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Anorexia and Trauma: What Happens When Bad Things Happen to Good People

Trauma and Stress are Culprits
Though there is no one particular cause of anorexia nervosa, stressful and traumatic events can and often do play a role. Since events like this leave you feeling out of control, the need to regain control becomes paramount. For some people, overeating, or in the case of those who suffer from anorexia nervosa, restricting food intake, is one way to regain a feeling of personal control.

When something traumatic happens to you, you may feel badly about yourself. Instead of seeing the event as bad, you begin to see yourself as bad too. For instance, if you have been assaulted, you may believe you are the cause of the assault. You may feel that you deserved it. Though not true, these negative thoughts can cause all kinds of problems – usually problems with how you see yourself and how you take care of yourself.

Bad things that can happen can be huge, such as being sexually assaulted or having a potentially deadly disease like cancer or being in an accident or house fire. Bad things can be smaller, too. They can be things like being in a bad relationship, having a job failure, ongoing stress, or witnessing a terrible event. Whether the event is big or small in the eyes of another, in your own eyes, it is very big and very real and leaves you feeling out of control.

Trying to Gain Control
When something bad has happened to you, your body responds. Sometimes it responds with headaches or stomach pains or even lots of colds! You may also take out your distress on your body. With anorexia, you do this by not eating, using laxatives, or exercising too much. When your body produces symptoms, it is manifesting the stress. When you take out your distress on your body, this is your way of showing the effect the stress and trauma has on you without ever having to really talk about it or confront it.

Since the trauma or stress has left you feeling out of control, you may be desperately trying to regain control. The problem with using food as a way of gaining control is that you actually lose control of your body, your life, and even your emotions to the relationship you are forming with the food!

In the end, using food to control your life does not work. Starving yourself or only eating certain foods or over-exercising seem to work in the short run by comforting or soothing you, but these behaviors have so many long term consequences that practice of them leave you worse off than before. What you will need to do is find other coping methods that help you feel better but don’t cause health or safety issues.

This is easier said than done. If you knew a better way, surely you would already be doing it, right? That is why asking a professional for help may be the answer.

Face It and Get Through It
To find a new way to express the pain of the events that triggered your eating disorder, you will need to make changes in how you think about the event and what you do for control. To do this, you will need to seek support to learn new, healthy ways to cope with emotional pain.

Traumatic events happen to everyone. In order to move beyond the pain, you will need to remember that the event was bad. You were not bad, you did not deserve the pain, you were not the cause of the pain, and you deserve to get better, feel better, and say yes to life!

Kimberly Krueger, MSW, LCSW is a therapist and the founder and director of Southlake Counseling and The Center for Self Discovery in Davidson, NC. Kimberly may be reached at This article may be used but original content must be kept in tact and full credit must be given to author, including contact information.

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