Eating disorder symptomatology in female college students: Part of a larger trauma response?

Date of Completion

January 2001


Psychology, Clinical




Relationships among reported childhood maltreatment, dissociation, eating pathology, and psychological distress were examined in a non-clinical sample of two hundred ninety-eight female undergraduates. Drawing on several theoretical approaches to trauma processes and symptom etiology, anorexic and bulimic eating patterns were explored irk relation to concurrent experiences of psychological distress and historical experiences of dissociation, intrafamilial childhood maltreatment, and general childhood stress. It was hypothesized that symptoms of eating disturbance would manifest as part of a more pervasive trauma response pattern, with dissociation acting as a mediator between childhood experiences of maltreatment and late adolescent-onset symptoms of anorexia and bulimia. Seven hypotheses were evaluated and confirmed. Childhood maltreatment was found to be significantly correlated with reported experiences of dissociation, with reported symptoms of psychological distress, and with reported symptoms of anorexic and bulimic eating patterns. In addition, reports of general childhood stress were found to be significantly correlated with those same dependent variables, over and above the influence of intrafamilial childhood maltreatment, with the exception of anorexic symptomatology. Reported dissociative experiences were found to be significantly correlated with symptoms of psychological distress and with reported symptoms of eating disturbance. In hierarchical regression analyses, dissociation was found to partially mediate the association between reported childhood maltreatment and symptoms of eating pathology, but the effect sizes were modest. Results of this study suggest that in non-patient populations there is a substantial sub-clinical range of eating disturbance which appears to exist along with other trauma sequelae, including dissociative experiences. The potential effects of this pervasive sub-threshold trauma symptomatology merit much closer investigation. ^