When an Eating Disorder Is Triggered by Trauma
The news came to me in September 2008. I was 10 years old and a fifth grader in elementary school. Old enough to understand what was happening, but too young to fully comprehend it.
At any age, having your parents file for a divorce is tough to swallow, but I think my age supported the development of the perfect storm.
I wasn’t young enough to never remember my parents together and reminisce about the times where my family was “perfect,” yet I wasn’t old enough to properly know how to deal with the situation. The coping mechanism I subconsciously decided on was manipulating my food intake. The year my parents separated, my grades dropped and I started binge eating.
Food, the only thing I could seemingly control, was my life-preserver and I held onto it for “survival.” Not realizing what I was doing, everyone around me ignored how much I ate for a long time.
In my family, sharing feelings and personal struggles wasn’t the norm. I never talked about how I felt so I turned to food to cope. My dad started to get concerned around seventh or eighth grade, urging me to start “exercising and eating right,” not realizing the full extent of what was going on. Can you blame him though? With shows on television like “The Biggest Loser,” society believes people who are “overweight” are somehow weak and unable to control themselves. Society’s solution then, is going on a diet.
My “diet” began. I ate “healthier” and walked/ran every single day. I was supported by both of my parents and everyone else in my life. I vowed I would show everyone who called me names and laughed at me in P.E. class. I would get my revenge by losing weight and looking “beautiful.” I would diet before I entered high school and look “amazing” and everyone would be jealous. That was exactly what I did.
Sure enough, my freshman year I received compliments about the way I looked from the same peers that made fun of me. My dad was proud and my grandfather no longer pressured my dad telling him that his young daughter needed to lose weight.
Sure, I looked good to everyone around me, but my problems were not solved. I was still unhappy.
During my first year of high school, I became extremely stressed and my anxiety skyrocketed. I started over-eating again. I gained all of the weight I had lost plus more. I was eating away my feelings again because that was just how I “solved” my problems.
One night before a party sophomore year, I could not fit in a dress I had worn just months earlier and no matter what we did it would not zip. My dad pushed me onto the scale. I read the number and began to cry. In that moment, I vowed to lose all of the weight and never ever look like that again.
This was the diet that became an eating disorder.
The summer of my Junior year, I was diagnosed with anorexia and began what I needed more than a diet — therapy.
In my first round of treatment, I had several epiphanies.
1. I couldn’t talk about my feelings so I subconsciously used food to control them and push them away.
2. I developed my eating disorder long before I thought I had because over-eating accomplished the same thing for me as restricting.
3. I subconsciously used my eating disorder to force my parents “together” again.
4. I used my eating disorder to somehow “get back” at my parents for putting me through their divorce.
Everything began to make sense.
No, my eating disorder was not solely caused by the separation of my parents, but it was the triggered it to begin.
Many with eating disorders have experienced some type of trauma in their lives. Some more serious than others, but everyone’s trauma is significant to them no matter what the outside world believes. Mine happened to be a divorce.
If you have an eating disorder and haven’t already, I encourage you to look back in your life. What may not seem like a traumatic event just might have been what began your eating disorder. It may be something you have to work through with your therapist to recover from your eating disorder.
Although you will never be able to fix or change what happened, you can communicate how you felt about it and cope with it in a healthier way.
“Your past does not define your future!” Don’t let something that happened to you keep you stuck. You deserve recovery and that sometimes means talking about something that causes discomfort. That’s OK. You can cope with being uncomfortable. And recovery is all about being uncomfortable. I hate to break it to you, but it’s true. You can do this.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.
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