This weeks blog is one that is very personal to me.  It’s why I began my career as a trauma informed dietitian. 

Is your unresolved childhood trauma preventing you from losing weight?

I remember the conversation as clear as what I had for dinner last night.  I was 20 and my counselor told me that I used food to help cope with my father’s sudden death.   I left her office dumbfounded, confused, and suspect.  It didn’t even make sense to me.  “You mean I’m sad, so I eat nachos?”  Even when she explained it to me, I didn’t get it.

I suffered major traumas as a child.  I used eating to check out, numb out and dull the feelings. On the outside I looked like I had it all, but on the inside I was in pain. 

I’m wondering if you may have done the same and not realize it.  You may

Not be able to start a diet

Start a diet every Monday and stop it every Tuesday

Lose 30 pounds but always gain it back

It could be because you use food as a coping mechanism for your feelings.  But you may not see that.

You just think

I’m lazy.

I’m so undisciplined.

Something is wrong with me.  Why don’t I care more?

Curious?  Grab a piece of paper and a pen/pencil. Go on a journey with me as we discover if THIS is the thing that has been holding you back.   

Think back to your childhood and list all the traumas you suffered.

If you aren’t sure if it should count, just write it down. When in doubt,  assume yes.   Traumas are on a spectrum from small to large. Trauma can be physical or emotional.  If you can’t remember much about an event, that is a clue that it was so traumatic to you that you’ve blocked some/all of it out.  Make sure to add that to your list. 

Examples of childhood trauma are:

Being attacked by a dog

Having to have surgery, stay in the hospital    

Having a parent who was in the home but not emotionally attentive to you. 

Not having money to do things like other kids.

Being bullied.

Not making the team.

Being the only kid in kindergarten that wore glasses. Being different from everyone else. Being teased. 

Military kids – moved a lot, had to constantly make new friends.

Having a mentally ill parent.

Having a parent who is sick and recovers, like cancer or injuries from a car wreck.  


Death of a family member or beloved pet.

Sexual abuse.   

Next, jot down approximately what age you were when your trauma occurred. 

Then think back and if you can, write down how the even made you feel.

How did you cope?

Did you have support or did figure it out alone?

Look at when you gained weight – do you see any correlation??

Do you remember eating more? How did the food make it better?

What did this look like on a daily basis for you?

Is this still how you cope?

If you follow me at all you know I love self-reflection.  It’s how we grow.  If you want to see how I answered these questions, click here and go to my video.  My answers start at 5:15  Min.  Watch my response if you like, then come back.

If trauma is unresolved, early mal-adaptive survival responses become habitual autonomic response patterns.  You develop a new normal.

In other words, if you teach yourself that food helps you to cope or feel better and you repeat over and over, eventually it becomes your normal behavior.   

By the time I hit college, my normal was to use food to distract from uncomfortable conversations, situations, feelings.  Normal was to use food to numb out.

I’m wondering if you can relate. To bring this full circle, it means

If eating unhealthy food or overeating is how you cope and a diet prevents that, you will quit the diet. You don’t have the skills to cope without the food.   

You are simply eating as your autonomic response to keep you safe that was born in childhood to help you survive childhood trauma.

I hope you can now see that it has nothing to do with willpower, trying harder, or finding a better diet. Give yourself some grace. Have the courage to begin your healing journey.  

If you would like to talk to me, I would love to connect.  Click here to go to my personal calendar.   It would be my honor to give you a safe, non-judgmental space to tell your story and see if I am able to help. 

If you want to see the full YouTube video, click here. 

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