Resilience After Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Dr. David Wiss

June 1, 2022

Trauma

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a potential consequence of childhood adversity known to have a wide range of impacts on an individual’s life course trajectory. Trauma (distinct from PTSD) is a lived experience and not a clinical disorder. Complex PTSD describes the impact of repeated trauma over months and years, rather than a single “event.”

PTSD is diagnosed when symptoms such as hypervigilance, avoidance, dissociation, anxiety, anhedonia, sleep disturbance, and intrusive thoughts are present. PTSD has been strongly correlated with multiple forms of disordered eating [1, 2]. We have helped many people find recovery by building up both biological and social mechanisms of resilience.

Although some traumatized children develop trauma-related psychopathology, others do not [3], which supports the concept of resilience among certain individuals. A person’s response to traumatic experiences, particularly given a lack of resources to process such experiences (i.e., resilience), may facilitate unhealthy coping through substance use, which may increase the risk for new traumatizing experiences.

It is also common for this substance to be ultra-processed foods rather than alcohol or illicit drugs, which can lead to dieting behaviors and the internalization of weight stigma, which can present new stressors that exacerbate ill-health [4]. Fortunately, there are treatment options. 

Compared to individuals without a diagnosis, those with symptoms of PTSD were more likely to assess the risk for aversive events as higher [5], often referred to as threat vigilance. Being hypervigilant to threats can impair social ties and may impact one’s perception of social support [6]. PTSD can impair help-seeking behavior and thereby hinder resilience resources. It is not uncommon that individuals with PTSD are less likely to seek help, particularly with eating behavior. Seeking help with nutrition can feel very sensitive, so it is critical to find providers who “get it.” We get it. 

At Wise Mind Nutrition, we use nutrition and wellness as a pathway to building resilience. This can include eating in ways known to reduce inflammation (high in fibers and polyphenols for gut health), thinking about food and bodies in ways (and with new language) that are positive and compassionate, as well as finding sources of social support. PTSD symptoms can be very difficult therefore it is wise to invest in resilience resources. Are you here for it?

Nutrition work can be a perfect complement to working with a mental health professional. The work can include mindful eating practices, body image work, and the integration of contemplative practices such as yoga. Minimizing disordered eating patterns while simultaneously improving bacterial diversity in the gut has not become mainstream in the United States. But the time has come! 

References

1. Brewerton TD, Gavidia I, Suro G, Perlman MM (2022) Eating disorder onset during childhood is associated with higher trauma dose, provisional PTSD, and severity of illness in residential treatment. Eur Eat Disord Rev. https://doi.org/10.1002/erv.2892

2. Brewerton TD, Perlman MM, Gavidia I, Suro G, Genet J, Bunnell DW (2020) The association of traumatic events and posttraumatic stress disorder with greater eating disorder and comorbid symptom severity in residential eating disorder treatment centers. Int J Eat Disorder. https://doi.org/10.1002/eat.23401

3. Danese A (2020) Annual Research Review: Rethinking childhood trauma‐new research directions for measurement, study design and analytical strategies. J Child Psychol Psyc 61:236–250

4. Wiss DA, Avena N, Gold M (2020) Food Addiction and Psychosocial Adversity: Biological Embedding, Contextual Factors, and Public Health Implications. Nutrients 12:3521

5. Thome J, Hauschild S, Koppe G, et al (2018) Generalisation of fear in PTSD related to prolonged childhood maltreatment: an experimental study. Psychol Med 48:2223–2234

6. Hawkley LC, Cacioppo JT (2018) Perceived Social Isolation: Social Threat Vigilance and Its Implications for Health. The Oxford Handbook of Social Neuroscience. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195342161.013.0050