Child Abuse and Eating Disorders

Child Abuse and Eating Disorders
Abused children have no control over their home environment. They’re at the whim of their abusers and will often eventually believe their bodies aren’t even their own. It makes sense then that some of these kids will grow up to develop eating disorders since they believe they're at least in control of the food that goes into their bodies.

Food may have even been an excuse their perpetrators used to abuse them, i.e. “If you would only eat more, less, or the right things, I wouldn’t have to teach you a lesson.” Food may also have been used to lure the child for abuse. The abused also suffer extremely low self-esteem. Abusers will often be belittling and even convince them that their victims are to blame for what is done to them. This creates guilt and shame during the abuse and afterward. These feelings can stay with them for many years.

Abuse survivors and those still in an abusive situation will control their food intake in extremely different ways. Some may severely limit what they eat thinking that if they were just thin enough, their lives would be perfect. Others engage in compulsive overeating to quash feelings of inadequacy and provide comfort. They may also be trying to push other people away since they don’t feel worthy of affection. Both behaviors may temporarily provide some sense of relief from the emotional anguish they suffer.

The problem with this need for control is that eventually the disorder takes over their behavior. The controller becomes out of control and needs to find a healthier way to deal with their emotions or they can end up causing themselves serious health problems. For adult survivors, this usually means more than just going on a diet or eating more. It means taking a serious look at the reasons behind their behavior. Outside help from a counselor may be needed and will provide an objective voice in an emotional situation.

Once a child is out of an abusive environment, it’s important that the parent or guardian keep an eye on their eating patterns. With other serious concerns such as the child's safety, their diet may seem like a small problem, but it’s wise not to discount it right away. There’s no need to create a diet war with the child as that could also cause problems. However, discreetly keeping a diet journal and noting their behavior can go a long way to preventing future eating disorders.

Source consulted:

Eating Disorders & Abuse. The Something Fishy Website on Eating Disorders, 1998-2007.

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