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Study Shows Life Transitions May Trigger Eating Disorders

In a small study that was recently reported by the University of Minnesota and published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, researchers found that going through traumatic life events such as relationship problems, the death of a loved one, abuse or sexual assault may trigger the development of an eating disorder. This research coincides with what we have been teaching for years.

The patients in the study, which involved a group of 26 women and one man, suffered from anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders. The patients reported that events such as changing jobs and schools prompted their eating disorders, but the events also included trauma such as sexual assault and illness. The study focused on the link between transitional family events and the development of eating disorders.

Patients reported the onset of an eating disorder with events like relationship changes in their own lives and in their families because they felt like they could not control their own lives. Other common events that were reported to spur an eating disorder included changing schools and feeling lonely or lost as well as the death of a family member or someone else close to the patient. Anxiety often accompanies these traumatic events, giving patients the possibility of dual disorders, the combination of an eating disorder with other psychological issues such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder or other disorders.

The study aimed to find a strong link between major life changes and eating disorders, so everything from changing homes, to hospitalization, to sexual abuse and incest was considered. Jerica Berge, the assistant professor that led the study, stated that she wanted to help families, parents and doctors more easily identify eating disorders by looking for warning signs when someone experiences trauma in their lives.

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