Sexual Abuse and Eating Disorders: What’s the Connection?

Donald described shamefully, “After my parents divorced, my mother would get drunk and dance around the house in her nightgown. She scared me, but the worst part was I got turned on. To try and get control, I began starving myself and developed anorexia. Through therapy, I now understand how I was trying to starve out my horrible feelings about myself. And my shame also made me feel I didn’t even deserve to eat.”

Abuse violates the boundaries of the self so dramatically that one’s inner sensations of hunger, fatigue, or sexuality often become difficult to identify. People who have been sexually abused turn to food to relieve a wide range of different tension states that have nothing to do with hunger because the betrayal they experienced has made them disoriented, mistrustful, and in turmoil about their inner perceptions. For many survivors, trusting food is safer than trusting people. Food never abuses you, never hurts you, never rejects you, never dies. You get to say when, where, and how much. No other relationship complies with your needs so absolutely.