The role of sexual assault history and PTSD in responses to food intake among women with bulimic-spectrum eating disorders

Eat Disord. 2023 Dec 13:1-17. doi: 10.1080/10640266.2023.2293597. Online ahead of print.


Sexual abuse or assault (SA) history is associated with eating disorder severity and psychiatric comorbidity, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Beyond persistent alterations in mood and cognitions characterizing PTSD, PTSD due to SA may contribute to greater increases in negative affect and body image concerns following food intake in bulimic syndromes (BN-S). To test this, participants (n = 172) with BN-S who reported PTSD due to SA, PTSD due to other forms of trauma, or neither completed clinical interviews and momentary reports of negative affect and shape/weight preoccupation before and after food intake. Participants with PTSD, regardless of trauma source, reported higher purging frequency whereas PTSD due to SA was associated with more frequent loss of control eating. For one task, changes in negative affect following food intake differed across the three groups. Negative affect decreased significantly in participants with PTSD without SA whereas nonsignificant increases were observed in those with PTSD with SA. Results of the present study suggest that source of trauma in PTSD may impact likelihood that eating regulates affect and provide insight into ways current treatments may be adapted to better target purging in BN-S comorbid with PTSD.