Body Image and Sexual Abuse

When did you first start substituting food for love?” I asked my client. (Note: names and
identifying information have been changed to protect confidentiality.)

“I don’t really know,” she answered as she reached for the Kleenex box. “I remember in high school when I’d lost a lot of weight, and this really popular guy gave me the eye, if you know what I mean.”

My nod encouraged her to continue. “What did you do right after he gave you the eye?” I asked, knowing what was probably coming.

“I went right home and raided the refrigerator.”

You’re terrified of your own beauty? “ I asked, although it was spoken softly and sounded more like a statement than a question.

“I guess so. His look made me realize at that second that if I didn’t put a layer of protection around myself—actually a layer of
fat—then I would probably be abused again, or turning back into my old promiscuous self, which is even worse. So yeah, I guess you’re right. I’m terrified of my own beauty.”

I encouraged her to continue therapy to get to the roots of the issues, which often display themselves through many secondary symptoms, including:

  • Depression
  • Eating
    disorders (including obesity, anorexia, and bulimia)
  • Other
  • Promiscuity
    or lack of sexual intimacy
  • Difficulties
    in relationships

When did you first start to gain a lot of weight?” is a
crucial question.
Something happened to the person at that time in her life. It may have been the divorce
of her parents, sexual abuse, or another extremely painful situation. Until the pain is dealt with, the food addiction will probably not improve. 

Body image issues like bingeing are much more about our hearts and our stories than food and fat. 

The great news is that help is available! Professional counseling and sexual abuse groups, where you work through the pain, is the
road to change.

This client has now lost over 40 pounds, and is becoming increasingly comfortable with her beauty.

Does this mean that every woman who is significantly overweight was sexually abused? Of course not. However, many who have struggled with weight issues did experience major trauma in their lives. Usually they will continue to struggle with the weight until they work on the roots of their issues. Obviously our culture’s shift from an active to sedentary, computer-centered lifestyle plays a role.  So does the fact that we have more fatty, sugary foods available than ever before.  But if the major traumas of life aren’t dealt with, the person trying to lose weight will continually go up and down on the scale and probably have a poor body image.  Research shows that mostdieters lose weight, then eventually gain more than they lost in the firstplace.  (I’ve written many posts on this
throughout this blog.)

Being overweight is usually a symptom of underlying issues, and more than likely the weight loss won’t stick
until these issues are dealt with. To work on the weight alone is somewhat like chopping off the top of a weed in your garden. The root will be hidden for a while, but sooner or later the weed will reappear.  Thankfully, the Lord has provided us with many different resources – including counselors –  to work on the heart of our issues so we can be set free from food addiction.  It’s
not easy, but with his help we can become the people we were meant to be.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Lotta says:

    He, she. No difference.


    1. Thank you. Good point, Lotta. Sexual abuse profoundly affects people but thankfully, help is available. Thanks for stopping by.


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