For Some, Weight Issues Are Linked to Sexual Abuse

weight lossIt is estimated that one in four girls and one in six boys will have experienced some form of sexual abuse by the age of eighteen. These exploitive behaviors range from exposure to more invasive forms of sexual assault. If you were sexually abused as a child, and have had difficulty releasing weight and keeping it off, you are not alone. Chances are your ongoing weight lossdifficulties stem from your subconscious mind still wanting to protect that little girl, or that little boy, you once were.

I’ll call her Anna. She believes her weight gain started when she was in the fourth grade. That was the year she moved into her stepfather’s house and he began sexually abusing her. She remembers it was then because she loved the little purple flowers on the wall paper in her new bedroom. She methodically would count the purple petals hoping he would stop touching her by the time she reached one hundred. When I saw her in my office some thirty years later, she was depressed, overweight and didn’t realize her obesity had anything to do with being sexually abused. It was only when she realized her weight gain was her incredibly resourceful way of trying to protect herself that she understood. She then began to set herself free.”

On a subconscious level, gaining excess weight was the sexually abused child’s solution to the fear of unwanted sexual advances. Wearing layers of flannel pajamas to delay the inevitable transformed into layers of protective fat in adulthood. Compulsive overeating was the only way to self-soothe when no one was available for support.

Your attempts at losing weight may be fraught with repeated failures. Not because you lack willpower, but because on a deep level you are afraid. If this reflects your experience, here are three suggestions to help you release weight in a way that is emotionally safe and self-loving.

1.  Safety    

Before beginning any weight loss plan, it is important that your current home environment is safe and secure. If you are in a difficult or abusive relationship, or in a strained family situation, deal with this first. Create for yourself an atmosphere of love and support. Before you can release excess weight, your inner child, and the adult that you are today, needs to be safe.

2.  Support 

Make sure you have at least one trusted friend or family member that you can talk to about the sexual abuse you experienced. Let them know that this may emerge for you as you begin to release weight. Give yourself the gift of professional help. It is not unusual to feel anxious as you lose weight because you are letting go of something that on a deep level has served to emotionally protect you. It may feel very scary. A skilled therapist can help support you through this process and help you to manage overwhelming feelings that may emerge.

3.  Patience

Take your time.  Have patience and realize that this process isn’t just about releasing weight. It’s about releasing your fears and your pain. The longer it takes to release weight the more you can trust that an inner shift is happening. You need that time to transform your thinking and your beliefs so you can develop an emotional readiness to release weight. And to feel safe. This reassures your inner child that the comfort and familiarity of excess weight will not be taken away from her before she is ready. Having patience will help you adjust to small, incremental weight loss shifts and the feelings that go along with that. Your developing inner strength then becomes the foundation that will help you release weight with confidence and self-love.

Your thoughts…

Do you know someone with a weight issue who was sexually abused?  What helps them to feel safe as they release weight?


Diane Petrella, MSW is a psychotherapist and life coach. Earlier in her career she developed the first child sexual abuse treatment program in the State of Rhode Island. She offers her clients a spiritual approach to weight loss and helps them develop a loving, respectful relationship with their bodies. Receive a free copy of Diane’s Seven Easy & Effortless Weight Loss Secrets by signing up for her monthly e-newsletter, Living Lightly, for spiritual insights and tips to release weight with confidence and love.  To contact Diane directly visit her website at www.dianepetrella.com.

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