Although just one of many things contributing to weight gain, I suspect that childhood sexual and emotional abuse can play a significant role.
Having worked with thousands of seriously ill patients over the last three decades — including many women who went through childhood sexual abuse — I've seen how many women are left with long-term consequences.
For example, I have been left with the impression that some (though of course not all) women who suffered sexual abuse as a child put on a large amount of weight. This seemed to serve as a form of protection, by making themselves unattractive to whoever was abusing them.
New research suggests a physical mechanism that may be contributing to the weight gain.
A study looked at women who have fibromyalgia or osteoarthritis pain. It found that the ones with a history of sexual or emotional abuse as a child had significantly higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol ― despite the abuse having happened in the distant past.
One side effect of cortisol levels that are too high is weight gain. Interestingly, elevated cortisol was not found in women who suffered emotional trauma as a child from being neglected.
Although the study did not report on (or even really significantly discuss) weight gain, the findings of a persistently high cortisol in women who suffered abuse has several important implications:
1. It may be an important physical contributor to excessive weight gain.
2. It can explain why it would be physically very difficult to lose weight in these cases.
3. It opens the possibility that physical and emotional treatments may allow the woman to finally lose the extra weight.
As with most medical conditions, people do best by combining both mind-body and physical support. There is a rather amazing yet very simple treatment called the "Emotional Freedom Technique," which can be very helpful at releasing old emotional traumas.
In this simple process, the practitioner guides a patient by tapping certain acupressure points while he or she remembers the trauma. While doing it, people usually feel the emotional trauma drain away.
As a physician, I initially considered it absurd that this technique could work ― until I tried it. The results are nothing short of astounding, and I highly recommend this technique for anyone suffering from phobias or emotional traumas (including abuse or post-traumatic stress disorder).
It has been very humbling to see how many people can be helped by treatments that fall outside of traditional medicine.
Physical treatments that can lower elevated cortisol include the supplements phosphatidyl serine and ashwaganda. These can be especially helpful if taken before bedtime, especially if insomnia is also a problem. Otherwise, they can be taken in the morning.
Many people have suffered severe traumas in their lives. But there is cause for hope. It may be time to reach out for help, so you can finally leave the past where it belongs.
Posts by Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D.
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