Home » The Psychology of Eating Podcast Episode #17: Trauma and Weight Gain – The Hidden Connection

The Psychology of Eating Podcast Episode #17: Trauma and Weight Gain – The Hidden Connection

Written By:

Table of Contents: hide

Imagine carrying around 90 extra pounds for a lifetime that was triggered by trauma and abuse ages ago. Imagine exercising and dieting for years in a diligent way and losing almost nothing. What would you do? Can that weight ever come off?

Stories like this are more common than most people realize. And when all the traditional approaches fail, it’s time to try some unusual and unexpected approaches. Tune into this poignant and powerful episode as Marc David helps Kathleen learn some unique and unusual weight loss strategies that are unlike anything you might have ever imagined.

Below is a transcript of this podcast episode:

Marc: Welcome, everybody. I’m Marc David, founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. And here we are in the Psychology of Eating podcast. And I’m with Kathleen today. Welcome, Kathleen.

Kathleen: Hi, David!

Marc: Right! So here’s what I want to say. Let me just give you a few words to people who haven’t seen this podcast before. So in the Psychology of Eating podcast, what we’re going to do is were going to have a session. And I’m going to work with Kathleen on, Kathleen, what ever you want to work on. And we’re going to try to condense about six months to a year’s worth of coaching into about one session.

So, impossible as that is, the idea is to give you whatever you would need to kind of move forward, have a breakthrough, get on the right path, get clear, and just really accelerate the process of you getting to where you want to go. So it’s a bit of an artificial situation. But I find that it really works. So what I’m going to do is I’m going to ask you a bunch of questions for about fifteen or twenty minutes. And I’m going to put together my thoughts. We’ll go for about an hour total.

And, Kathleen, if you could wave your magic wand and get whatever you wanted to out of this session, what would be the outcome?

Kathleen: The outcome would be for me to find that thing, that part of me that has not been able to unlock, I guess, to move forward and lose some weight. That’s my biggest goal. While I think and believe I’m healthy and not on any medications, I still hold the weight that I’ve had all my life.

So I stopped putting on weight for probably a couple of years now, and lost a few kilos. But I feel like there’s just something that I’m not seeing because I’m too close to myself to be able to see it. So I do want to lose weight.

Marc: Okay. That makes total sense. How much weight do you want to lose?

Kathleen: Probably about forty kilos.

Marc: Forty kilos. And roughly when do you think was the last time you weighed forty kilos less?

Kathleen: Probably twenty years ago.

Marc: And can ask how old you are now?

Kathleen: Yeah. I’ve just gone forty-six.

Marc: Happy birthday! All right.

Kathleen: Thank you.

Marc: So the last time you weighed forty kilos less, you were about twenty-six years old. And before age twenty-six, how was your weight?

Kathleen: I was still always big and probably more unhealthy then. I was still agile, still able to do exercise. I still played sport, all of those sorts of things, but always carried the weight. So as I grew up, I was always slowly increasing.

Marc: And in your mind, what do you attribute the weight gain to? And this doesn’t have to be the right answer. But when you think about it, what do you think?

Kathleen: I think one part of it is that it’s a been something that is to teach me, I guess, my purpose in life, which has been a recent revelation knowing that my weight has been a gift to be able to help me work with other people and make it my career.

The other part of it is I believe it is emotional. It is to do with childhood traumas into adulthood, as well, having not been any other way than always the overweight kid. Yeah, I believe a lot of it has come from not just my own childhood, but a collective thing with parents and their parents and that collective stuff. I’m the youngest of seven and the only girl.

Marc: Wow! Six boys? Six older brothers? Wow!

Kathleen: So, yeah. I’ve always felt like I’ve been at the bottom end of the family.

Marc: And is it okay for me to ask, are you willing to share what the trauma was for you that you think is connected to your weight?

Kathleen: The biggest would be abandonment and sexual abuse from one of my brothers, who has about ten years ago committed suicide. Yeah, abandonment was the biggest issue. It was kind of like even though I was the only girl and some might say that I got spoiled, it was actually really hard. It would seem to be that I was special and the only one. But then I took on those burdens as I got older knowing that my next brother up kind of missed out because once I came along, he was shoved aside.

And it was always like the child that, “Yes, we know you’re there. But we don’t actually want to hear what you’ve got to say. You need to just to sit in the corner and be quiet.” I kind of always couldn’t wait to be the adult so I could join in and be part of the conversations. But when I got there, they didn’t want me part of it.

Marc: So do you know or do you remember how old you were when the first incidence of sexual abuse happened?

Kathleen: It was between six and seven.

Marc: Wow. And up until one age did it last? Was it just that age? Or did it continue?

Kathleen: No, it was only around that age, probably a couple of years.

Marc: And did you ever talk to your brother about it when he was alive?

Kathleen: No. Never, ever mentioned it. I spent my whole life ironically quite close to him. But I always felt like I had to protect him, like it was my job to protect him from the truth.

Marc: Wow. And when did you become sexually active? How old were you?

Kathleen: Thirteen.

Marc: Thirteen. And how was that for you?

Kathleen: That was just a case of seeking approval, like taking any attention that I could from a male. And it was in my own deluded way…because that relationship continued pretty much until I got pregnant just before I was seventeen. Yeah.

But for me it was take whatever attention I could get. While I was aware he didn’t actually really like me that much, it was because I would give in and give him what he wanted.

Marc: So you had a child with this person. And how old is she now, or he?

Kathleen: She’s twenty-eight.

Marc: Twenty-eight.

Kathleen: Yeah. She’s happily married with two little children.

Marc: So you’re a grandma!

Kathleen: I am!

Marc: Congratulations. All right!

Kathleen: Thank you.

Marc: And is there anyone in your life? Are you in a relationship?

Kathleen: Yes, I’m married to Peter. We got married just going on seven years ago. I’ve known him just over eight years.

Marc: Wow. And you smiled when you said that. So it sounds like it’s a good relationship.

Kathleen: Yeah, it is. I didn’t have many relationships. He’s my longest relationship. I guess for me I always believed that I would still be overweight when I met the one. And that’s what happened. I guess it was my own belief in that someone was going to love me for who I was, not everything else. Yeah, that’s what’s happened. He just loves me.

Marc: Congratulations.

Kathleen: Thank you.

Marc: You’ve just proven probably for a gazillion people out there this false belief that, “I can’t have love unless I look a certain way or do a certain thing,” or whatever it is. God knows how many, especially women I speak to, who have that belief. They want a relationship. But they just want to lose five kilos or ten kilos. It’s crazy what the mind can do about that.

Okay, so you’ve been married for now seven years. And it just from a medical perspective, have you been tested for diabetes? Have you been tested for thyroid?

Kathleen: Yeah, probably about seven or eight years ago. I haven’t been to the doctor since then. I was doing just routine twelve-monthly check. And they tested for all of that. And it always comes back normal. Blood pressure is always normal.

The only thing that did come up once or over a couple of years was that a doctor asked me if I’d ever had glandular fever because there was something showing up around having had that. But I wasn’t aware of it. I guess I’d probably had the symptoms at some point. But I was a single mom. So you just get on and do what you have to do and don’t worry about it.

Marc: So in the last bunch of years, what have you done in your world to try to lose weight?

Kathleen: The most recent was I went to the gym and took the big leap and got a personal trainer. I did that for not quite twelve months. And that process, I guess, was different to others, but then the same because it was in my mind I believed that if I wanted to lose weight, I had to go to the gym or I have to do this exercise. I didn’t think that my food and my eating was an issue. We generally ate healthily anyway.

When I first started, I was really careful about what I ate. And it kind of got to the point where I was thinking, “Maybe that one latte I’m having a day, maybe I should cut that out as well.” And it was about that time that someone told me about Jon Gabriel. I came home, downloaded his first chapter, and had the book read in a couple of days and was basically going, “Where’s this guy been all my life?”

So totally resonated with him and then let go of the dieting. I told my personal trainer that she could ask me whatever she liked. She could weigh me as much as she liked. But I wasn’t interested in the results. But it was still that process of exercising. And I hated the process. I absolutely despised it. I loved how I felt at the end. But I hated the process.

So apart from that, I did the Weight Watchers. I did the low-fat. When I first met Pete, he would always call my food flavor-reduced food. And we’d sort of go into a bit old battle around that because he’s never had those sorts of issues himself. But, yeah, over time I guess I’ve learned that all that nonfat/low-fat stuff was doing me more harm than good.

Marc: So can you tell me in ninety seconds or less what you eat these days? Breakfast, lunch, dinner, what’s typical?

Kathleen: What’s typical is eggs and salad for breakfast. About every second day, we have a green juice before that. And before that, I always start with lemon and ginger and water. Lunch is usually some kind of chicken. I guess it’s much the same as The Gabriel Method with some protein, some salad. It might be leftovers from the night before.

Dinner, we often have a range of fish or chicken or not often red meat at night, now and again. But it’s usually with a salad. And stir fries as well, we have a lot of stirfries. Now and again we have pasta. Pete likes his hits of carbs. So that might be once a week to once a fortnight. Yeah, that’s the general gist, depending on what’s happening and where we’re going and what else we’re doing that might vary.

Marc: Okay. Now, did you mention to me, are your parents deceased? Alive?

Kathleen: They’re both deceased now.

Marc: And you had six brothers. One committed suicide. So the other five brothers, are you in contact with them?

Kathleen: Only one, which is the youngest.

Marc: And you’re not in contact with the others because…?

Kathleen: Because I don’t want any more to do with them. I cut more ties when my mom died, which is [inaudible] months ago.

Marc: And are they okay with that? Does it matter to them? Do they wish they were in contact with you? What do you think about that?

Kathleen: I think they’re actually pleased. At no point has anyone come back and said, “Why?” or anything like that. I say too much. And I remember too much. And I hold people accountable for what they’ve said. And that’s not appreciated. So I just find I don’t resonate with them anymore. And without parents alive, I wouldn’t choose people like that to be my friends.

Marc: And the brother that you’re in contact with, how is that relationship for you?

Kathleen: It’s good. It’s getting better. I guess because we grew up together, we have a bit more of an understanding. The three older brothers had already left home by the time I came along. And that contact might be only once every six to twelve months.

But we kind of can just pick up and talk about stuff and life and what’s doing. We don’t talk a lot about the family situation. Now and again there might be a bit of banter or a comment. And we just understand that. But we don’t tend to focus on it.

Marc: Now, does this brother know what happened to you at a young age when your other brother abused you?

Kathleen: Not from me he doesn’t, no. I’ve never talked about it with him.

Marc: Any desire to?

Kathleen: No. No. And I guess I did get to that point, as well, with other family members knowing was I didn’t want to be labeled a victim. And I didn’t want to give them the opportunity to say that I’ve just made it up because I had spoken to one brother about it at one point. And that’s pretty much what he says, that it’s all lies and I’ve made it up. So I guess I got what I believed.

Marc: Interesting. So what’s your vision for yourself from now until the next thirty years? When you think about this next long trajectory of your life, who do you want to be? What do you want to be?

Kathleen: I want to be the real me, which I believe I’m doing now. My work is this, is working with people around their relationship with food and healing. I guess I want to be the best example of living a healthy life without pharmaceutical medications, being my absolute best, speaking my truth, and not being afraid to speak up and be slim and healthy and have the energy to give to others and continue to learn and grow myself, as well.

Marc: Thank you for saying that. That’s very beautiful. Tell me when you feel best in your body.

Kathleen: At the moment, I’m feeling probably the best I’ve ever felt. The last couple of weeks has been interesting with only being on one salary because I’ve given up my full-time work to focus on me and my business. And that in itself has been an interesting journey because it’s indirectly forced me to be more focused on nourishing myself because there’s less money to be distracted with, going out and buying stuff that we don’t need and all of that. So I’ve had to be really resourceful and careful around that.

So what I’ve done is tended to myself. So having a really healthy routine where I actually for the first time ever I’m feeling, I guess, bits and pieces of feeling what I might like to feel like to be slim. I’ve never had that.

Marc: Interesting. On a scale of one to ten, when it comes to your experience of sex, ten being like, “Wow. I just feel so good about this. This is amazing. I’m super comfortable. I really love this,” to one being like, “Gah! I don’t want to do this,” where would you generally place yourself?

Kathleen: At the moment, probably around seven to eight.

Marc: What do you think would make it eight to nine, or nine to ten?

Kathleen: It’s more how I’m feeling. Pete’s been in his own time at the moment. So I guess it’s when I’m feeling really nourished and probably more sexy because I feel good about my body at the time. So, yeah. I’ve noticed that obviously depending on where he’s at can make a difference, too. I’m not a bloke. So I can’t just switch my switch on.

Marc: I get it. I get it. So when it comes to the body image thing and how much you love your body, don’t love your body, on a scale of one to ten, ten being, “Man, am I mean to myself practically all day long in terms of how I talk to myself about how I look and how much I weigh,” one being, “Eh, hardly ever say a negative thing to myself,” how intense is the negative body talk, ten being most intense?

Kathleen: At the moment and probably for the last few months, I’d say it’s more like a three to four.

Marc: Mmm, great.

Kathleen: I’m noticing I’m constantly talking myself and shutting off that negative voice.

Marc: Good for you. Okay. Kathleen, I think I’ve got some things to say here.

Kathleen: Okay.

Marc: Yeah. Yeah. I would love to spend a lot more time with you and gather a lot more information. But I have a feeling that all roads would probably lead to what I’m going to say. And what I’m going to say to you is all in the context of if this is the only time we have to work together, if you were the last client I was ever going to see, if I was going to die after this conversation and I wanted to make this the best freaking session in all of my human history, what would I say to you? So the things I’m going to say to you are based on that attitude.

I also want to say before I say specifically what I’m going to say, I also want to give a context here that the things I’m going to share with you are not necessarily what I would usually say to anyone when it comes to where they’re at with their body or where they’re at with weight. So you’re going to be a little bit different in part because of where you are asked and where I think you are poised to go.

So here’s kind of how I take your story and what I do with it in my mind. So here’s this woman who is—what did you say?—forty five.

Kathleen: Forty-six.

Marc: Forty-six. So here’s a forty-six-year-old woman who is essentially, for the biggest part of your life, dealing with weight issues. And here’s a person who’s doing a relatively great diet, which for all purposes if you truly had weight to lose — and I’m actually guessing that you do — if you had weight to lose, then the weight ought to come off. According to science, the weight should come off. And even when you worked with your trainer, it doesn’t sound like you lost very much weight.

Kathleen: No. I put weight on.

Marc: Yeah. So that’s interesting. So here you are burning more calories, getting into your body in a whole different way, and you actually put more weight on when you were working out, which is not uncommon, by the way.

So what I want to say is that the laws of calories in, calories out, calorie burning, what we call the laws of science aren’t actually the real laws. They’re guidelines that have fuzzy boundaries. And science, to me, still has its training wheels on. It’s still like a little infant. It’s like a baby when it comes to understanding what causes weight gain and weight loss.

There’s a lot of places where it’s obvious why somebody has gained weight and how they could lose it. A lot of times it’s obvious. And for you, you’re one of those people that it’s not obvious to the untrained eye. So what I want to say is there’s a subset of people out there—I’m not saying this is everyone—but there’s a subset of people, particularly people who have gone through a trauma who will walk onto a body weight.

And no matter what they do that’s correct and right and should get them where they want to go, it doesn’t work. You’re one of those people. So there’s a lot of things you do right. And it doesn’t necessarily translate into what you would expect to happen. So what this means is that your work and our work becomes a little bit more like detective work because this is all about looking for answers. That’s what it is. It’s all about looking for answers. It’s following the signs. It’s following the clues.

There’s a subset of people who, how are they going to lose weight? Yeah, they eat less food and less junk and less sugar. And you exercise more. And they lose weight. There’s a lot of people, believe it or not, that formula will never work. And it doesn’t. And there’s all different kinds of diets you can go on. Some work, some don’t. All different kinds of exercises. Some work, some don’t. You could continue on the, “Let me try this diet and this exercise.”

And my sense is you would kind of go around in circles. You’d find some things that may be help you lose a little bit of weight. And you wouldn’t quite get where you want to go because trauma locks in physiologic habits in the body, meaning there are some people who had a trauma from a young age or not even a young age.

A lot of people going to the military and they see action. And they’re in war. And they’re shooting a gun. And they’re shot at or they kill people or they watch their friends being killed. They come back traumatized. And they come back with this thing we call post traumatic stress syndrome. PTSD is just another way of saying a stress that lives in the body that we can’t shake off.

Now, the person wants to shake it off. They don’t want to have sleepless nights. They don’t want to have migraine headaches. They don’t want to have long-term digestive issues were every time they eat a meal to get sick. They don’t want that. But they can’t shake it off because the body has locked in a trauma, sometimes long after it’s happened.

So it is common — and I just want to say this. And I’m not making this up — it is very common for men and women who have a past history of sexual abuse to have certain issues that stay with them on a physiologic level, the most common being weight gain and an inability to lose weight.

Equal to that is digestive issues. Secondary to those are immune issues and all sorts of nagging health symptoms that just don’t seem to go away.

How is your digestion, by the way?

Kathleen: It’s good now since I’ve been slowing down and eating slower.

Marc: That’ll help. So what I’m saying to you is despite your best efforts and despite your best intentions, the body has a habit. And the body learned this habit, in my estimation—and others would say this, too, who understand trauma work and understand the connections between early childhood trauma and physiology and symptoms, such as weight gain and inability to lose it — that you locked onto a weight, and probably for very good reason.

One of the brilliant strategies of the body is that it’ll put on weight when it needs to get bigger so it can protect itself. So being big is a brilliant protection in nature. The biggest creatures tend to be the most feared. Elephants don’t have a tremendous amount of predators. Whales don’t have a tremendous amount of predators unless they’re injured, unless the predators are going after their young, or unless those creatures are really, really old and decrepit. And then they become targets. Otherwise, you don’t mess with them.

Having a big body as a child, it’s not like you might have sat there and think, “Okay, gosh. I’d better gain weight so I can be protected.” But to the survival instincts in your body, somewhere inside, your psyche knows in your body knows this is not correct. What happens to you wasn’t correct. It wasn’t right. Even though your brother probably loved you, even though he probably didn’t do it with any evil in mind or bad intent, he was coming from his best place, but it’s still traumatic for most humans when that happens at a young age.

So the body puts on weight. And it’s a brilliant strategy because it’s going to make you less of a sexual target for most. And at least it’ll give us, it’ll give you, it’ll give the body a sense of solidity, strength, and, “You can’t hurt me.” So I’m calling that a habit that your body has now. It’s an old habit. And what I’m hearing is that you’re ready to leave that habit behind.

Kathleen: Yes I am.

Marc: I’m actually hearing that loud and clear. There’s a lot of people who have a similar history to you. They want to lose the weight. They’re not quite ready yet. I think you’re ready. I think you’re really positioned. I feel like you’re on the launching pad because I’ve dealt with this a lot. And I have just a little bit of a sixth sense or a little bit of experience to be able to intuit or guesstimate or vibe in on, “Do I think you’re ready?” So I kind of think you are ready.

So right now we’re talking outside the realms of traditional science. We’re at the edge here of what science knows. But you know something? We’re not going to wait another forty years for science to figure out the stuff that you and I are talking about right now because we’re more pragmatic and we want results. And we’re not afraid to be at the leading edge here. And this is how new discoveries happen because you observe and you experiment and you try things. So everything I’m saying to you now is going to be within the realm of, “Let’s experiment with this. Let’s try this.”

Because what I’m interested for you right now is what are the tweaks? What are the possible tweaks that we can do, that you can do, that’ll help create a shift in your system so that habit isn’t needed anymore, the habit called a body that needs to maintain a certain weight so I can feel protected and safe. So that’s kind of where my brain is going. What do we have to do? What can we experiment with? What can we try so that your body doesn’t need to be big in order to feel safe?

Now, before I make my suggestions, I don’t know if you used the word “visualization” before, but what have you been doing to move in this direction? Do you ever visualize it? Do you think about yourself? Do you imagine yourself a different way?

Kathleen: I often do Jon Gabriel’s visualizations. Most nights I do the evening one. And a part of that is thinking about your ideal body. But for me to get a picture in my mind, I’ve had to find other visual pictures of not skinny women because I don’t actually want to be skinny. But in terms of a healthy and similar shape to myself, I’ve had to look at those to even get a picture because it’s difficult to even imagine what it’s like. Yeah. It’s sort of like a very shaded picture.

Marc: Sure. No worries. Not an issue. Okay. There’s a lot of thoughts in my head. I’m just trying to think where to go. So part of the work — and again this is just to shift the habit of the body — so a lot of what you’re going to do to shift the habit of the body is going to be a little bit underneath consciousness. His tricks of the trade to get below the conscious mind to begin to give other input into the unconscious mind, into the intelligence of the body which manages the body which is why I asked that question.

So when you visualize, I’m almost less concerned with the image that you have, even though that’s fine. It’s fine to fixate on an image. I’m more concerned with you for a feeling. And the feeling that I want you to feel into is imagine feeling that you’re in a lighter body and you feel totally safe in that lighter body. I want you to feel what safe feels like to you in that lighter body. I want you to imagine your husband being next to you, being with you, holding you with that lighter body.

And I want you to when you visualize just notice what happens when you imagine you being in that lighter body and you being with a man, you being with a man that loves you, you being with her husband.

What comes up? How does that feel?

Kathleen: It feels foreign already.

Marc: It feels foreign already. Yeah. So part of it is feeling that feeling, but in relationship to a male, in relationship to a man. In this case, were going to do to her husband, being that you’re married, being that he’s your guy, and being that that’s the safest man in the world for you. So everything rests on giving your system the message that you feel safe.

Now, granted it’s not a safe world. There’s no guarantees. You can walk across the street and get hit by a car. It’s not safe even though the person had a red light. So it’s not a safe world. And we want to give your body the message that the truth is you don’t need to be protecting against men in your environment anymore. You know that for the most part. Your body doesn’t. And the six- or seven-year-old girl doesn’t know that quite yet.

So that’s why when you do your visualizations, I want you to visualize just about each time you do that, visualize being with your husband. And notice what you’re feeling. And I want you to start to get comfortable over time in that visualization. And it could be uncomfortable. And that’s fine. But the idea is to feel more and more comfortable in that body with a man, with your husband, and invoking a sense of safe, invoking the feeling of safety in that visualization that you’re doing.

So at that’s one piece that I think will be really helpful because it’s a feeling that were looking for. So the truth is for you to be in a thinner body, you’re looking for a feeling. You want a certain feeling, which is totally cool. It’s great. So what I’m saying is let’s feel that feeling now because when you feel that feeling now, it makes getting there a whole helluva lot easier. Trust me on this one. It really does. So you’re not depending on getting to a thin body and then feeling that way. You’re starting that feeling now. So that’s one piece.
So the next piece that I want to suggest for you is we need to do a little bit of a strategic strike into the past. I’m not going to call this therapy. I’m going to call it strategic strike into the past. Because people hear the word “therapy,” they freak out and think it’s dangerous. And the therapy has a bad name, especially when somebody, it looks like they’re practicing it without a license or people who have an aversion to this thing called therapy, whatever it is. These are just tools and strategies to help us reinvent ourselves, to help us heal ourselves and to transform ourselves and get where we want to go and where we need to go. So there’s a little bit of a strategic strike that has to be done.

Here’s what I want to suggest. I’m going to just pull some tools from my toolkit that I’m thinking will be instructional for you. Let me give you a homework assignment. And then after I give you the homework assignment, I’m going to tell you why I think you should do that. So the homework assignment is this. I want you to write…and this is over the course of time. It might take you weeks. I want you to write a series of letters. None of these letters get sent. But these letters, you can type them in your computer. You can write them out by hand. They’re letters to your parents who are deceased. They’re letters to every one of your brothers.

And in each of those letters — and they have to be individualized to that person — I want you to just say everything you ever wanted to say to them. I want you to say every single thing you ever wanted to say to them. But you have to include what happened to you as a child. You have to say, “Listen, mom, dad. I want to let you know here’s what happened. Here’s what went down. Here’s what I need you to know about that experience. Here’s how that shaped to me. Here’s how things unfolded.”

I want you to really speak to them as if you can say whatever you wanted to say. And I want you to speak that into the paper, into the computer. With your brother who abused you who has committed suicide, I want you to especially be aware of what you’re writing to him. And say everything. “We never talked about it. I wanted to protect you. Here’s the feelings I have about that. Here’s how this shaped to me. Here’s how this impacted me. Here’s what I want you to know.”

You can be angry. He can be happy for him. You can love him. You can hate him. You can do all of that in one letter. But I really want you to notice what comes up as you are writing these letters and to not censor yourself. I want you to let it rip. And once you start writing that letter, emotions might come up. They might not. You might be simply very clearheaded and, “Here’s what I’ve got to do.” But to each one of those people, I want you to write something.

Next, I want you to write a letter to the six- or seven-year-old you as if you were her unbelievable, amazing big sister, her loving, amazing big sister that you might have wished you could have had.

And you’re writing a letter to that little girl, just loving her up, telling her what’s going on, telling her that you’re going to be okay, telling her that you’re sorry this has happened, and telling her that you’re going to look out from her now on.

Because there’s that little girl. I want that communication made inside of you where part of you is telling another part of you that, “I’ve got your back. I’m safe ground. You can come to me.” What happened was you had no place to go. You have no place to go. There was no adult noticing it, protecting you. Nobody saw. Your brothers couldn’t handle it even when you shared with one of your brothers, went into denial, which would then, if I was you, make me want to run the other way and not engage with that person. So you had to shut yourself down to a certain degree and protect yourself and drive boundary line with your family, understandably so.

And what’s happening is that there’s a part of you that’s going to be living back there because things never got finished the way they should have. So this is a way to start to finish things on the more subtle levels. But finishing it on a level where your psyche, your unconscious can start to unravel and unwind.

So I want you to write a letter, again, to the little girl in you who was six or seven years old as if you were her amazing big sister. And you’re going to tell her about how life is going to be when she grows up, how things are going to get better. Give her advice about how to deal with men. Let her know that you are really safe and this was terrible that happened. Say whatever you want to say to her in order to love her up and to be a great big sister.

How does this sound for you so far? How does this land for you?

Kathleen: Yeah. Perfectly. I love writing. Over the years, writing particularly has helped me deal with undue anger issues, as well as other emotions. I tell people now my pen and my paper have been my number one best friend throughout the last twenty years.

Marc: The anger piece for you to me, I want you to be aware of it is just from the standpoint of that’s one of the keys that’s going to help unlock your metabolism because the anger needs to have a voice. And that’s why I’m interested in the anger. If it shows up in these letters that you’re writing, I want you to let it rip. I really do because that has to come out.

And you might need to write a series of these letters. You might need to like a month from now do it again, especially with your deceased brother and especially with anyone in the system that you feel angry at.

Now, hopefully you can remember this. There’s one more I want you to write. So remember it’s every one of your family members. It’s you writing a letter from you, the big sister in you to the little girl in you. The one more letter I want you to write…tell me your deceased brother’s first name.

Kathleen: John.

Marc: John. Okay. So I want you to write a letter from John to you. So you’re kind of channeling John. And the letter is in response to the letter you just wrote him. So you write him a letter first. And then you’re going to channel him writing you a letter back. And it’s going to go, “Dear Kathleen…”

And you’re going to channel what he would say to you from his place, wherever he is, wherever you believe he is. Hopefully I’m going to assume he’s a bit wiser and more aware. And I want you to write a letter from him and hear what he has to say to you from the place where he is now, knowing what he knows now.

Kathleen: Yes. Yep, that sounds good.

Marc: Here’s another assignment that I’d love for you to do. How do you best love to move? What do you like to do most, movement wise?

Kathleen: Apart from chasing the dog around the backyard, things like belly dancing I’ve done. I enjoy that sort of dancing movement.

Marc: I would love for you to start to do some kind of regular or semi regular dance, whether it’s belly dance, whether it’s something else, whether it’s a couple different kinds of dancing. I want you to forget about the whole working out thing. If you want to work out, it’s fine. If you want to be with a personal trainer, fine. But it has to be fun stuff.

And you’re not going to care about weighing yourself because we’re just going to let the body do what it does. I’m more interested in you being in your body. And if you enjoy dance and if you enjoy belly dance, especially belly dance, because that’s such a woman’s dance and it’s so about, “Here I am, for goodness sakes!” I think that would be great for you.

I want you to start to dance more in that way and just enjoy it. And imagine that the body that you’re in can have happiness and joy, no matter what weight is at.

You’re giving your body the message that, “It’s safe at this weight to enjoy and be in movement that makes me feel good about myself.” That’s a big piece. I don’t want to see you do exercise that’s going to make you feel resentful, especially if it makes you gain weight, for goodness sakes.

How do you do in the heat? Do you ever do saunas?

Kathleen: Not anymore. We used to. But the sauna that we had access to here isn’t there anymore. Yeah, we often used to do lots of hot, wet saunas.

Marc: That’s one of the few metabolic things I would love for you to do, like that passive kind of sweating, which either a dry sauna or like a steam room. That would be in an ideal universe of great little metabolic stimulator. Heat and sweating helps reset the body. It helps reset that internal thermostat. It helps reset calorie-burning capacity oftentimes for people. And it’s passive. And you don’t have to do anything but sit there.

So if you have access to that, whether it’s at a health club, whether it’s a cheap sauna you can somehow get, whatever it is, is that opportunity shows up, I would love for you to do that.

And lastly, have you ever heard of holotropic breath work?

Kathleen: Yeah, I have.

Marc: Do me a favor. Google holotropic breath work. See if there’s anybody in your area who is doing it. It’s a very powerful transformational tool that is one of the quickest ways to access the unconscious and get things moving, get the body moving, get the psyche moving in a real natural way. Really it’s derived from an ancient yogic breathing technique that when you do it, it just creates emotional release, essentially. So for you, any kind of emotional release work is going to be great.

Talking therapy for you, not necessarily as powerful, believe it or not. It’s the kinds of therapeutic modalities that get you feeling, get you into your feeling body, writing letters, feeling your feelings, doing breath work, which just naturally brings up emotions. It would shock you the stuff that comes up. Spontaneously it happens. So it puts you in your emotional body. That helps our emotional metabolism begin to activate itself even more, which will help your actual physiologic metabolism activate even more.

So those are the pieces. If you can find them like the sauna, the holotropic breath work. But even if you can’t find that or are able to do it, these other pieces that I mentioned, the visualization, the feeling safe next to men…

Let me ask you one more question. How do you feel about men other than your husband? Are you afraid of men? Mad at men? Like men? What is it for you?

Kathleen: Actually, I like men. Yeah. In general with work and stuff, I prefer to work with men than women. Generally I’ve never been afraid of men. And I don’t know if that’s something I deliberately chose to not be afraid of. I don’t know.

The whole experience never consciously affected that I was afraid of men. I probably went the other way. I probably went into a form of abuse before I met Pete where I had a time where I just said, “Stuff it. I’m just going to have unconditional casual sex with as many men as I can.” And that’s what I did. Because I guess for me it felt like I had a form of control over that because I was the one saying, “No, I don’t want to actually see you again.”

Marc: Yeah, which is perfect. It’s actually a brilliant strategy. And I get that you’re man-positive. And part of that is just growing up around a lot of brothers. You were in the mix. And that’s oddly enough, given what you’ve gone through, that’s a strange benefit.

And it doesn’t surprise me that you attracted a loving man and a loving relationship into your life because there’s a fundamental place where you love and where you love men. So that’s beautiful. That’s a big piece of work that others, it takes them a while to get to to feel safe again. But I think for you because the abuse happened at a young age, there’s just a way more unconscious level where your body, literally the organism called your body, just ain’t going to feel comfortable.

Or it’s not going to feel safe in certain situations that will be below your awareness, which is probably why when I asked you to visualize you in a thinner body next to your husband, you said, “Yeah, it already feels strange or weird” because it will feel strange and weird because you haven’t had that sensation yet.

So these are the places that I suggest you start. And we’ll see how it goes. You and I will reconvene in a number of months. We’ll check in. We’ll see how you’re doing. And this process, we don’t know how long it’s going to take. So it’s for me — and I’m saying this to you and I’m saying this to people listening in — I’m not sitting over here thinking, “Yeah, Kathleen. You’ve got to lose this weight because then I’ll like you more. And other people will like you more. And the world will love you more. And then you’ll finally be like we want you to be, which is having less body fat.”

I could care less. To me, you’re fine as you are. I don’t need you to lose weight, nor do I want you to lose weight. And at the same time, I want to be really respectful of you and what you want. And at the same time, if you told me you wanted to lose weight and I was sitting here knowing what I know in my experience thinking, “I don’t think this lady has weight to lose,” I’d be the first to tell you. If I thought you were off base that your body didn’t have weight, I’d say something. Based on your story, based on this conversation, where my mind goes is, “Yeah, you could shape shift your body.” There’s no doubt in my mind.

And I get that for you, I feel like you’re in a healthy place with it because you have love in your life. You’ve raised a child. You have a good sense of self. And you’d like to change your body. And will you probably love yourself more? Sure. But I get that there’s a lot of self-love in your system to begin with.

Kathleen: I’ve done a lot of work.

Marc: Right. But if you were totally hating on yourself as you are right now, like a few hated this body, then I would probably raise my hand and say, “Wait a second. Time out. I can’t encourage you to try to lose weight when you still are living in weight hate. We have to step in to love first.” And I think you are pretty much as they are.

But I want to just remind you that on this part of your journey in shape shifting your body, it’s not about you getting one of love. This is not about your going to be a better person. You’re going to be a better person no matter what it is you continue to grow, whether you lose ten pounds or thousand pounds. It doesn’t matter. So I’m loving the place you’re at because I feel like you’re in a positive, loving place to shift your body as opposed to, “Nobody loves me. The worlds disapproves of me,” all that sort of thing.

You’ve created good boundaries. It sounds like you’ve attracted love. So I think you’re on the launching pad. And be patient. Give it time. And let this process be magical.

Let it be a little magical, meaning we’re going to try different things. You’re going to try different things. And sometimes you won’t get a result. And then three months later, you might do something else. You might have another shift. And all of a sudden your body starts to change.

And a lot of times it’s not the one thing we do. It’s the whole journey. And we can’t really pinpoint it on one saying even though, “Oh, yeah. When I finally took that supplement, that’s when I lost the weight,” or, “I finally did some weird exercise routine.” No. It’s everything that you do that keeps moving you towards being the best version of you that’s going to help move you towards your body being the truest version of it, if that makes sense.

Kathleen: Yeah, it does. Yeah, it makes total sense.

Marc: So, Kathleen, how are you feeling? Whatcha thinking?

Kathleen: I’m thinking that it does make perfect sense to me because ironically — and I know it’s cliché and when you’re single, people hear it all the time — about once you accept yourself, then often you find that love. And I did get to that point before I met Pete of thinking that, because I was doing a lot of personal development.

And the one thing I’ve never dealt with and had never shared and then it was sort of about the years I’d been involved with this particular group, I’d never, ever shared the sexual abuse. And it was almost like that was the only thing left. I realized that it was the one thing stopping me from having what I really wanted. So just by publicly sharing that — I mean, it’s irrelevant to other people — but because I then did that, it was within a month that I met Pete.

And it’s that same pattern now that it’s been more recent that I’ve got to that point where I’ve actually thought and said, “If this is the size that I am for the rest of my life, so be it. I’m happy with the person inside of me. I like who I am. And I like who I am with others.” But there’s still that thing where I prefer it to be different. But if this is it for me for the rest of my life, then I can be okay with that. I’m not one hundred percent there. But, yeah. So what you’re saying makes perfect sense.

Marc: Yeah. And beautiful what you just shared. You’re in such a great place because with that attitude, to me, you are best positioned to have a shape shift. If that’s your destiny, if that’s what your body can do, if that’s what’s meant to happen to keep on approaching it from that place of, “Hey, I’m fine no matter what happens. And I’d like to see this change.”

So from that place, beautiful! To me, success becomes the most possible if it’s truly destined to happen. So I’m really excited for you.

Kathleen: Yeah, thank you. I am, too.

Marc: Yay. So, good work. Good work. And thank you for sharing so openly about your journey. And I just want to say I deal a lot with people — women and men — who have a past history of sexual abuse. And where you’ve come with it is tremendous. How far you’ve come, you’re in the top few percent of really being able to have reached an amazing place in your life. So that’s a testament to you and who you are. And I know you’ve worked hard. And congratulations.

Kathleen: Thank you. I’ve kind of always had that belief, too, that to me it seems pointless having experiences —whether they’re good or bad — it’s pointless for them to just be experiences and there be no value in them. So it’s making good with what is.

Marc: Yeah. Thank you so much, Kathleen.

Kathleen: Thanks, David. Thanks for your time.

Marc: Okay! And thank you, everybody, for tuning in. I’m Marc David on behalf of the Eating Psychology podcast. Lots more to come, my friends. Take care.


Subscribe to The Psychology of Eating Podcast

Get notified when new episodes go live.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Listen to The Psychology of Eating Podcast

Follow Us

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.