Binge Eating Disorder and Childhood Trauma

Thanks to PsychCentral for alerting me to recent research linking binge eating disorder to childhood abuse, in particular sexual or emotional abuse.

Binge eating disorder is a type of eating disorder characterized by recurrent binge eating without the regular use of compensatory weight-control measures such as purging.  This is what differentiates it from bulimia. In addition, binge eating disorder is characterized by:

The study, published by the International Journal of Eating Disorders, discovered that the severity of this eating disorder, as reflected by greater body dissatisfaction and depressive symptoms, is related to childhood histories of specific kinds of abuse: sexual and emotional. You can read the article online here. What was particularly interesting to me is that the mediating factor between childhood abuse and the development of body dissatisfaction was something I have written about previously, self-criticism.

David M. Dunkley, a psychiatric researcher and clinical psychologist at the Jewish General Hospital (JGH) in Montreal, and his colleagues state:

One possibility is that people who experience excessive criticism, repeated insults, or some kind of physical/sexual abuse during childhood may come to develop a similarly critical view of themselves over time.

In my practice I often see trauma survivors blame themselves for the abuse they experienced and for what they see as their failure to earn the love and approval of others. Sometimes the body becomes the concrete focus of general self-hatred and blame. This is not surprising, given culture-wide attitudes about body acceptance (or the lack thereof):

We are raised from birth in a culture that teaches us to criticize and dissociate from our bodies. –Lesley Kinzel, fat-activist, blogger and creator of Fatshionista

To me this research serves as further evidence regarding the need to address underlying shame, self-blame and the negative self-talk that results for many trauma survivors. If we stay focused on the symptom level we miss the root issues that must be addressed. You were not and are not to blame for the abuse that was inflicted upon you as a child. You deserve to make peace with yourself, including your body, exactly as you are now. We are all imperfect, we are all flawed. That is what makes us unique.

Kathleen Young, Psy.D.

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David M. Dunkley, Robin M. Masheb, Carlos M. Grilo. Childhood maltreatment, depressive symptoms, and body dissatisfaction in patients with binge eating disorder: The mediating role of self-criticism. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 2010; DOI: 10.1002/eat.20796

Nauert, R. (2010, May 13). Magnitude of Binge Eating Disorder Tied to Childhood | Psych Central News. Psych Central – Trusted mental health, depression, bipolar, ADHD and psychology information. Retrieved May 13, 2010, from

This entry was posted in Abuse, Body Image, Childhood Abuse, Depression, Dissociation, Eating Disorders, Emotional Abuse, Health, Mental Health, Psychologist, Sexual Abuse, Trauma and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Binge Eating Disorder and Childhood Trauma

  1. I always knew there was a link between my eating habits and poor body image to my childhood. This was an interesting read. Thanks.

  2. Pingback: Binge Eating Disorder « Dr. Kathleen Young: Treating Trauma in Chicago

  3. Pingback: How Trauma Impacts Mental Health « Dr. Kathleen Young: Treating Trauma in Chicago

  4. excavatinglife says:

    I enjoyed reading your comments on binge eating and abuse. I have been a binge eater since age 10, and have slowly weaned myself from the frequent binge episodes by adding healthy habits to my life. It is a slow process and learning to accept that this is a coping habit has helped me to accept myself as I am and not to hate myself for the loss of control at these times.

  5. Pingback: Eating Disorder Awareness | Dr. Kathleen Young: Treating Trauma in Chicago

  6. Pingback: Trauma and World Mental Health Day | Dr. Kathleen Young: Treating Trauma

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