope is a premier eating disorder treatment center designed to help you achieve lifelong, sustainable healing of your body, mind, soul and relationship with food.
We help patients overcome a variety of eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) and other specified feeding or eating disorders (OSFED). Wherever you’re at in your journey, you’re not alone; when you’re ready to start healing, we’re ready to help.
Send us a message to speak with an advisor and learn more about what the next best step for your recovery is.