Obesity Linked to Trauma: Childhood Stressors Can Create Sickness in Adulthood
“Time heals all wounds.” Some clichés develop because they happen to be true. That’s not the case with this one, however. Childhood wounds, or trauma, which go unaddressed can cause physical illness into adulthood. I had heard of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, but didn’t realize what led researcher, Vincent Felitti, to first examine the interplay of childhood trauma and sickness in adulthood until I read a recent article by Donna Jackson Nakazawa.
Felitti initially looked into the childhoods of patients he was treating at an obesity clinic. He wanted to find out why, despite successful weight loss, many of the participants were dropping out of the treatment program. These individuals used food as a way to comfort themselves with a side benefit of potentially adding a protective layer between themselves and any further sexual abuse. The bottom line was that they didn’t feel they could give up their coping mechanism. Felitti wondered if such an underlying cause, adverse childhood experiences, could account for other diseases, and teamed up with Robert Anda to develop what would become the ACE Study. In a nutshell, the ACE Study has shown clear evidence that the number of adverse experiences in childhood predicts the amount of medical care required in adulthood.
“Time,” Felitti stated, “does not heal all wounds. One does not ‘just get over’ something—not even 50 years later. Time conceals. And human beings convert traumatic emotional experiences in childhood into organic disease later in life.”
At this point, things can seem pretty bleak, especially when you consider that the kind of thing Felitti and Anda consider adverse childhood experiences are fairly common: parents in conflict, divorce, being teased, or having a hyper-critical parent. Your ACE score does not have to define your future. There is hope! Just as trauma changes our brain and the way in which our body responds to stress, we can also facilitate positive changes to our brain. Mind-body therapies such as mindfulness meditation practice, neurofeedback and cognitive therapy can bring about healing.
At Brookhaven Hospital, we treat many people who have survived trauma, and had the courage to ask for help. For childhood trauma that later materializes into eating problems, we have our Pathway for Eating Disorders Treatment program in which we treat both men and women with eating disorders that range from restricting to binge eating. We also specialize in the treatment of co-occurring illnesses. If you or someone you know needs help, call us today, 888-298-HOPE (4673).