Eating disorder treatment at Sabino Recovery follows our trauma-focused model. Research on eating disorders continues to show a correlation between traumatic events and the development of an eating disorder but it is certainly not the only factor.
Just like other addictions, there is a genetic component to eating disorders. So why does someone develop an eating disorder instead of an addiction to a substance such as alcohol or cocaine? There’s no single answer. Trauma, genetics, and environmental factors all play a part.
Eating disorders are potentially life-threatening and have many physical and mental health consequences. As with other addictions and mental illnesses, there is no single profile of someone most likely to develop an eating disorder. It’s often considered a female-specific illness but this is not the case. Eating disorders can affect people regardless of gender, age, weight, sexuality, race, and environment.
There isn’t a single type of trauma that is most likely to lead to or trigger an eating disorder. While 30% of people who experience sexual trauma develop disordered eating, there is not a direct correlation. Often, a person who has developed an eating disorder is trying to assert a false sense of control. This can be to distract from a traumatic event or to regain equilibrium. Trauma robs us of emotional and physical security and eating disorders can be effective, yet highly destructive, coping mechanisms.
Eating disorders are often misattributed as a desire for thinness because of vanity. As a person’s attempt to regain control manifests as controlling their food and their body, there is an element of societal influence for many but not all people. In this case, neuroplasticity can be both a blessing and a curse. Our brain’s ability to rewire itself reinforces negative feedback from family, friends, school, and the media. In a culture inundated with diet culture and socially-accepted disordered eating, there is a significant toll on the mental health of people who are developing eating disorders.
Food restriction, dieting, and over-exercising give a false sense of power while also disconnecting from and numbing painful memories. Disordered eating can also develop when someone is trying to alter their body for a specific purpose due to sexual and body-related trauma. A person who has experienced a natural disaster may stock up on food to make sure they don’t feel hungry again. Someone who experienced sexual abuse may try to change their body in a way that makes them feel safer. Studies on survivors of famine have shown that scarcity and starvation leave cellular evidence of trauma.
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of conditions that are addressed in treatment centers. Due to the nature of these conditions, there are many serious medical complications that accompany an eating disorder including heart failure, obesity, and an increased risk of developing cancer. Eating disorder recovery is complicated because, unlike substance abuse, someone in recovery for an eating disorder can’t simply stop eating in the way that sobriety is a huge piece of substance use treatment.
Besides the serious, life-threatening physical complications, there are emotional side effects that take a mental toll. Many people with anorexia create complicated rules around food such as chewing a certain number of times or cutting their food into very small pieces. People who suffer from eating disorders often avoid eating in front of other people to avoid questions and comments about the amount of food that they’re eating and about their weight. People with eating disorders are hyper-aware of food and are often consumed by thoughts of food. They plan their days around meals and create specific parameters for “good” and “bad” foods. People with anorexia and bulimia often suffer from poor body image and body dysmorphia and some weigh themselves compulsively.
That same neuroplasticity that led to someone creating pathways in their brain that reinforced negative feedback and behaviors can be used to help heal. Treatment can help rewire the neural pathways of the brain and change these destructive coping behaviors. Many studies have shown that trauma-focused treatment is beneficial in the treatment of eating disorders. Modalities such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) can help people heal from the physical and emotional symptoms of eating disorders.
It can be difficult to confront a loved one who is suffering from an eating disorder. For one thing, we don’t want to shame them or potentially make their condition worse. It can also be difficult to confront the fact that an eating disorder, like any addiction, is a family problem. A huge component of eating disorder treatment is a family program. At Sabino Recovery, we believe that family participation plays a necessary role in eating disorder recovery.
If you or a loved one are struggling with disordered eating or have any questions about eating disorder treatment, please reach out to our team. We believe in connecting you with the best treatment option available. To begin your treatment journey, call Sabino Recovery today at (844) 286-0516.