Were you sexually abused as a child or teenager?
Do you struggle with your weight today?
Is food your go-to source of comfort when upset?
If so, you’re not alone.
There is a high correlation between early sexual trauma, obesity, emotional eating and body image concerns. If you can relate, you may be surprised to learn that your ongoing struggles with weight most likely have little to do with food and exercise, although these are important. The reasons behind your weight and emotional eating challenges are both neurological, rooted in your nervous system’s response to stress, and psychological, rooted in your conscious and subconscious trauma-based beliefs.
If you have a history of sexual abuse and struggle to release weight and feel good about your body today, you may have experienced the following:
- You equate being thin with receiving unwanted sexual advances and feel vulnerable to sexual assault. These fears may be conscious or hidden in your subconscious mind, and, as you release weight they surface. You feel anxiety, experience panic attacks, or simply feel unsettled and don’t know why.
- You feel uncomfortable being noticed, even in a positive way. After years of protecting yourself behind extra weight—your pounds of protection—you feel uneasy or self-conscious receiving compliments.
- Because food, in fact, helped you cope, you experience a sense of loss or fear at the thought of no longer eating certain foods that have felt like your friends. Food was a source of comfort when people were either unavailable or dangerous.
- You spent years detaching from your body to cope with the sexual abuse and have trouble creating a trusting—and loving—connection with your body today. Dissociation is a defense mechanism often used by sexual abuse survivors. They psychologically remove themselves from their bodies during the abuse and “watch” what’s happening from above. If you relate, understand that this helped you survive. But you’re safe now and can learn to reclaim your right to a positive and connected relationship with your body today.
- When you experience trauma-based feelings such as fear, anger, helplessness, betrayal, shame, or guilt, it triggers emotional binge eating. Even minor stress can feel overwhelming because it brings to the surface those old feelings, causing an overreaction. Once those old feelings and pain are released from your mind and body, handling life’s stress becomes easier because you stop bringing trauma-based feelings from the past into today’s challenges.
- You’re ever alert for danger. This is because childhood abuse affected your developing nervous system as a form of protection. You were in danger so, as a survival mechanism, your brain responded to help you always be on the lookout. But today it’s hard to easily distinguish manageable from unmanageable situations. Even minor stress can feel destabilizing. For example, you may experience an increased heart rate, a sinking feeling in your gut, or rapid breathing. That’s not easy to deal with, so you turn to food to ground yourself. You’ve probably discovered that certain foods—especially high fat and sugary ones—help ease the uncomfortable fear-based sensations in your body and soothe your overwhelming emotions.
Using food to numb your feelings and gaining extra weight were ways you tried to protect yourself. While it’s turned into a problem in your life today, it all started as a solution to a problem: Food helped you cope with a dysregulated nervous system and painful feelings, and gaining weight helped you feel emotionally safe.
For many of my clients—and maybe for you—extra weight is the symptom. To release weight permanently, you must get to the root cause as to why the weight is there to begin with and why you have used food for comfort. (Curious as to why I use the term release versus lose weight? Click here.) Shift your attention. Instead of focusing only on diet, food, or exercise, encourage yourself to go deeper and begin a healing and trauma-informed weight release journey.
And remember, you were just trying to take care of yourself in the only ways you knew. Be gentle with yourself, okay? You did the best you could.
If you would like to connect with like-minded women who also were sexually abused and struggle with their weight, consider joining my private Facebook group, Living Lightly Together. This private group is hidden from the public so women are more willing to share their questions, feelings, and experiences than in a public Facebook group.
Because living lightly is not only about food and your body… it’s about releasing trauma and changing your consciousness.
For information about joining this confidential, free, members-only virtual support group, contact me here.
(Photo Credit: Cheron James)