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Eating Disorders May be Triggered by Traumatic Events

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New research published in the May issue of the Journal of Clinical Nursing has determined that a lack of support following traumatic and/or transitional events may trigger serious eating disorders in some young people.

The researchers from the University of Minnesota interviewed 26 women and one man who were receiving treatment from a specialist outpatient clinic for eating disorders. The people in the study were aged from 17 to 64, and had suffered from their eating disorders for an average of 20 years.

9 of the participants had a diagnosis of anorexia and 3 had bulimia. One person had both conditions, and 14 were suffering from EDNOS; eating disorders that did not meet the specific criteria to fit into any one diagnostic condition.

The researchers were interested in finding out whether or not there was a link between certain transitional events in a person’s life, and the subsequent development of an eating disorder.

6 themes emerged that had impacted the participants who had then gone on to develop eating disorders. These included relationship issues, abuse and sexual assault, unresolved grief, serious personal illness, school transition, and having to cope with a move or new job.

Within these categories certain issues also arose that had exacerbated the stress already experienced during the transitional and/or traumatic event. Many participants mentioned missing their family, friends, or familiar co-workers during transitional changes such as a new job, different school, or major move to another location. Feelings of losing control were common throughout, and the eating disorder was described by many as a way of gaining back some sense of control in their disordered lives. A lack of support and overwhelming loneliness were also cited as contributing factors.

Changes to family dynamics and structure were also traumatic for this group of individuals. Divorce, relationship changes (such as breaking-up with a partner), and bereavement following the death of a family member were especially difficult for these participants.

Some individuals mentioned becoming overly focused on food or diet following a serious illness or hospitalization.

Lastly, traumatic events such as abuse or sexual assault resulted in an eating disorder for some of the participants. Several mentioned overeating in order to gain weight which they hoped would make them appear less vulnerable or less attractive to their abusers.

Source: Medical News Today