When two disorders impact your mental health at the same time, they’re called co-occurring conditions. With that said, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and eating disorders are well known for afflicting people simultaneously.
In fact, most people who struggle with an eating disorder face one or more types of anxiety as well. Unsurprisingly, to effectively treat an eating disorder, it’s wise to address any anxiety disorders, too.
Yet, it’s more than simply “hitting two birds with one stone.” Rather, the benefits are plentiful. Here’s why it’s best to treat your eating disorder and PTSD together.
Understand the Connection
As mentioned, treating both disorders involves far more than a so-called tag-a-long recovery. A large part of supporting your own recovery is to understand how the two disorders connect.
But let’s back up to talk about trauma first.
Trauma looks (and feels) differently to you than it does the person sitting next to you. It’s the result of a highly disturbing experience or a series of distressing events. Because of this, your mind and body attempt to cope with the negative impact of the experience—often resulting in PTSD.
It’s not uncommon to suffer many different PTSD symptoms, including loss of self, hyper-vigilance, guilt, low self-esteem, feeling out of control, etc.
Frequently, eating disorders begin as an unhealthy coping mechanism. Emotional overwhelm can come swiftly and mercilessly in the aftermath of trauma, causing you to depend more and more on your relationship with food to manage the intense feelings.
Benefits of Treating the Conditions Together
With such a nefarious intertwining, these two conditions can interfere with your life and even cause physical damage.
Yet, when treated together, it’s possible for you to reclaim your life. Here are a few benefits:
Prevents Self-Perpetuating Cycle
While there is nothing wrong with treating one condition at a time, it can be problematic. Let me explain.
When you undergo treatment for one condition, that particular part of your life often improves. The bad news is that it often causes the other condition to become more intense.
Treating both PTSD and an eating disorder at the same time helps to balance your recovery in a more efficient way.
Empowers a Sense of Self
With both PTSD and eating disorders, the person struggling often loses their sense of self, as mentioned before.
You may have even experienced feeling disconnected from who you truly are—as if the bridge between you and your core values collapsed.
A skilled therapist experienced in trauma treatment can help you to restore your sense of self by addressing both PTSD and an eating disorder all at once. As a result, this empowers you by decreasing the impact of both disorders.
Encourages a Feeling of Control
Eating disorders often develop as ways to feel more in control of your life. The trauma you experience likely left you feeling a bit out of control. PTSD has a way of doing that.
Nevertheless, to help you regain a feeling of control, it’s important to treat both PTSD and an eating disorder at the same time. Mostly, it’s because of how much the two conditions are interwoven.
For example, imagine pushing a hefty pile of sand back with one palm. There is bound to be some spillage over the top and sides of your hand. But, two hands cupping the mound can move the sand more efficiently.
Answers the “How” and the “Why”
Getting to the root of the issue is a large part of treating both PTSD and eating disorders. Strangely enough, eating disorders often sprout from the core cause of PTSD. Treating both allows you to come to terms with the “how and why did this happen?”
As a result, you can uncover the foundation of the unhealthy coping mechanism. Furthermore, your therapist can work with you to develop healthy coping skills to better manage the trauma.
Take the first step…
If you are ready to address PTSD, an eating disorder or issues with food that may be impacting your life, I would like to help. Please contact me via phone or email so we can discuss how we might work together to achieve your therapeutic goals as quickly and effectively as possible.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Linda K. Laffey, MFT