Using EMDR to Heal from Trauma Symptoms in Eating Disorder Recovery

Using EMDR to Heal from Trauma Symptoms in Eating Disorder Recovery

On the surface, eating disorders, like anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder may seem to be food-related problems. When it comes to these illnesses, there is always more than what meets the eye.

In the case of eating disorders, there are many factors that influence the development of these mental illnesses, including biological factors, environmental stressors, and psychological components.

For many young girls and women with eating disorders, unresolved trauma may play a part in the development of these conditions. Disruptive food behaviors are rarely only about food or even eating. In many cases, a negative relationship to food may develop in response to a trauma or a set of circumstances that women didn’t have control over.

The Connection between Trauma and Eating Disorders

Trauma can occur in various forms and at different times in a woman’s life, and unresolved trauma can stem from childhood. Research has found that childhood trauma affects the integrity of brain structures that modulate brain processes, such as taste and body image perception, which play a fundamental role in the psychopathology of eating disorders [1].

Some of the different forms of trauma might include, but are not limited to:

● Emotional abuse
● Physical assault or abuse
● Sexual assault or abuse
● Serious accident or illness
● Being in or witnessing a serious accident
● Victim or witness to domestic and/or community violence
● Experiencing a natural disaster
● Neglect
● War, terrorism, or political violence
● Military trauma
● Traumatic grief or separation

In many experiences of trauma, a young girl or woman may attempt to disassociate from herself or her circumstances as a means of coping with difficult emotions or feelings resulting from the trauma. For some women who may already be susceptible to developing a mental illness, an eating disorder can become a way to cope with unresolved trauma and a means for disconnecting from the associated pain and distress.

When left unresolved, trauma can manifest through physical, emotional, psychological, and mental symptoms, which can become chronic without intervention and treatment. This can negatively influence a woman’s overall quality of life.

How EMDR Can Help Resolve Trauma Symptoms

Thankfully, there are trauma-focused treatments that can help remove the pain of the trauma that has blocked an individual’s ability to move forward in life. One such treatment is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), a psychotherapeutic technique that allows individuals to heal from the emotional distress resulting from disturbing life experiences, such as trauma [2]. EMDR is a recognized form of trauma therapy, with studies validating this technique to facilitate the accessing and processing of traumatic memories and other adverse life experiences in order to promote healing and resolution.

EMDR therapy can help a woman process emotionally disruptive information in short doses while simultaneously focusing on an external stimulus. It has been shown that EMDR therapy can help the mind heal from psychological trauma, just as the body might recover and heal from physical trauma.

According to the EMDR Institute, this form of therapy uses a three-pronged protocol when it comes to healing from trauma [2]:

1. The past dysfunctional events are processed, allowing new associative links with adaptive information
2. Current circumstances that evoke distress are targeted, and internal/external triggers are desensitized
3. Future scenarios are incorporated to help an individual acquire the needed skills for positive future actions

In the case of a woman who may have an eating disorder that is perpetuated by unresolved trauma, EMDR can help remove blocks or imbalances in mental processes that may have been impacted by trauma. Healing can resume once these mental blocks created by traumatic incidences are removed. One of the goals of EMDR therapy is to help individuals activate their natural healing process from past trauma.

Ultimately, when underlying trauma has been resolved, this lessens the compulsion to engage in eating disorder behaviors that serve to disconnect a woman from the associated pain. Transforming the hardships related to a traumatic experience can also allow a woman to rewrite her future and learn more effective coping skills to maintain eating disorder recovery.

Connecting to Professional Help

If you or a loved one has been impacted by trauma and is suffering from an eating disorder, it is critical to connect to specialized treatment that can help facilitate healing and recovery. At The Meadows Ranch, we offer comprehensive and compassionate care to help alleviate the impact of traumatic experiences and the subsequent eating disorder.

By integrating innovative eating disorder treatment therapies, including EMDR, our multidisciplinary team can offer you the specialized care you need to begin your healing journey today. Connect with us today and change the story of your future.


[1]: Alessio Maria Monteleone, Palmiero Monteleone, Fabrizio Esposito, Anna Prinster, Valeria Ruzzi, Antonietta Canna, Marco Aiello, Francesco Di Salle & Mario Maj (2017) The effects of childhood maltreatment on brain structure in adults with eating disorders, The World Journal of Biological Psychiatry, DOI: 10.1080/15622975.2017.1395071

[2]: EMDR Institute, Inc. “What is EMDR?”, Accessed 29 May 2018