Emotional Eating & Trauma

You experienced trauma as a child.
Now you’re an adult and
struggle with emotional eating and body insecurity.
You’re not alone.


The Connection Between Early Trauma & Emotional Eating

There is a high correlation between early trauma, emotional eating, and body image concerns. In fact, research shows that people who experienced physical or sexual abuse in childhood were twice as likely to have a food addiction in adulthood as compared to those who were not abused as children.

If you experienced trauma as a child and now struggle with emotional eating, chances are there’s a connection. Here’s why:

When something triggers the old, painful feelings and fears that still linger inside, it’s very easy to end up emotionally eating. You’re just trying to comfort and ground yourself in the only way you know.

This isn’t self-sabotage. It’s self-protection.

You may be surprised to learn that your ongoing struggles with emotional eating and weight challenges most likely have little to do with food and exercise, although these are important. The deeper reasons are both neurological, rooted in your nervous system’s response to stress, and psychological, rooted in your conscious and subconscious trauma-based beliefs.

Let’s start with a mini crash-course on brain science and trauma that will help explain the neurological reasons you emotionally eat:

Childhood trauma and abuse create changes in a child’s developing brain. All early experiences influence brain development. But when a child suffers chronic trauma and fear, especially within their own family, the brain’s normal reaction to threats—the fight-flight- freeze response activated by the part of the brain called the amygdala—intensifies.

An overactive amygdala makes you hypersensitive to stress. This means that, when triggered, you feel destabilized and overwhelmed. It’s then hard to tolerate your feelings and you experience unsettling sensations in your body. For example, your heart races, you take rapid, shallow breaths, you get a sinking feeling in your gut. Or, you shut down completely and go numb.

Due to early trauma, your amygdala (that’s the part of your brain that processes fear and stress) has been conditioned to be ever alert for danger. This makes it hard to filter manageable from unmanageable situations so even low-level stress can overwhelm your nervous system. That’s not easy to deal with, especially when it happens weekly—or daily. In this dysregulated state, you then turn to food to ground yourself.

Turning to food isn’t a weakness; it’s resourcefulness. You’re simply trying to stabilize yourself when your body and emotions become dysregulated.

It’s not your fault.

Now let’s look at the psychological reasons behind emotional eating.

When you’re traumatized as a child, your world no longer feels safe. If you didn’t have anyone to help you cope, your subconscious mind emotionally protected you
 by pushing away your painful feelings. When it wasn’t safe to express your fear and despair, these feelings took shelter and hid in your subconscious. It would have been even more painful and scary to confront the enormity of these feelings when you were little and alone, so your mind cleverly put these feelings in your subconscious mind to help you get through the day.

This doesn’t mean you didn’t feel any of that pain or fear. Most likely, the protection your subconscious mind gave you just made that unbearable pain easier to bear.

So how does this connect with emotional eating? Because food is readily accessible to children—unlike alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs—it becomes an easy self-soothing substance. Perhaps you learned at an early age that cookies, cakes, and chocolate bars helped numb your sad and anxious feelings.

I imagine you’ve tried every possible diet, counted every calorie and purchased every exercise video to stop emotionally eating and lose weight… and none of that has worked. I want to assure you that you are not a failure and you do not lack willpower. Most likely, somewhere deep inside, you—and your body—are simply afraid.

To heal from emotional eating, you need to feel safe first.

You may be wondering why I’m so passionate about this topic…

Earlier in my career, I worked with many adults who were physically and sexually abused as children and also struggled with weight. It was then I learned the connection between trauma and emotional eating, body image, gaining weight for protection, and unconscious fears about losing those “pounds of protection.”

My intention is to help you heal trauma-based emotional eating by using a variety of mind/body/spirit practices and tools.

I invite you to start by imagining a life where you:

• Support and respect your body.
• Experience peace whenever you eat.
• Trust your inner wisdom to guide you.
• Feel safe in your body.

As you release the effects of trauma from your body and mind, and heaviness from your spirit, you’ll feel lighter on the inside. And as you feel lighter on the inside, you’ll naturally be guided to trust and hear your body’s cues for what it needs. You’ll feel inspired to move your body, eat nutritious foods and take good care of yourself. It’s all connected. While this process takes time, healing the pain from your past also helps you heal emotional eating and learn to live lightly… in body, mind, and spirit.

Order my new book, Healing Emotional Eating for Trauma Survivors

Join My Private Community

Connect with like-minded women who experienced childhood physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, neglect, and other forms of early trauma and struggle with emotional eating and body image concerns by joining my private Facebook group, Living Lightly Together.

Because this is a private Facebook group hidden from the public, women are more willing to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences than on an open Facebook page. Here’s what members are saying about the Living Lightly Together group:

I love the freedom this group has given me to look deep inside myself for truly the first time in my life, so that I can learn to recognize the effects childhood trauma has had on me. Before this group, before Diane’s insights, and before I heard from others, I didn’t really understand the cause and effects. Just recognizing it for what it is is truly freeing. A true gift!

I am very glad to have found Living Lightly Together. I’ve always suspected my weight and eating went back to childhood abuse and it’s really comforting to have the support of other women who completely understand.

The women in this group are loving and supportive. There is no judgment, only encouragement and advice. So many of us have used weight as a shield to prevent further assault and this group has a way of helping me express what I feel. It has helped me a great deal. This group has truly been a Godsend.

I love this group because everyone is so supportive and kind that it creates a truly safe space to share about this difficult subject matter. We support each other while respecting each other’s choices and process, recognizing that we are all different and only we can decide what’s right for ourselves. In other words, this group does exactly what it’s meant to do. Thank you, Diane, for creating it.

This is a safe place to come and discuss my fears and get support from people who have been down the same path. It’s a reminder to me that I’m not alone. That’s brought me significant comfort and has helped me let go of years of shame.

For information about joining this private, free, members-only Facebook group, contact me here.

Read These Blogs

Childhood Sexual Abuse & Weight Release: Making the Connection

Stress Eating: It’s About Your Brain (not the food!)

Why Your Weight Needs Your Love