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At the age of only four-years-old, I heard a voice in my head that said, “You’re fat. You aren’t good enough.” That voice was my eating disorder (aka “Ed”). I was 22-years-old before someone finally told me that I didn’t have to listen to that negative, self-critical voice anymore.

While my eating disorder began as negative body image thoughts, I ultimately ended up restricting food. And, in time, this led to bingeing and purging. Sometimes, it seemed like the treacherous, painful cycle would never end.

I experienced sexual assault toward the end of my eating disorder recovery, yet, like countless others, I didn’t label the experience as trauma for quite some time. Because the perpetrator was my boyfriend at the time, I didn’t think the words “sexual assault” applied. Boy, was I wrong. I am grateful that a trauma therapist finally helped me come to terms with the fact that I had been raped. It took years for me to be able to say that last word. In recovery, I learned that saying specific words, rather than avoiding, was important in breaking free.

Connection Between Trauma and Eating Disorders

The average amount of time between the onset of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and the initiation of treatment is twelve years. This was my story.

Following my trauma, PTSD symptoms emerged, which exacerbated my eating disorder. I binged more, and I purged in even more violent ways. Research indicates that people with comorbid ED-PTSD are more likely to engage in multiple forms of purging [1]. We also know that PTSD is a significant predictor of poor prognosis in eating disorder recovery, so PTSD must be addressed for complete healing [1].

It’s important to note that PTSD and eating disorders share common risk factors, including high anxiety, perfectionism, and obsessive-compulsiveness [2]. People with eating disorders, especially those characterized by binge eating or purging, have a higher lifetime rate of PTSD than the general population.

For some, PTSD might be considered the source of the infection. In other words, PTSD fuels the eating disorder. Many binge and purge to achieve relief from the debilitating symptoms of PTSD. To heal, people need to recover from both disorders. The latest research suggests that integrated treatment for trauma and eating disorders is the way to go. Research also shows that people can get better.

To read the full post on The Meadows Ranch blog, click here.