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Could Childhood Sexual Abuse be the Reason you Can't Lose Weight

Could Childhood Sexual Abuse be the Reason you Can't Lose Weight

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I need your help. If you have been a victim of childhood sexual abuse and now struggle with losing weight and keeping it off, please vote for this article. Your vote will remain anonymous (no one can see who voted) and it will either confirm or deny my hunch that there a ton of women in this situation.

Why am I asking you to vote on this?

Because I have been alarmed myself at the number of women that have come to me recently, struggling with the self-destructive behavior of dieting, reaching their goals and then sabotaging themselves, who reveal after much digging that they were victims of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse in childhood.

With this revelation I began to scour the internet to see if this is just a fluke or is there a link?

What I found was alarming.

Study after study has shown strong correlations of childhood abuse and adult eating disorders, particularly binging.

Simply put - if you were abused as a child you are far more likely to have problems with your weight as an adult then someone who hasn't been abused.

So why is that?

There are many theories, but these two are most prominent:

(1) Food, especially sugary food, provides comfort for a feeling of self-loathing. Adult children of sexual abuse in particular can have intense and lasting feelings of shame. They can feel responsible for the abuse, even though conventional wisdom says otherwise. They can feel out of control. They may feel vulnerable. They may even feel hatred toward themselves.

and

(2) Added pounds can ward off sexual advances from the opposite sex. This is because sexual advances can bring on those same feelings of shame and self-disgust. Some women will vacillate between behaving provocatively, since that is how received attention oftentimes by the ones they trusted the most at a young age, and self loathing since that attention brings on feelings of shame.

What is oftentimes seen with adult children of sexual abuse and weight loss is a tendency to sabotage their efforts just as they are getting close to their goal or right after achieving their goal. And this sabotage is oftentimes linked to attention they are receiving from the opposite sex. While consciously they desire the attention, unconsciously they perceive that attention to be dirty, bad, and shameful.

So if this resonates with you at all, what can be done?

Diane Petrella, renowned psychotherapist, life coach and contributing writer to www.caloriecount.com, suggests three steps, paraphrased here:

1) Make sure your current environment is safe before embarking on any weight loss journey. Meaning, if there is any form of abuse currently existing in your life, you need to rid yourself of that first.

2) Create a support system, even if only one individual. You need someone you can trust fully and share your story and your struggles.

3) Be patient with yourself. It will take time to replace the association of shame and pain with the association of confidence, pleasure, and control.

Some therapists suggest at the precise moment you begin to feel the self sabotaging behavior coming on you:

First) Recognize it for what it is. It's the child within you trying to protect herself from bad feelings and unwanted advances that result in feelings of shame.

Second) Allow the adult you to speak to the child you, reassuring her that she's okay, she's protected, and that no one can take advantage of her now. It's this adult you that can reassure the child you that it's okay to feel beautiful and sexy, that what happened as a child was not her fault, and that the adult you will protect the child you from any harm.

For more information I encourage you to read Dianne's inspirational blog, www.diannepetrella.com.

And I also encourage you to open up here. If you would like to leave comments anonymously, open a new gmail account and then create an anonymous profile here on Figure & Bikini. The more we share, the more we will inspire others.

With love,

Kristin

Author: Kristin Shaffer
kristin@figureandbikini.org

Member Comments

Kristin I can't express how grateful I am that you posted this. I have struggled with my weight most of my adult life and only now realized why. I was abused by my brother when I was very young. I've carried so much shame from that experience. I so want to lose weight and keep it off but I always seem to give up. I will eat and eat and eat until I wan to throw up. Then I'll eat more. I feel so ashamed of myself but can see now what is happening. I didn't put the link together until I saw this. But it's there. It's so strong. I will read the blog and try the suggestions. Thank you so so much Kristin! You're so wonderful. You're helping so many.
--JudyS

I love how your bravery for opening up this door Kristin! I was shocked when I read the title, that someone is actually willing to correlate eating and sexual abuse on a fitness networking/sharing site. I voted. I do not want to remain anonymous when it comes to sexual abuse as a child. I was definitely, and I was always the fat growing up with really low self esteem. I didn't think my own thoughts or feelings were valid. I stuffed all my emotions down with food. ALL THE TIME. Even if I wasn't hungry-I ate. Even if the food tasted horrible- I ate. It was not the taste of food itself that was the benefit. It was the action of chewing, it was knowing that I could get lost in the moment of eating. My only source of comfort. My only friend, in a very isolating world. I have actually become a therapist because of my childhood issues. I became a PhD in Clinical Sexology because of the sexual abuse- to help others, women in particular to find ways to heal, and cope from something that was not our fault.
My battle with weight began when I began when I was 21 years old. I was tired of being fat. I needed to make a change. This battle meant taking one step forward and two steps back, but I learned, I am still learning. My awareness and insight into my own behaviors has helped at each cross-road, each challenging and stressful moment in my adult life.
July 13th this year I had decided to challenge myself to compete in my first figure competition. I am so proud and excited for myself. It is amazing to see what I can accomplish. I finally believe in myself! And I love that I am able to feel as though I have control over my thoughts and actions, and it shows!
I have added another photo to my profile of my front/side view. I have a scar that runs from hip bone to hip bone and I wear it as my badge of honor. In january, I decided that I had lost enough weight and I opted for a full tummy tuck. The surgeon removed almost 2 pounds of skin from my abdomen. 2 pounds!
I really do love this scar on my body. It reminds me of how far I have come in my journey to wellness. The healthier my body becomes is a mirror image of the improving health of my mind and spirit.
You are awesome Kristin.
:)
Rene
--willfulwarrior

Thank you for wanting to understanding this correlation. I was sexually abused at age 6 and I have dealt with eating disorders for as long as I can remember. Recently I was triggered to extreme overeating when I had a daughter of my own and now that she is about to turn 6 I am finding myself panicking and turning to food. Finding myself at my heaviest weight yet, I am trying to figure out how to deal with my past scars in a healthier way. It is extremely difficult. Eating is a way to numb the pain so that I can simply live day-to-day. I just want people to know that when you see a heavy, extremely heavy person, they often have a past that is full of pain. Don't judge them. They don't need any more of that. Try to understand.
--bloo

Rene and bloo thank you so much for sharing your story with others and for all your kind words. The more we can make this part of 'normal' discussion, the more we can help each other. You both are strong and brave, and you are loved here on Figure & Bikini.

With love,
Kristin
--fabeditor

Recently through journaling I realized that my self sabbotage of my weightloss goals are related to my feeling powerless. I too was sexually abused at age 7 and have spent my entire life fighting feelings of powerlessness. As a child of divorce at age 6, then being sexually abused by an uncle at age 7, then emotional abuse by step-father at age 8-12 and abandonment by my at age 12 and finally abandonment again by my father at age 16; I have spent a lifetime feeling powerless. Even though I have the most wonderful, loving and supportive husband for 16 years that God could have ever given me, I realize when I met him I gave him all of my power immediately. Whatever I thought he wanted me to be or do, I did because I was accustomed to feeling powerless. In the process of all of this powerlessness and lack of control of circumstances, there was FOOD. It satisfied me. I felt alone, mistreated, abused and empty and it filled me. Now at age 35 I finally want my POWER back and I am taking my POWER back. Each day I step on that treadmill or lift those weights I feel the burn and I tell myself that's not pain I'm feeling it's power. Pain is what I feel when guilt sets in after eating uncontrollably for days and laying in the bed for hours. I agree full heartedly with the correlation found between childhood victims of abuse and overweight adults---especially in women. Great Article. It feels good to just say it and know that I'm not alone. I am more than a concqueror and so are you.

Love Newwoman35
--Newwoman35

Newwoman35 how brave you are to share your story and share your love. You will undoubtedly inspire thousands who read this. THANK YOU.

With love,
Kristin
--fabeditor

What an excellent article and how brave and strong are the women who survived but now struggle still. I too was a victim of child sexual abuse by my Stepfather and when family found out they believed it was because I am so similar to my mother. This of course just reinforced my feeling of guilt, shame and responsibility. Well, I finally decided not to keep quiet about the abuse any longer and found that the more I shared the stronger I became. I even confronted the man (I use this term loosely) who abused me. I told him I wasn't going to keep his dirty little secret any longer. I was afraid but empowered. I hope each of you can find the courage and someone you can trust to start sharing. Details aren't important but what happened, how you felt and how this still affects you is.
--mmarchee

I'm more and more amazed at how many women this truly affects. It's a silent epidemic that needs to be openly discussed with prevention education put into place.

Thank you so much for sharing your story. The more we do that the more the process of healing can take place.

With love,

Kristin
--fabeditor

Hello to everyone...This is the first time that I am sharing this story globally. My first memory of abuse is a distant one. I was a young child and I have a vague memory of an uncle's abuse. My parents shared a home with my grandparents, my two uncles and an aunt. As a pre-teen I developed much quicker than my friends and by age 11 I was wearing A cup bras. It was at this age that boys in class began harassing me, pulling my bra and girls were jealous of me. My father's friends would comment on my breasts...and on one particular day, I heard the comments made to my father, and instead of him saying something like "stop talking like this about my daughter" he said nothing. I think that is when I knew I was alone. At age 11 my parents took a long vacation and sent me and my siblings to stay with my grandmother and uncle in another state. My uncle came into my room late at night and pulled the sheets off my body and started to put his hand in my pajama pants. I freaked out, rolled myself into the sheets and pushed my body to the bedroom wall and prayed that he would leave. He left and after that I was so traumatized all I wanted to do was go home. I couldn't go home because my parents were away for another month. I couldn't tell my aunt. I couldn't tell my grandmother, it was her son who tried to hurt me. During this same summer another uncle thought it would be fun to tickle the little kids. I was now 12 and seriously in a B cup bra. When he 'tickled' me he groped my breasts. I ran from the living room and locked myself in the bathroom. No one could understand what was wrong with me. They thought I was a crazy kid. I remember the first thing I said to my mother when she picked us up at the airport..."uncle angelo molested me" and her reply was 'you must be mistaken'. As I got older, I was told by my father and mother that I would probably become a prostitute. I remember saying to my mother to take it back! And she calmly said, no, I really think that is what is going to happen to you. I am 57 years old and as I sit here and write this it brings on tears...I have suppressed my feelings for so many years. I was unsupported and unprotected by my family. So, I began protecting myself. I gained a lot of weight. I have struggled with weight my entire life. I was sexually promiscuous in my twenties. Once I counted how many men I had sex with and it was over 100...I had no respect for my body. I thought that was the way to get close to someone. I married the first man who wasn't interested in having sex with me and that lasted 4 years. The destruction that sexual abuse causes is horrific. It preys on your psyche at such a deep level. Thank you for the opportunity to write down some of my thoughts...Antoinette
--glika

Antoinette you are so very brave and so loving to share your story. We have many many young women coming to this article that will find strength in your words and wisdom.

I hope by sharing your story you find peace and joy in knowing you are making a difference in others lives. It truly is possible to turn a tragic victimization into a positive story through the very strength that you have shown here.

Much love,

Kristin
--fabeditor

Kristin,
You're on to something big. I just found you this week during my most recent attempt to take back the reigns of my body.
I was a victim of child sexual abuse, then in my adolescence, then a date rape and then later I married the wrong man- a special forces soldier with PTSD who delivered every type of abuse imaginable.
Now it is important to note- Before i met said future husband, I had found myself and finally overcome my self sabitoging,Id lost the extra 80 pounds was in the gym 6 days a week. was below goal weight and at 6 foot tall and 140 pounds being approached for modeling. I had kept this weight off for two years at meeting him.
Then i endured 24 months of torture under his control..once i finally escapeed the marriage- still at 140 pounds-
I began to gain- looking back i can see this was a shield a forcefield to keep all offenders away..I have isolated myself and hid behind my career as a means not to "have time" to be around people.
I have been away from him now for two years in that two years- I have gained 115 pounds.
I have no idea how I got here...although i know that all along the way- i was never not ok with it. I knew i was gaining...i was ok with it. I bought new clothes every week in bigger sizes..i was never concerned..men stopped following me around ..i was great with that..There was no abusive man there to count my calories, weigh me, buy my clothes, pick out my outfits or makeup...or try to photgraph me against my will...I have drank 12 to 16 sodas a day and all the candy i could find.


It helped me feel in charge for a while...but Now i have comprimised my health and its time to get it off. I have come to you for help and support.
I am now on an offical journey to healing and this blog entry has fueled me to recover. Thank you.
--jgriffinrn

You are so brave to post this... thank you for sharing your story. I truly feel with openness and awareness we will help so many to see they are not alone and that there are reasons for what we sometimes feel are behaviors that are out of our control.

With love,

Kristin
--fabeditor

Hi Kristin, I just found the site and became a member! I read every story here and took a moment to prayer for each woman. I experienced abuse as a child as well. In my teens I was starving myself, promiscuous, drinking, skipping school, cutting, stealing... I think mostly driven by a deep sense of shame and self-loathing. I didn't think I was worth much. I am now 28 and my life was saved by Jesus Christ, that is really the simple answer. He is my hope and my life. I have made huge strides but I still struggle a bit with loving and accepting myself (and body). I am too hard on myself. Thank goodness for daily interventions of grace! -Sierra
--sierraschwartz

Sierraschwartz thank you so much for sharing your story. Your timing is actually perfect as I will be releasing an interview with Diane Petrella shortly. She offers some amazing insight on this topic.

So stay tuned!

With love,

Kristin
--fabeditor

Thank you Kristin for this eye-opening article. All my struggles - including with extreme weightgain and loss seem abuse-related.
But having read you, the whole self-sabotaging process is clearer than ever.
I know WHY I act the way I do, still not sure about HOW I can heal from a painful past and move on.
Finding a support system is real difficult when even the professionals won't hear you out.
I've met too many doctors/therapists and other professionals who were not aware of this silent epidemic and who didn't help (even when I was in crisis) and sometimes even made matters worse and re-traumatized me. This lack of information is making really angry. Anger is another sign of abuse. I needed the clarity your article provides so thanks again!
I'm grateful for the kindness of strangers who helped me out a lot more than some incompetent professionals. -Gabrielle
--Gabrielle

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