Update on Psychological Trauma, Other Severe Adverse Experiences and Eating Disorders: State of the Research and Future Research Directions

Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2017 Aug;19(8):45. doi: 10.1007/s11920-017-0806-6.


Purpose of review: This paper provides an updated review of the literature on the relationship between psychological trauma exposure, other severe adverse experiences, and eating disorders.

Recent findings: Trauma exposure and other severe adverse experiences (e.g., emotional abuse) in both childhood and adulthood are associated with eating disorders. The relationship between traumatic and other adverse experiences and eating disorders appears to be mediated by emotional and behavioral dysregulation, as well as by cognitive factors such as self-criticism. Biological vulnerabilities may also be relevant to this relationship. Overall, the literature is limited by predominantly cross-sectional designs. There is clear evidence of a correlational relationship between trauma exposure and other severe adverse events, and eating disorders. Both risk and maintenance factor hypotheses have been put forth; however, prospective research testing these hypotheses remains limited. Future research should use prospective designs and focus on trauma-related symptoms (rather than trauma exposure) in order to advance research on risk and maintaining factors for eating disorders and inform treatment directions.

Keywords: Anorexia nervosa; Bulimia nervosa; Eating disorders; Posttraumatic stress disorder; Severe adverse experiences; Trauma.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychological Trauma / complications*
  • Self Concept
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / complications