Rates of eating disorders and food addiction in veterans are higher than the general population. Eating disorders are mostly regarded as a women’s illness. PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder, is mostly seen in males. This combination leads to a population of veterans, and potentially other people suffering from PTSD, slighted in being examined for eating disorders.
Post traumatic stress disorder is known for being symptomized by flashbacks, terror, and emotional stress. The illness was turned into a diagnosis to understand the distress experienced by soldiers returning from war, specifically the Vietnam War fought by American soldiers. Overtime, PTSD has come to be understood as something that can happen to anyone witnessing a traumatic experience of violence or shock, specifically something out of control. One of the lesser known effects of PTSD is expressive suppression. Veterans especially, as well as other people suffering from PTSD, feel trapped in their experiences. They lose their coping mechanisms in being able to express their emotions. As a result, they become emotionally dysregulated. Research found that in veterans with expressive suppression, there was a high occurrence of eating disorders. Many of the subjects in the study displayed symptoms of both eating disorders and food addiction, however, most did not fit criteria for food addiction.
Using Food as a Coping Mechanism
Understanding the relation between PTSD and eating disorders or food addiction requires a deeper look into how people with PTSD need to cope. Symptoms of PTSD include:
- Reliving the event
- Social Avoidance
- Pessimism or negative change in faith
People experiencing PTSD are uncomfortable in their own minds and bodies. Emotionally dysregulated and constantly in a state of fear plague them with inability to feel safe or at ease. Food addiction is connected to the feelings of comfort brought by food. Food can stimulate the production of dopamine, a transmitter in the brain which communicates pleasure. Certain foods can produce feelings of tiredness, calm, or even excitability. Without the ability to regulate their own emotions, food is a logical choice to find solace in.