255 Hope Street, Providence, Rhode Island

Emotional Eating & Trauma

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

Meet Bethany

As a single 46-year-old, Bethany struggled for years with emotional eating. She would make some positive changes and incorporate healthier eating and exercise, then suddenly lose her motivation. She’d stop taking time to prepare healthy meals and revert to fast food. While she had enjoyed her new habit of daily walks, she began feeling too tired to continue. During her attempts to practice more mindful eating, anxiety and panic—seemingly for no apparent cause—triggered binge-eating episodes.

When I first met Bethany, the weight in her heart revealed itself in her drooped shoulders and sad eyes. She had never been in therapy before and seemed both relieved—and scared—to share her life story with someone.

Her stepfather had sexually abused her for several years during her childhood and only stopped when he left her mother and married someone else.

She said he often told her, “You’re prettier than your mother” and believed the abuse was her fault. Bethany kept the abuse from her mother because, “I didn’t want her to be mad at me and think I was dating her husband.”

Numbing Out with Food

Like every abused child, Bethany couldn’t escape from what was happening to her. She numbed her fear and loneliness with candy bars and cookies, often hoarding them in her bedroom. Eating became a way to block her feelings and stop thinking about the inevitable. She gained weight after the abuse started and struggled with this into and through adulthood.

Over the course of our work together, Bethany began to see the connection between her traumatic childhood and her struggles with emotional eating and weight. She found compassion for the little girl she once was and began to understand why she felt anxious whenever she started feeling more healthy or releasing weight.

“I was afraid of my stepfather and felt so guilty and ashamed for what was happening. I didn’t see that he was at fault. I thought I was the one betraying my mother. Now I understand that I needed the extra weight to feel safe and would feel self-conscious as I got slimmer. The guilt and fear were too overwhelming. So I would keep eating.”

As we worked together, Bethany began to release the pain from her heart. She learned healthier ways to acknowledge and express her feelings—journaling, writing poetry, talking with her support group—instead of numbing herself with food. Yoga helped her emotionally embrace and befriend her body. She resumed her soul-nourishing daily walks in the park.

And she saw how trauma affected her developing brain when she was a child. The reason why she often felt overwhelmed and triggered to overeat was a stress response, not a sign of weakness. Like many trauma survivors, Bethany’s nervous system had become dysregulated.

Body and brain dysregulation means that with even minor stress abuse survivors may experience fear-based sensations in their body—racing heart, rapid breathing, sinking feeling in the gut. You get triggered like this because trauma lives not only in your mind and heart; it lives in your body, too. Breathing exercises and tapping acupressure points helped Bethany calm her nervous system when these sensations in her body surfaced. Emotional eating episodes then became less frequent.

Bethany now saw the connection: She’d used food to cope with the shame, guilt and emotional detachment she felt from her body because of the trauma she’d experienced. For years, she hadn’t been eating to only assuage physical hunger—she’d been eating to numb the pain and cope with the trauma-based sensations that would get triggered in her body. Because food had been her main source of comfort, it had been nearly impossible to stop using food to soothe herself.

As she learned how to comfort herself, Bethany eventually could stop turning to food for comfort. While she still had emotional eating setbacks, they were short-lived. Instead of punishing herself, she developed self-compassion and learned from these experiences. She also learned how to tune into her body’s internal cues. Her focus was no longer all about weight or the scale, but on cultivating healthy behaviors, respect for her body, and a healthier relationship with food. With patience, perseverance, and self-forgiveness, Bethany ultimately found inner peace and self-acceptance.

While your story of childhood trauma may be different from Bethany’s, most likely you can relate to her fears and pain, weight struggles, and emotional eating challenges.

As Bethany was able to heal and find inner peace and self-acceptance, you can, too.

The Connection Between Early Trauma & Emotional Eating

There is a high correlation between early trauma, obesity, emotional eating, and body image concerns.

As many as one in four girls and one in six boys will experience some form of sexual abuse by the age of 18. The numbers are much higher for other childhood trauma. 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. And your subconscious mind, wanting to protect the little child you once were, may block your efforts to let go of the emotional protection extra weight provides.

You and your body need to feel safe first.

I imagine you’ve tried every possible diet, counted every calorie and purchased every exercise video to lose weight and stop emotionally eating… 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. You may be wondering why I’m so passionate about this topic…

Earlier in my career, I worked with many adults who were sexually abused 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 eat healthy foods in reasonable portions and listen to your body’s cues for what it needs. You’ll feel inspired to move your body and take good care of yourself. It’s all connected. While this process takes time, healing the pain from your past ultimately helps you to heal emotional eating and learn to live lightly… in mind, body, and spirit.

Would You Like To Explore This Topic Further?

Get your 5 Trauma-Sensitive Tips to Heal Emotional Eating

Join My Private Community

Connect with like-minded women who experienced childhood sexual abuse 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 virtual support 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

Heal Your Past to Release the Weight

The Real Reason You’re Not Losing Weight