Connection Between Obesity and Sexual Abuse

pretty blonde girl eating chocolateThe article I’m about to share with you deserves attention.  I came across it this morning, Obesity: An Insidious Effect of Childhood Trauma.” Frankly, I’m not surprised this is true, but I’m surprised it’s taken so long for the medical community and others to put two and two together.  It states, “ Vincent Felitti, a professor of medicine at UCSD and founder of Kaiser Permanente’s Department of Preventative Medicine found that in one sample of 286 obese people, 50% reported being sexually abused as a child.  And he is not alone in reporting such findings.”

What is interesting about the article is that it’s not just the mental trauma that causes obesity, but the physical trauma to a child’s body and mind that changes the biological structure of who we are.  It doesn’t take rocket science to understand that sexual abuse affects a woman’s ability to cope and diminishes or destroys her self-esteem.

I know that some swing the pendulum in the other direction with anorexia and bulimia.  Others turn to food as a coping method to ease the pain. Whichever direction the pendulum swings, it’s a direct response to how we feel about ourselves internally.

I’ll be the first to raise my hand that I have weight issues.  Yes, I’ve struggled with my weight throughout my life.  It spiraled out of control when I spent 18 years of marriage to a verbally abusive man that demeaned me in multiple ways and made me feel even more unloved and worthless.  The constant barrage of degrading remarks and anger, frankly turned me to the refrigerator for comfort.  Even early in our marriage, when I was a mere 20 pounds overweight, he threatened to leave me.  As the weight increased to 20, 30, 40 and above, of course, I came to the point of not caring what he thought.  He gave me no comfort or affirmation I was worth loving. I recognize now that because of my childhood, I was more susceptible and vulnerable to additional damage due to his treatment of my already wounded soul.

Why we do the things we do as women are deep psychological questions each of us need to search out.  I think some of it stems from self-loathing.  Our anger over our sexual abuse is somehow turned inward, as if we are to blame that it happened. Somehow, we turn that anger around and end up in a self-punishment cycle.  We attack our physical looks by either starvation or overeating and become less attractive to the opposite sex.  Once on the Dr. Phil show I heard him ask a guest if she stayed fat as a means of protection. She didn’t want to be noticed and desired by men. Her answer came through tears because he had hit the root of the problem. Perhaps there others who may be reading this that don’t have food issues because of their sexual abuse, but struggle with other debilitating habits and self harm. It’s just a different avenue, but it brings is all to the same destination – self-loathing.

I’ve tried to lose weight many times through the past years.  There have been times I’ve succeeded and took off 40 pounds only to be rejected by the next man I met.  Then the weight returned, and I’m constantly level at the same 200-220 at my 5’6″ height.  To be truthful, I don’t have the motivation to lose weight.  Most of that, I know, to my own shame is because of the struggle over my self-image.  As I told my counselor, it’s hard to believe differently about yourself through some mental imposed mantra in my head telling my brain to believe something it doesn’t have the capacity to comprehend.  In addition, when you don’t have someone in your life to constantly give you verbal and physical affirmation that you are loved, precious, and wanted, you tend to be live in a bankrupt state unable to produce the love for yourself needed to be healthy and move on.

Since, I’ve never met my Ian in life, I have turned to writing as a form of validation.  It’s a small part of me that I know I have the skill to perform.  I may not be a best-selling author on the USA Today or NY Times list (though I wish I were), but I do know I have written books and blogs that have touched others.  With that simple act, I find a piece of me worth loving because I dare to be transparent to the world around me and let others know they are not alone.

In conclusion, being overweight is bad enough from the stigma and judgmental attitudes of a society that constantly bombards us to be thin — not only for our health, but to be accepted and worthy of love. What doctors need to know, besides trying to embarrass or scare us into change (which irks the hell out of me), is that first the underlying problem must be identified, dealt with, and resolved to some point of healing in order to find the courage to change ourselves for the better.

As the article states, “Treatment for obesity is almost as complicated as the problem itself.  For those with a history of trauma, therapy may be an important component to assist with the development of better coping mechanisms and ways to deal with painful feelings.  But obesity is a problem that usually requires more than one type of intervention.”

J.D. Burrows

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One thought on “Connection Between Obesity and Sexual Abuse

  1. Deanna January 15, 2013 at 2:24 am Reply

    I too am definately an over eater due to many incidents of sexual abuse. I can very much relate to the relationship issues and the selfloathing. Thank you for sharing your story! It does help to know I am not alone in my pain

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