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The Correlation Between Trauma & Food Addiction

Food addiction and eating disorders are rarely about food. Disordered eating behaviours are most commonly connected to underlying emotional difficulties, frequently resulting from past traumatic experiences.

To support a food-addicted client therapeutically, you must be able to understand the link between trauma and food addiction. In this article, I will outline the key correlations.

The Relationship Between Trauma and Food Addiction

Numerous studies have evidenced a close correlation between traumatic experiences and eating disorders, particularly binge eating disorder (BED) and bulimia nervosa (BD).[1] Both BD, BED, and food addiction are conditions characterised by a compulsion to overeat, overwhelming cravings, and a loss of control around food.

So, why would trauma cause someone to turn towards disordered eating habits? Food addiction is a maladaptive coping mechanism that distracts individuals from complex emotional pain. This allows the person to feel detached from their lives and their trauma temporarily.

According to a recent report by the National Health Service,[2] 75% of people that attend addiction services have experienced trauma or abuse in their lives.

In the beginning, an addiction provides temporary ‘release’ from emotional pain. However, the addictive behaviour often spirals out of control and starts to interfere with daily life.

Trauma can incite a whole host of complex emotions and feelings, both immediately after the event and some years later. People with food addiction generally find it very difficult to process their emotions.

Trauma survivors may feel:

  • Fear
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Self-hatred
  • Guilt
  • Shame

As such, the goal is to help clients respond to their emotions in healthier, more constructive ways.

Dissociation After Trauma

Trauma survivors find themselves in a state of hyperarousal. This is due to the activation of the fight or flight system, which floods the body with stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.

When people spend long periods of time in this heightened state, they are more likely to experience dissociation. This is the act of detaching from their bodily experiences as a coping mechanism to avoid physical discomfort and emotional pain. In the context of food addiction, this could look like:

  • Bingeing – Overeating to deal with complicated feelings.
  • Purging – Vomiting or using laxatives as a way of detaching from their experience or for the temporary relief this can bring.
  • Obsession – Planning the next meal or snack, inability to focus on the present due to thinking about food, strong non-physical hunger cravings, calorie counting, restricting, or even over-exercising as means to control and cope with their emotions.
  • Social Isolation – People with food addiction often withdraw from social contact. This may be because they are detaching from elements of their personal identity, but it is also due to increasing levels of low self-esteem and shame around their eating habits.

Traumas Commonly Associated with Eating Disorders

Any type of traumatic experience can trigger the onset of an eating disorder or food addiction. However, research suggests that the following traumas can be a significant factor for the predisposition of an eating disorder:

  • Insecure attachment with a primary Caregiver[3]
  • Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse in childhood, including abandonment and neglect[4]
  • Being bullied during childhood or adolescence. Bullying may be weight or appearance-related but could take any form. This could be from peers at school, online, or parents in the home.[5]
  • Familial conflict or a poor parental relationship
  • Pressure to consume food when not hungry or if it is disliked. This is commonly seen in the home at mealtimes.

Trauma does not inevitably lead to food addiction, as we all process experiences differently. Additionally, a sufferer of food addiction may not have experienced a significant trauma which correlates. The onset of an eating disorder is highly complex and multifaceted, so it requires patience, compassion, and understanding.

Conclusion

As a food addiction coach, most of my clients suffer from some form of emotional dysregulation. One of my primary focuses is to help my clients find positive and healthy ways to cope with their painful emotions without reaching for the comfort of disordered eating habits. Therapy, including cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), is a wonderful tool for teaching new skills and tools to start the journey towards regulation.

As professionals, it is vital not to make any assumptions about our clients. It is essential to treat them as an individual, to hear their story, and help uncover the unique causes of their difficulties with food.

If you would like to seek help or learn more about disordered eating issues, please get in touch with me, Dr Bunmi Aboaba, The Food Addiction Coach, by following this link.

 

Sources:

[1] Mitchell KS, Mazzeo SE, Schlesinger MR, Brewerton TD, Smith BN. Comorbidity of partial and subthreshold PTSD among men and women with eating disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey-Replication Study. The International Journal of Eating Disorders. 2012;45(3):307-315. doi:10.1002/eat.20965.

[2] Transformingpsychologicaltrauma.Scot, 2019, https://transformingpsychologicaltrauma.scot/media/x54hw43l/nationaltraumatrainingframework.pdf.

[3] Caslini, Manuela et al. “Disentangling The Association Between Child Abuse And Eating Disorders”. Psychosomatic Medicine, vol 78, no. 1, 2016, pp. 79-90. Ovid Technologies (Wolters Kluwer Health), doi:10.1097/psy.0000000000000233. Accessed 12 Nov 2021.

[4] Allison, Kelly C. et al. “High Self-Reported Rates Of Neglect And Emotional Abuse, By Persons With Binge Eating Disorder And Night Eating Syndrome”. Behaviour Research And Therapy, vol 45, no. 12, 2007, pp. 2874-2883. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/j.brat.2007.05.007. Accessed 12 Nov 2021.

[5] Allison, Kelly C. et al. “High Self-Reported Rates Of Neglect And Emotional Abuse, By Persons With Binge Eating Disorder And Night Eating Syndrome”. Behaviour Research And Therapy, vol 45, no. 12, 2007, pp. 2874-2883. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/j.brat.2007.05.007. Accessed 12 Nov 2021.

The post The Correlation Between Trauma & Food Addiction appeared first on Food Addiction Coach.

Dr. Bunmi Aboaba Food Addiction Counsellor

My name is Bunmi Aboaba and I am Food Addiction Counsellor and leading authority on food addiction in the United Kingdom, helping clients achieve a healthy relationship with food so that they can meet their long-term health goals.

My work covers the full spectrum of disordered eating, including overeating, compulsive eating, emotional eating, and other associated patterns. I am also the creator of the R4 Method, a Food Addiction Certification to support health and fitness professionals to help their clients achieve long-lasting results.

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