By On August 2nd, 2016

Exploring The Link Between PTSD and Binge Eating


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can affect a person’s live in countless ways. Many have trouble getting proper sleep, while others struggle to interact with others in public due to their condition. What you might not know is PTSD also frequently affects a person’s eating patterns in surprising and sometimes dangerous ways.

For years, researchers have been noticing that individuals with PTSD are significantly more likely to struggle with binge eating. In fact, it is believed about 1 in 4 people who live with PTSD from a traumatic event also report binge eating.

“People with PTSD have such a hard time focusing on the present and future because they are preoccupied with traumatic memories or trying to avoid traumatic reminders,” Rachel Yehuda, Ph.D., told WebMD.  Yehuda is the director of the traumatic stress studies division at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

“Sometimes that means they don’t plan well for future meals, and [as a result], they may get very hungry and overeat or overeat compulsively.”

While scientists are becoming more aware of the association between PTSD and binge eating, little is known about the link. However, researchers have noted that both conditions are related to issues with stress hormones and brain chemistry, so there may be a common root cause of both conditions.

It is widely believed PTSD typically precedes binge eating disorder, as scientists theorize people turn to binge eating to “escape” their painful memories from the traumatic event. This has yet to be proven with scientific study, though.

“People with binge eating disorder often don’t understand what they’re feeling or why,” explains Timothy Brewerton, MD, and executive medical director of The Hearth Center for Eating Disorders in Columbia, S.C. “They’re too busy compulsively trying to numb the pain with food.”

The good news is both binge eating and PTSD are highly treatable conditions. Cognitive behavioral therapy has shown to be effective for both conditions when they occur separately, so there it stands to reason that it can be useful for those who have both. However, the treatment may need to be modified to account for the presence of both. Medication can also help those who experience PTSD. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have been shown to be effective for those with PTSD, and can also help with anxiety and depression that often accompany binge eating disorder.

If you think you or someone you know may be living with PTSD or an eating disorder, give us a call at (888) 298-4673. We can answer any questions you have and find the right treatment plan for you.

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