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Transitional events ranging in severity from abuse to changing schools can trigger eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, according to recent research from the University of Minnesota.

The researchers spoke with 27 participants – 26 women and one man – between the ages of 17 and 64 who were receiving treatment from a specialist outpatient clinic for an eating disorder. They found that a lack of support from loved ones following a traumatic event could lead to eating disorders.

“The aim of our study was to find out if there was any link between transitional events in family life and the onset of eating disorders” says lead author Jerica Berge. “Eating disorders are an important public health issue and knowing what causes them can help us to develop more effective treatment and support.”

The research yielded six key themes covering the transitional events that preceded eating disorders in the participants:

  • School transition
  • Relationship changes
  • Death of a family member
  • Home and job transition
  • Illness/hospitalization.
  • Abuse/sexual assault/incest

Berge said the findings confirm that eating disorders can be triggered by various life changes and a lack of support while they occur, which was a common theme throughout the study.

“We hope that our findings will be of interest to parents as well as health professionals, as they underline the need for greater awareness and support at times of change and stress,” she said.

Source: American Psychological Association

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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