Obesity and sexual abuse
Thursday, January 06, 2011
I'm in the process of updating and revising a book I wrote on recovery from sexual abuse. I also work with women who are recovering from addiction and today did a group with them on sexual abuse and the symptoms of those who have been abused. It turned out that all of the women in my group today had been sexually abused. One of the common symptoms is that women may become and stay obese as "protection". If you don't look "sexy", then you are less likely to be a target.
In addition to that, the act of eating itself can be a way of numbing our feelings. Carbohydrates are especially good for this which is why we crave them when we are eating for emotional reasons. I know that I've used food this way, just like some people use drugs or alcohol.
I can't help but wonder how many folks on Spark People might be overeating as an unconscious response to childhood sexual abuse, whether that abuse is recognized or not. It is estimated that 1 out of 4 women are sexually abused before they reach the age of 18 so this is a common problem.
I was normal weight until I was in my late 30's. I was in the idea range as far as health but not quite thin enough to meet the cultural ideal. I gained 20 pounds after a miscarriage and a car accident and went on a liquid protein diet to take the weight off again. I went down to the cultural ideal (underweight according to my doctor who then said I had to stop). I got attention from men that I didn't want and promptly started gaining. This is when the memories of the sexual abuse came up. I developed PTSD and gained 100 pounds but I also learned a lot. I recovered. Of course, the weight didn't magically disappear and subsequent diets just made matters worse. But I don't need to be overweight anymore.
If you are one of the 25%, you may benefit from working with a therapist (not all of them are good at this, so shop around). You may not be able to lose weight and keep it off unless the reasons why you are overeating are resolved.