Effects of Abuse: Eating Disorders

Link to "Trauma and Eating"
Link to “Trauma and Eating Disorders”

In her piece Trauma, Sexual Assault and Eating Disorders, Caitlin Hamilton writes:

Did you know that sexual assault and trauma are sometimes closely linked to eating disorders?“Traumatic experiences, especially those involving interpersonal violence[such as sexual assault], have been found to be a significant risk factor for the development of a variety of psychiatric disorders, including eating disorders, particularly those characterized by bulimic symptoms, such as binge eating and purging,” says Dr. Timothy Breweton, an expert in the field of trauma and eating disorders.

Dr. Brewerton points out that among those who have experienced trauma, binge eating and purging can develop as a kind of coping mechanism. “In much the same way as substances of abuse are used to self-medicate, binge eating and purging appear to be behaviors that facilitate 1) decreasing the anxiety associated with trauma, as well as 2) the numbing, avoidance and even forgetting of traumatic experiences.”

Though eating disorders have complex roots and triggers, we often hear that sexual assault acts as a catalyst for developing an eating disorder. In a recent issue of Making Connections, super model and NEDA Ambassador, Carré Otis, said the same about her own experiences.

“…I began to realize that two triggers for disordered eating were sex and sexuality. I began to see how trauma in my past – profound violations of my body including molestation and rape – had led me to feel dissociated from my body, as if it was no longer my own.”

Importantly, as RAINN points out, it is never too late for someone to get help. Otis says it took her over 20 years to make the connection between her eating disorder and her history of sexual trauma. But once she made the connection, she was able to begin her process of healing.

“I had to find compassion for the young girl who believed that controlling her body would make her safer in the world, who believed that the sexual assaults may have somehow been her fault, who believed that her sexuality was something she had to use rather than celebrate. As I began to internalize this compassion, I began to honor my body in a profound new way, and it was then that true recovery was possible.”

Did you know that sexual assault is prevalent? According to RAINN, every two minutes, another American is sexually assaulted. “The statistics are sobering, but the good news is that everyone can play a role in fighting sexual violence,” says Scott Berkowitz, RAINN’s founder and president. “One simple way is to share RAINN’s hotline (online.rainn.org) with a loved one. That support can make such a difference.”

Did you also know that sexual assault and trauma are sometimes closely linked to eating disorders?

“Traumatic experiences, especially those involving interpersonal violence[such as sexual assault], have been found to be a significant risk factor for the development of a variety of psychiatric disorders, including eating disorders, particularly those characterized by bulimic symptoms, such as binge eating and purging,” says Dr. Timothy Breweton, an expert in the field of trauma and eating disorders.

Dr. Brewerton points out that among those who have experienced trauma, binge eating and purging can develop as a kind of coping mechanism. “In much the same way as substances of abuse are used to self-medicate, binge eating and purging appear to be behaviors that facilitate 1) decreasing the anxiety associated with trauma, as well as 2) the numbing, avoidance and even forgetting of traumatic experiences.”

Though eating disorders have complex roots and triggers, we often hear that sexual assault acts as a catalyst for developing an eating disorder. In a recent issue of Making Connections, super model and NEDA Ambassador, Carré Otis, said the same about her own experiences.

“…I began to realize that two triggers for disordered eating were sex and sexuality. I began to see how trauma in my past – profound violations of my body including molestation and rape – had led me to feel dissociated from my body, as if it was no longer my own.”

Importantly, as RAINN points out, it is never too late for someone to get help. Otis says it took her over 20 years to make the connection between her eating disorder and her history of sexual trauma. But once she made the connection, she was able to begin her process of healing.

“I had to find compassion for the young girl who believed that controlling her body would make her safer in the world, who believed that the sexual assaults may have somehow been her fault, who believed that her sexuality was something she had to use rather than celebrate. As I began to internalize this compassion, I began to honor my body in a profound new way, and it was then that true recovery was possible.”

– See more at: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/trauma-sexual-assault-and-eating-disorders#sthash.eUU4Fbxa.dpuf

How can you know if you have an eating disorder?

The National Centre for Eating Disorders answers that question:

If eating rules your life; if you struggle with control of eating and weight; if you may be harming your health; you may have an eating disorder.

An eating disorder is not an illness like measles. It is not something that you either HAVE OR DON’T HAVE. Most women and many men worry about what they eat and how they look, and many people do strange things to control their weight.

You are not your eating disorder and not all people with an unhappy relationship with food fit neatly into an eating disorder “box”. Some people have features of all the eating disorders and some people start with one disorder and then it evolves into another disorder. Take our short test below and if you need help, have a look at our Help and Treatment pages to see which disorder fits you best.

The 3 Dimensions Of Eating Problems

Whether or not you have an eating disorder depends upon your answers to the questions below.

Thoughts

  • How are you THINKING about food, eating, your weight and your body?
  • Do you obsess about everything you eat or what you weigh?
  • Do you have bad thoughts about yourself as a result of your eating habits?
  • Do you compare yourself constantly to other people?
  • Do you have a lot of very strict rules about what you should or should not be eating?
Link to "Eating Disorders in Males"
Link to “Eating Disorders in Males”

Feelings

  • How do you feel about your eating habits?
  • Is there a lot of guilt, anxiety and fear?
  • Do you feel fat even though your friends say you are okay?
  • Do you hate yourself for what you put in your mouth?
  • Are you scared of eating normally?
  • Do you feel helpless around food?
  • Are you depressed and anxious a lot of the time?

Behaviour

  • How do you behave with food?
  • Do you eat normally in front of others and binge in secret?
  • Vomit or use laxatives? Are you always either on or off a diet?
  • Do you gorge certain foods or exercise excessively to control your weight?
  • Do you keep on eating when you have had enough or starve because you are afraid that you would never be able to stop eating once you had started?
  • Do you constantly jump on the scales?
  • Are you always on or off a diet? Do you take slimming pills?
  • Do you feel that your behaviour is not normal – even perhaps dangerous to your health?

Where behaviour is concerned, many people lose sight of what is normal. They are so used to their habits, they don’t remember what it was like to enjoy food and look forward to eating. Some people who behave dangerously with food are in denial about how serious their problems really are. But some people who have a serious eating disorder think they have no right to seek help because they aren’t “bad enough”.

Link to "Diversity: Eating Disorders Don't Discriminate"
Link to “Diversity: Eating Disorders Don’t Discriminate”

What kind of eating disorder do I have?

You might have COMPULSIVE EATING OR BINGE EATING DISORDER if you

  • Overeat in secret, either all or some of the time
  • Feel that your eating isn’t normal
  • Feel guilty about what you have eaten and feel like a bad person
  • Try all the time to lose weight or try to stop yourself from gaining weight
  • Think and anguish about food all the time
  • Feel out of control around certain kinds of food or any food.

You may have BULIMIA If you also vomit, or take laxatives to get rid of unwanted calories whether you have binged or not.

 ANOREXIA is a complicated illness and not all people with anorexia are very thin, but you might qualify if this is true for you:

  • Your weight ranges from slightly underweight to very thin and you feel huge and terrified of weight gain
  • Very fearful of eating with very restricted eating habits
  • You hear a voice telling you to keep eating less
  • Vomiting or taking laxatives after normal meals, snacks or any binge
Link to "How to Spot the Signs of an Eating Disorder"
Link to “How to Spot the Signs of an Eating Disorder”

An eating disorder can often feel unconquerable. It can also feel like the only thing you have control over during a chaotic or traumatic situation. In many ways, an eating disorder is a self-harm coping mechanism.

You do not have to fight alone. Your health is important and there are people trained to help you.

USA Contact: National Eating Disorder Association

UK Contact: National Centre for Eating Disorders

As a personal aside, I used anorexic behaviour to cope with my own abusive relationship. It was not the first time I had stopped eating or worried about my weight but it was the most drastic weight loss I’ve experienced.

I still have to remind myself that it was an unhealthy weight loss.

That I don’t want to go back there.

That I don’t need my bones to be visible to have worth.

That I am a beautiful, desirable person at any weight because I am more than a body.

I still struggle to accept the number on the scale, always wanting it to be smaller.

Link to "Body Image"
Link to “Body Image”

Deep down, I know I could easily fall back into that behaviour.

At the peak of my eating disorder, I weighed 115 lbs. According to my doctor, 145 lbs is a healthy, reasonable weight for me based upon my height and body type. Currently 143 lbs, I’m healthy, active, and comfortably slender…but still nearly 30 lbs heavier than I was five years ago.

It’s still a struggle but the biggest thing I’ve learned is this: when people told me there is no “good” food and “bad” food, they were right. Some foods are healthier than others but all food needs moderation. Portion control is so important because our bodies need a balanced diet! Clean eating (with the occasional, special occasion treat) and using the MyFitnessPal app to monitor my daily calories (for accountability) and daily exercise (to subdue the guilt of eating) have been the most effective tools for me.

I’m still teaching myself that it’s okay to end the day at or even a few calories above my calorie goal (not 300 calories below…which always feels good and feeds my desire to control my body). I’m still learning that my body is not built to weigh 115 lbs without becoming extremely unhealthy.

I imagine I will always want to change something about my body – whether its my waistline or my nose. But taking baby steps, identifying my weaknesses, and finding support in family and friends have enabled me to take control of a problem I felt five years ago would control me for life.

Link to "The Psychology of Dieting"
Link to “The Psychology of Dieting”

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