Talking With Girls About Sexual Abuse and Weight Gain
Did you know that girls are five times more likely to be sexually abused than boys? So it is important to understand that if sexual abuse has occurred and was untreated that it may be a big factor as to why a girl has gained too much weight too fast. Also remember that age is a significant factor in sexual abuse. The median age for reported sexual abuse is nine years old.
So we must ask our girls who have gained too much weight too fast, in a gentle, loving, and risk-free way, if anyone has hurt them, made them feel uncomfortable with their bodies, or asked them to keep a secret. The secrecy of sexual abuse keeps victims alone, quiet, and self-soothing, In the case of a girl with obesity, most likely food has become her comfort. How we care for this girl should reflect our deepest commitment to acting with compassion and love.
If a girl with obesity does share her story, help her feel safe. Let her know you are honored to be part of her journey towards healing and happiness. As you know, this is only the beginning of a very long road for this girl. She will need to tell her story to the authorities; she will need support and love from family and friends during the investigation. She will most likely need medical treatment, and psychological or possibly spiritual counseling. She will need compassion every step of the way. Most importantly, the girl with obesity will need to know that there is an end to the long journey towards health, safety, and happiness and that she is strong enough to take that first step.
We can share with her that there is a strong connection between obesity and eating disorders in girls who have been sexually abused. And that this is not a life sentence of eating to sooth all the hurt she has ever felt.
In 2010, Kaiser Permanente,studied more than 30,000 mostly middle-aged obese adults and noticed those who were most successful in losing weight were also most likely to drop out of the weight-loss program and regain weight. The researchers unexpectedly discovered that histories of childhood sexual abuse were common, as were histories of growing up in markedly dysfunctional households.
Your doctor may ask the uncomfortable questions when taking the history of a girl with obesity. Incest, rape, family suicide and parental brutality are unfortunately common in girls with obesity. More importantly doctors may share with you and your girl how sexual abuse and eating disorders are connected. There are many theories to explain the link. These are the main ones: • Sexually abused children may eat as a coping mechanism that can continue into adulthood. • Children who are sexually abused may feel that gaining weight offers protection and helps them avoid adult sexual advances. • Some research shows that emotions associated with abuse are thought to lead to higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in the bloodstream. This can increase appetite.
What you can do to help girls with obesity who have been sexually abused? Stay engaged with them during their treatment plan. Give generous amounts of compassion, love and respect for surviving and speaking up. Make time to read and learn from many of the resources available on the internet or at your library.