Childhood is a crucial phase where experiences profoundly imprint on one’s future. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) encompass a range of traumatic events—abuse, neglect, household dysfunction, or violence—that can have enduring effects on an individual’s physical and mental health.
In our clinical practice, we have heard many different stories about early childhood experiences and the lasting impact these formative memories create in their adult mind.
One woman spoke of being abandoned by her mother. She was then raised by her aunt, who, in turn, made comments about the woman’s beauty and would force-feed her to make her fat and not be prettier than her own daughters.
One woman spoke about her parents’ divorce, and her parents were always trying to cheer her up with sweets, sugary cereals, and ice cream. She then developed a habit around this and always used these foods to cheer herself up. Loneliness and abandonment were quickly replaced with the dopamine rush of sweetness.
One woman spoke of poverty, that her family couldn’t afford home-cooked meals, and that she was often given a soda and a bag of potato chips for dinner.
Another woman spoke about sexual abuse by a step-parent. Her mother didn’t believe or want to believe her, so the woman ate more, lots more, to make herself less desirable.
No matter what the event was, it’s the vulnerable perspective of the child’s mind and the belief narrative that is created as it follows them into adulthood.
Recent studies have unveiled a striking link between adverse childhood events and the development of obesity later in life. The results of childhood trauma can significantly impact the physiological and psychological mechanisms governing weight regulation and overall health. Children enduring ACEs then adopt coping mechanisms like emotional eating or a sedentary lifestyle as a response to stress. These coping strategies, while providing short-term relief, can set the stage for long-term weight management challenges.
Furthermore, the physiological effects of stress in early life can disrupt the body’s hormonal balance, particularly affecting the regulation of cortisol, a stress hormone linked to increased fat accumulation, especially around the abdomen. Lack of sleep, not eating enough protein, lack of exercise, and hydration all impact the stress hormone cortisol, too.
The mental health impact of ACEs can also contribute to obesity. Conditions like depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that often stem from childhood trauma can lead to changes in eating patterns, further complicating weight management. In clinical practice, we hear, “I’m never full or satisfied.” When taking an accurate food diary, see that people are not being mindful about eating altogether, suggest constant grazing, and eat foods without awareness. The topic of weight management is complex, and everyone is affected differently. We like to paint the larger picture- the entire life of a human experiencing weight struggles to convey the longevity of such mind-body experiences. Hormones, behavior, sleep, diet, exercise, genetics- all these factors take part.
The Art of Bariatrics fosters the holistic approach of tuning into your inner child. We praise work by Irene Lyon on nervous system health and recovery from traumatic experiences. In this video she talks about how trauma is really released from the body and healed. Release trauma doesn’t mean you talk about it, doesn’t mean you relive it, it doesn’t mean you need to medicate it away or ignore it. Actually healing from trauma involves re-establishing a feeling of safety in the moment of activation of threat. For some, depending on the depth of their early childhood experiences, it takes time, lots of new experiences with new skills, and more time and practice before one starts to feel new and different. We couldn’t speak more highly of Irene Lyon and the work that she is doing. If you are resonating with healing this inner child version of yourself may we suggest you check Irene out for assistance! Addressing the psychological and nervous system impact of ACEs is just as crucial as tackling diet and exercise.