Trauma Triggers Eating Disorders

How Past Traumatic Events may cause Eating Disorders

 The after-effects of having experienced a traumatic event can reach far deeper than the initial stress response to the event.  Intense emotional traumas, whether caused by the loss of a loved one, physical or sexual abuse, divorce, or a natural disaster, can trigger significant psychological upheaval.

How one manages the stress and anxiety provoked by the trauma can vary dramatically among individuals.  While some may seek solace in unhealthy sexual behaviors, another may isolate themselves from friends and family.  Some cope by self-medicating with alcohol or drugs; another may manage their internal anguish with food.

Trauma and Eating Disorders

There is a very high correlation between victims of trauma and eating disorders.  Although causation is not indicated—trauma doesn’t cause the eating disorder directly, or all trauma survivors would have eating disorders—there is an abundance of research that shows that a significant number of people with eating disorders have experienced a major traumatic episode in their lives.

Because traumatic events can leave the individual feeling helpless and out of control, it isn’t surprising that an eating disorder may develop as a result of these emotions.  Those who have suffered through a sexual assault or domestic abuse may attempt to cope with the deep sense of shame and fear by disordered eating. Statistical links have been demonstrated between people who have suffered abuse and later go on to develop an eating disorder.  Males who were sexually abused have a higher incidence of eating disorders than sexually abused females.

Bulimia has been linked to trauma as a coping behavior that serves to self-protect the individual through the binge/purge process.  Bulimic behaviors appear to reduce the impact of the thoughts and emotions, like anger and guilt, as they relate to the traumatic experience.  In the bulimic’s need for personal space, predictability, and control over their lives, binging and purging, they believe, cleanses them of the thoughts of the traumatic episode and offers an escape from the negative emotions that accompany it.

Unresolved trauma can sit below the surface and manipulate, although subconsciously, behaviors in order to relieve the emotional effects of the traumatic event.  According to Judy Scheel, Ph.D., LCSW, who studies the link between PTSD and eating disorders, “One of the primary purposes of eating disorder symptomatology is to avoid and cope with painful, disquieting or uncomfortable feelings or affect. The eating disorder serves both to distance oneself from these feelings or states as well as to relieve them.” Scheel continues, “From an abuse perspective, the eating disorder is a clever, albeit, destructive means to accomplish both distance and numbing as well as a means to relive the painful past events through a recreation of it through the eating disorder symptomatology.”

Treating the Trauma as well as the Eating Disorder

When trauma is an underlying condition for an eating disorder it must be addressed for any lasting recovery to take place.  Without treating the deep and intense emotions connected to the trauma the individual will face an uphill battle.

The eating disorder has become medicinal to them as a means of coping with the emotional fallout of the event.  In many cases, the eating disorder developed in the first place as a form of self-defense for the victim.  Therefore, if the trauma is not addressed and treated, too, relapse is likely.

Casa Serena can Help

At Casa Serena, our caring professionals understand that any underlying trauma must be treated as well as the eating disorder.  One of the techniques our clinicians specialize in is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), which assists our clients with working through their trauma.  To help the client process past memories, EMDR has them focus on an external stimulus, like the therapist’s finger, tones or taps. While their eyes follow the stimulus back and forth the therapist helps guide the client to new insights regarding their personal trauma experience.

Casa Serena understands the importance of assisting our clients through their trauma work concurrently with the treatment of the eating disorder itself.  Only then can the client develop an understanding of their stressors and learn new ways to cope.  Contact us today at (925) 682-8252.


Importance of Family Therapy in Treating Eating Disorders

How Family Support and Understanding Aids in E.D. Recovery

No problem exists in a vacuum, a fact that applies to eating disorders as well as any other type of mental health condition. Because as human beings we live within a family structure, it comes as no surprise that, when one member of the family develops disordered eating habits, dysfunction in the family is a likely result.

Why is that? How is it that one family member’s disordered eating causes such disruption in the family dynamic? Because just as it causes deep anguish to witness a loved one suffer from any physical illness, it is just as upsetting to watch a family member battle a serious eating disorder. It is painful for parents and siblings to watch their loved one in the throes of anorexia, bulimia, or binge-eating disorder.

Family members often feel helpless while they watch their loved one waste away, with no sense of power to stop the process. The fear of losing them can unleash powerful emotions, such as frustration, anxiety, and anger. Without a basic understanding of how and why an eating disorder has made its way into the family unit, confusion, blame, guilt, and shame begin to color familial relationships, causing disharmony.

How Family Therapy Can Help

Once it is understood that a complex mix of factors cause an eating disorder, the family learns it is not in their best interest to lay blame on each other for having “caused” the illness. A therapist in a family group environment helps much more by focusing on educating the family members about how an eating disorder evolves and how it affects the brain of their loved one, rather than by assigning blame. Effective family therapy is centered on improving communication skills between family members, and equipping them with problem-solving skills to use throughout recovery.

Family group therapy can also help families cope with the stress of the eating disorder. Often, the eating disorder has changed their loved one’s personality, making them irritable and angry as they grapple with the powerful illness, and this causes strain and tension in the home. Group therapy gives family members an opportunity to openly communicate how stressful it is to walk on eggshells in the presence of the sufferer. In the case of anorexia, the starvation has a significant impact on their cognitive processes, so they can’t think or reason correctly. Once weight is restored, the moodiness and irritability usually subside, allowing for a more peaceful home environment and healthier interactions between family members.

Teaching the family about what they can expect in the recovery process is a valuable component of family therapy. Knowledge is a powerful tool in establishing an atmosphere that is conducive to loving support and understanding. Gaining specific skills for family members to employ during their loved one’s recovery phase is important, as it empowers the family. Meaningful participation with their loved one on the path of recovery gives families a sense of helpfulness versus the helplessness they felt before.

Casa Serena’s Multi-Family Group

At Casa Serena, our Family Education and Support Group involves a group of multiple families who gather together with our clients, their loved ones. In this large group setting, family members can learn from other families and gain new perspectives. The depth of knowledge and experience provided by our expert clinical therapists gives family members a new frame of reference and helpful tools. Compassion is emphasized, as family members are encouraged to support their loved one while issues around food, weight, or size are resolved in recovery. Contact Casa Serena today at (925) 682-8252.


The Folly of Fad Diets

How Fad Diets can Result in an Eating Disorder

For decades now, fad diets have tempted otherwise intelligent people into the most asinine eating routines in the hopes of shedding some unwanted weight. You name it, we’ve witnessed the craziest food trends—from the ubiquitous grapefruit diet, to zany fad diets like the Hollywood cookie diet, the cotton ball diet, and, yes, even the tapeworm diet (I kid you not).

Even some of the saner fad diets, such as the Raw Food Diet, the Paleo Diet, and the South Beach Diet, which at least emphasize consuming healthy foods, fall short when it comes to long-term results. They simply are not sustainable.

While troubling that people can place such blind faith in the constant parade of new fad diets with the dubious weight loss claims, it is alarming that fad diets can actually fuel a nascent eating disorder. Food obsession has become a systemic symptom of the disordered thinking that commonly leads to disordered eating.

The emotions of guilt, shame, frustration, and failure that accompany efforts to lose weight are potent. These feelings can eat away at a person’s self esteem, gnawing away incrementally each time one caves into an extra cookie or blows off the salmon in favor of a greasy hamburger. For someone obsessed with weight loss and who has latched onto the fad diet du jour, failing to comply with its restrictions becomes yet another sign, in their minds, of their own imperfections. The unhealthy belief that one should be able to adhere with 100% commitment and deep reservoirs of discipline to eating as cavemen ate (i.e., the Paleo Diet), or noshing on baby food all day (i.e., the Baby Food Diet) is simply absurd.

The Connection between Fad Diets and Eating Disorders

People mistakenly assume there are only two types of eating disorders, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Obsessive eating that causes nutritional or psychological distress can span a spectrum of behaviors with one common outcome—disordered eating habits.

Trendy diets promise a thin, svelte physique by demanding full compliance to rigid or nutritionally unbalanced diets that have ‘failure’ written all over them. Why failure? Because people are human, with daily—even hourly—shifts in mood, willpower, stressors, or desires that can quickly sabotage even the most devoted dieter, leaving them with feelings of self-disgust and failure. Emotions are the drivers of eating disorders; the oft-repeated scenario starting with the initial determination to strictly adhere to a given fad diet, only to submit yet again to food temptations sets up a vicious cycle of self-loathing. Those reinforced negative emotions become embedded into the simple act of feeding oneself, culminating in an eating disorder.

Binge eating disorder can result from repeated attempts to lose weight by following a fad diet, only to find their weight loss plateau and desired outcomes dashed. This can trigger binge eating or binge/purge behaviors, with pent up food deprivations and a sense of failure as fuel.

Why Fad Diets Fail

No matter how intent on success an individual is when they launch into a new fad diet, it is nearly impossible to avoid the basic human weaknesses that ultimately undermine the dieter’s efforts. Here are some common reasons why fad dieters give up:

• Boredom. Many fad diets concentrate on over-emphasizing a specific type of food (i.e., the Kale Shake Diet, Cabbage Soup Diet, the Lemonade Diet) and the lack of variety becomes stifling, leading to boredom and abandonment of the diet.

• Preparation time. Some fad diets require a lot of time and effort for planning and executing, causing a high drop out rate. Juicing, for instance, is expensive, messy, and time consuming on an ongoing basis.

• Deprivation. Food has always been associated with comfort and reward, so to attempt to restrict food intake to a short list of options for a prolonged period only leads to a sense of deprivation and throwing in the towel on the diet.

• Fatigue. Attempting to lose weight rapidly can result in a loss of energy and vitality. Often a lack of essential nutrients that accompanies a fad diet contributes to a sense of weakness and fatigue, in addition to a sour mood.

Casa Serena can Help

No matter which fad diet one has attempted, the ultimate results are iffy at best and can even lead to weight gain and ill health, including an eating disorder. We understand how negative emotions associated with eating behaviors can have devastating consequences. Our eating disorder experts at Casa Serena can help you by creating an individualized plan geared to healthy eating habits and regular exercise, vastly improving your chances of successfully achieving physical and emotional health. Contact us today at (925) 682-8252.

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