Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) may develop body image issues. Some of these issues may stem from feelings of low self-esteem, or the feeling of being dirty or damaged. Although CSA is in no way the child’s fault, these feelings may often run rampant. These long-term body images issues, and the potential desire to seek control in other aspects of an individual’s life may lead to the development of eating disorders.1 Eating disorders are psychological conditions that impact an individual’s attitudes and actions related to food, especially food consumption, restriction, or expulsion.
Common eating disorders
- Anorexia nervosa: Individuals with anorexia nervosa may severely restrict their food intake and feel like they are overweight, even when they are underweight or emaciated. Individuals with anorexia nervosa may have a fear of gaining way, eat very little food, and may weigh themselves constantly. Severe anorexia nervosa can be fatal, as it can affect blood pressure, breathing, body temperature, and organ functioning.
- Bulimia nervosa: Individuals with bulimia nervosa often use extreme methods to remove food from the body, such as forced vomiting, fasting, excessive exercising, or frequently utilizing laxatives after eating very large amounts of food (binge-eating). These individuals often experience acid reflux, gastrointestinal distress, and severe dehydration.
- Binge-eating disorder: Individuals with binge-eating disorder ingest large amounts of food regularly, but do not attempt to expel this food from the body (like in bulimia nervosa). These individuals may eat well past when they are “full”, eat very fast while binging, or eat in secret, and may be overweight or obese.2-3
These are not the only types and characteristics of eating disorders.
Other common signs that an individual is struggling with an eating disorder
- Dramatic changes in weight
- Frequently talking about food or body weight
- Extreme avoidance of certain types of food
- Dressing in layers to stay warm or to hide extreme weight loss
- Disappearing after eating or showing evidence of purging behaviors such as smelling of vomit or possessing laxatives
- Hoarding or stealing food
- Withdrawing from regular activities, friends, or family
- Frequent looking in the mirror at appearance
- Extreme mood swings
- Difficulties concentrating
- Gastrointestinal issues4
It’s important to remember that these are not the only signs or symptoms of an eating disorder. Some individuals with an eating disorder may be healthy in weight or may not show any outward signs of irregular eating behaviors. However, it’s important to note that there is treatment for individuals struggling with an eating disorder. Common options include therapy (individual or group), counseling, and medications. If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, there is a hotline run by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) that can be reached at 1-800-931-2237, between the hours of 9:00am-9:00pm (EST) Monday-Thursday, and 9:00am and 5:00pm (EST) on Fridays.
- Caslini, M., Bartoli, F., Crocamo, C., Dakanalis, A., Clerici, M., & Carrà, G. (2016). Disentangling the association between child abuse and eating disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychosomatic medicine, 78(1), 79-90.
- Hall M, Hall J. The long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse: Counseling implications. American Counseling Association. https://www.counseling.org/docs/disaster-and-trauma_sexual-abuse/long-term-effects-of-childhood-sexual-abuse.pdf?sfvrsn=2. Published 2011. Accessed December 27, 2017.
- Eating Disorders. National Institutes of Health: National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml. Published February 2016. Accessed December 27, 2017.
- Warning Signs and Symptoms. National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/general-information/warning-signs-and-symptoms. Accessed December 27, 2017.