Majority of Eating Disorder Patients Experience Childhood Sexual Abuse, Trauma

The nation's leading eating disorder treatment center, reports that more than 50 percent of its patients have experienced trauma in their lives. The trauma is usually sexual, physical and emotional abuse.

"Forty-nine percent of our patients have experienced childhood sexual abuse," said Amy Spahr, clinical director at Remuda Programs for Eating Disorders. "This is about 20 percent higher than in the general population. Additionally, in the last five years, 11 percent of adolescent and 20 percent of adult patients were diagnosed with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)."

Research has shown that childhood sexual abuse increases binge-eating, purging, restricting calories, body shame and body dissatisfaction. Eating disorders become a way of helping victims cope with shame. They feel they may need to modify their body in ways that reduce shame or distress. For example, a woman suffering from trauma and an eating disorder may wish to reduce her breast size in order to appear less feminine and therefore, less appealing to men because of her past sexual abuse.

"At Remuda, we teach patients skills that assist them in achieving recovery from their eating disorder while taking significant steps to work through trauma issues," adds Spahr.

Many times, patients use trauma as an explanation for their continued need to rely on eating disorder behaviors. The center's treatment model aims to teach sufficient skills so the patient trauma issues are no longer so intense. Once in recovery from the eating disorder, they can return as needed to more in-depth trauma work without significant risk of an eating disorder relapse.

"Trauma recovery work, combined with eating disorder recovery, can be challenging and complicated," adds Spahr. "A patient who has been victimized may often have difficulty building trust and acceptance. An essential element that is necessary in assisting the patient in the trauma work is providing an environment of support and acceptance."