How Sexual Abuse as A Child Leads To Overeating
The idea of tracing eating disorders back to childhood trauma was first brought to light in the late 1980s by Dr. Vincent Felitti. After finding initial success with many of his patients, Dr. Felitti noticed that sustained weight loss was extremely difficult for his patients to acquire. Some patients would gain back all of the weight they lost, and some would even gain more weight.
After conducting interviews with his patients, Dr. Felitti started to uncover a correlation between eating disorders and childhood trauma. More specifically, Dr. Felitti discovered that binge eating among some adult women can be traced back to sexual abuse they experienced when they were younger. In some cases, the women knew the abuse was wrong and created a series of emotional and mental obstacles to try and bury it in their minds. In other cases, the women admitted to not realizing that they were abused until it manifested itself in the form of binge eating.
Precious - A Case Study in Childhood Trauma
The movie "Precious" is a painful movie with an uplifting ending that has gone on to become world famous. The main character in the movie is fictional, but the writers used real instances of tracing eating disorders to childhood sexual abuse to create a moving and accurate story.
In the movie, the main character Precious is sexually abused by her father and often disassociates herself from her own body to survive the abuse. Throughout the movie, we see all of the tell-tale signs of how overeating is used to dull the pain of sexual abuse as a child. It is a unique movie in that its message involves helping others with eating disorders to realize that it may not be their fault, and there is help for them.
The Effects as Adults
AbuseGuardian.com states that child victims of sex abuse are often unable to speak for themselves, which sometimes can be the reason that children who are sexually abused may grow into adults who struggle with eating disorders. One reason for overeating is to become so overweight that no one will ever find them attractive again. The body shaming aspect of childhood sexual abuse is very prevalent, and it causes adults to eat without regard to their health because they feel that they have to maintain their body size to protect themselves.
The other effect of childhood sexual abuse is to turn food into a safe haven that cannot be violated. When adults who were abused as children feel threatened (perhaps by getting compliments on their look or having to remain in contact with the abusive party), they often turn to food to act as a way of suppressing pain and bringing them comfort. In many cases, adults who use food to hide the pain of childhood sexual abuse do not even realize they are eating themselves into unhealthy situations.
A New Way of Diagnosing Eating Disorders
One of the biggest breakthroughs Dr. Felitti is responsible for is altering the way doctors diagnose and treat eating disorders. Prior to his work, it was uncommon for doctors to ask patients about their childhoods to see if there may be some connection between childhood abuse and binge eating. Today, a full examination of the patient's past that includes a wide variety of trauma types is now part of the process. By looking at the real causes of obesity, doctors are able to do better work and get better results.
Whether an adult remembers their childhood sexual abuse or not, it has a profound effect on the kind of person they turn into as an adult. By working with a professional and addressing childhood trauma head-on, an adult can help to start the healing process and gain more control of their life.
Brian Kent is a partner at Laffey, Bucci & Kent Law Firm. He graduated with a law degree from Philadelphia’s Temple University, and served as a criminal prosecutor in the Sex Crimes Unit of Montgomery County’s District Attorney’s Office.