Is it possible that past trauma is stopping your weight loss efforts or causing you to gain weight? There is a saying, “Release the trauma and the weight will follow.” That’s insightful, but how do you know if you even have trauma? If you do, how do you release it in order to stop it from blocking your goals?
- What is Trauma?
- How Your Childhood Trauma Affects You Now
- How Trauma Impacts Your Eating & Weight
- Trauma Triggers – Find Sensitive Solutions
- Navigating Trauma During Weight Loss: How to Move Forward & Recover
- Overcome Your Past & Find Healing (Trauma-Sensitive Growth)
- Recovery From Trauma: My Story & 100 Pound Weight Loss
- Resources to Help with Trauma and Make Progress
If you have experienced trauma in your past, there are important considerations for you to keep in mind during your weight loss journey.
Note: I am not a therapist. This article is for information purposes only. I recommend consulting a medical or mental health professional.
What is Trauma?
Trauma is emotional distress you experience anytime you are in a situation that is beyond your resources to handle. What is traumatic to one person may not be traumatic to another person. A seemingly minor situation is still traumatic to the person experiencing it, if it’s beyond their ability to handle and assimilate.
Because we live in a sinful world, all people experience trauma throughout their lifetime.
Trauma can be things we typically consider traumatic, including:
- abuse, including physical, sexual, and emotional
- natural disasters
- military combat
- domestic violence
However, trauma is not limited to these.
Other situations can also involve trauma including:
- seeing others hurt
- social situations that create anxiety
- medical conditions
- separation from loved ones
- loss of loved ones
- difficulties with childbirth, which can create trauma for both mother and baby
- attachment issues, including trouble with the parent-child bond
- moving to a new home or new city
- extreme dieting
Trauma can be:
- one single situation, such as a car accident.
- ongoing, such as physical, emotional or sexual abuse by a parent or caregiver.
- complex trauma, where multiple traumatic events occur that threated safety.
- systemic, such as living in a culture that is oppressive to your gender, sexuality, or heritage.
Trauma is felt, experienced, and stored in the body. You do not get to choose what your body considers trauma. Trauma impacts the nervous system and your body’s regulation mechanisms.
Even if you rationally feel like a certain situation was not so bad and you “shouldn’t” feel the effects, trauma goes deeper than your decision-making abilities.
How Your Childhood Trauma Affects You Now
Trauma is especially devastating to children because they are not yet equipped to manage their emotions or stand up for themselves.
As a child, you were egocentric (centered on yourself) as a normal part of development. This is not selfish, it’s simply the human pattern of learned maturity.
When you experience trauma as a child, you assume that anything bad that happens to you is your fault. In fact, research has shown that early childhood trauma affects the way the brain develops.
This is one reason why situations you experienced as a child continue to affect you as an adult. An important part of recovery is reviewing the situation through adult eyes and replacing self-blame with compassion and understanding.
How Trauma Impacts Your Eating & Weight
God has designed your body and mind with defense mechanisms to help you cope with trauma. These are helpful survival skills.
Some of the defense mechanisms you may use include:
- shutting down emotionally, which includes lack of ability to feel or experience certain types of feelings.
- denial, which includes denying that the situation happened or downplaying it as “not that bad” or “not as bad as what other people go through.”
- fighting, which includes arguments (often with a loved one who had nothing to do with the original trauma), making little things into big things, blowing up over small matters, lack of anger control, hitting people or things, throwing objects, or damaging property.
- fleeing, which includes running away in any form – physically, mentally, or emotionally.
- freezing, which is not leaving physically but shutting down verbally or emotionally, including refusing to talk about something.
- using substances or addictive behaviors, including food, to cope with overwhelming emotions.
While defense mechanisms can keep you alive in the moment, many people tend to continue those behaviors even after the trauma has ended.
Behaviors you used to cope may feel safe, comforting, and become habitual. Over time, these once-protective behaviors can become harmful, such as is the case with overeating that leads to weight gain.
When trauma reactions become ingrained, a person may have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
People with PTSD experience any of the following:
- trauma triggers
- panic attacks
- sleep problems and insomnia
- physical pain
- social anxiety
- poor self-esteem
- weight loss or weight gain
A condition that was once believed to only affect soldiers after war experiences, we now know that people from all walks of life (including children) may experience PTSD.
Healing the earlier trauma, then learning new habits and skills, will lead to healthier habits with food and eventually finding a weight that is healthy for your body.
Trauma Triggers – Find Sensitive Solutions
If you are living with an unresolved trauma history, you may experience triggers. A trigger is when a sight, sound, smell or feeling triggers an involuntary response.
Triggers can be:
- physical sensations
- conversation topics
People with trauma history who have eating issues may say things like, “It was like an out-of-body experience. Suddenly I was eating, and I didn’t know how I got there.”
Learning grounding behaviors is an important step in recognizing and overcoming trauma triggers.
Navigating Trauma During Weight Loss: How to Move Forward & Recover
While the effects of trauma can be long-lasting, our God is a God of healing.
Recovery from trauma is absolutely possible.
If you feel that trauma is blocking your weight loss efforts, I encourage you to seek therapy. (And we probably all need it at some point.) I have been to therapy for weight loss, which included processing trauma that occurred during my childhood.
Research for trauma-informed treatment is showing great promise. We now understand that the body holds onto trauma, so using different modalities is often necessary to fully recover from trauma.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT or talk therapy) is crucial but often cannot be used alone to treat trauma.
Here are some of the ways trauma is effectively treated today:
- Biofeedback and Neurofeedback
- EFT (tapping)
- Physical movement like walking, stretching, and dance
- Animal and equine therapy
- Somatic therapy
Overcome Your Past & Find Healing (Trauma-Sensitive Growth)
As you take steps to heal trauma from your past, one of the most critical skills for you to develop is self-compassion, modeled after the compassion and grace that God gives you.
When you begin to accept that you have past trauma, give yourself time and space to slow down your pace and move gradually. The healing process takes the time it takes and cannot be rushed.
I spent many years working with children who have experienced early childhood trauma. When children act out, rather than asking, “What’s wrong with this child?” I’ve come to understand that it’s much more helpful to ask, “What happened to this child?” Try this for yourself, too.
God is our great and mighty Healer. Rely on the Bible’s promises that He will use your experiences for His ultimate good and glory.
Recovery From Trauma: My Story & 100 Pound Weight Loss
Today, I am living 120 pounds lighter than my highest weight and have been at a healthy weight for many years.
I knew I needed to go deeper because while I could lose weight, I couldn’t maintain the habits and keep it off. I lost 40-50 pounds multiple times throughout my adult life. I didn’t understand why I could stick with it for awhile but always fell back into older habits and regained the weight.
I was a very giving person, often giving to other people instead of taking care of myself. I felt like I was continually self-sabotaging my weight loss efforts.
I didn’t understand how I could be together in other areas of my life, yet I couldn’t get it together with my weight. I continued to binge eat and compulsively overeat, going into a zone where I used food to check out of life.
Therapy was a critical part of my final weight loss journey. With the help of a skilled therapist, I began to understand how early trauma during my childhood was impacting my food choices as an adult.
I learned to feel my feelings without fear instead of emotionally eating.
This process took years, and there were many times I wanted to quit. I relied on my faith to keep me moving forward.
Now, I no longer eat emotionally. Maintaining my weight still isn’t easy, but it is possible.
I have since experienced other trauma (secondary trauma stress as a foster parent, illness, and the loss of both of my parents) and have not regained the weight.
I have learned to accept slow miracles.
Do you feel that trauma is impacting your weight? Share in the comments below or email me [email protected].
Resources to Help with Trauma and Make Progress
Here are some resources I have found helpful during my weight loss and healing journey.
What is Your ACES Score? – Are early childhood experiences affecting you today? Take this quiz to find out.
The Body Keeps Score – Helpful book about trauma.
The Science of Stuck by Britt Frank – This is my favorite book about how trauma impacts your life choices. Written by a therapist, the book has lots of simple, practical strategies to move forward.
5 Tips for Christians with PTSD – Approaching trauma from a Christian perspective.
The Effects of Trauma and Weight for Women – by WebMD.
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Thank you for this. I never thought of my life in this fashion. My parent, through no fault of their own, due to accident, medical conditions, and their nationality’s values raised me to be the way I am. And I. Was not the strong willed child to fight against it.. there is no blame there.
Wow, thank you for this. What you shared is exactly my experience as well and I often feel like I am losing my mind!! I will definitely read the resources you posted. Thank you again for being so open and vulnerable. You are a blessing and an inspiration.
Thank you so much for this post. I now know I have PTSD…. This article is validating. I’m constantly dealing with past trauma even at this mature age. I keep thinking, “I should be over this now”…. But many things have come to light only recently so in some ways I’m still reeling from being in denial.
I will definitely be using your resources. Thank you and may God bless for the help you give us!!