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Trauma exposure and disordered eating: A qualitative study.

Breland JY, Donalson R, Dinh JV, Maguen S. Trauma exposure and disordered eating: A qualitative study. Women & health. 2018 Feb 1; 58(2):160-174.

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Quantitative studies have demonstrated a positive association between trauma exposure and disordered eating. However, reasons for this relationship are unclear. We used qualitative methods to understand why some individuals exposed to trauma report disordered eating. We conducted five focus groups and two dyadic interviews between spring 2013 and fall 2014 with women at a Veterans Health Administration medical center (N  =  20). Most participants were recruited from outpatient mental health clinics. Participants completed demographic and psychological questionnaires. Using thematic analysis of transcripts, we identified trauma and disordered eating-related themes. Most participants were women of color (55%), and many reported psychological symptoms (65%). The mean age was 48 years (SD  =  15). Thematic analysis resulted in three themes. First, trauma can be associated with disordered eating, often in relation to negative affect and maladaptive thoughts. Second, disordered eating can provide short-term, but not long-term, relief from trauma-related negative affect. Third, disordered eating can provide a mechanism to avoid unwanted attention from potential and past perpetrators of trauma. Trauma-related disordered eating, particularly in relation to sexual trauma, may have a distinct profile. Querying patients about causes of disordered eating when women report trauma histories may help clinicians ensure patients receive appropriate treatment.

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