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Eating Disorders and Sexual Abuse: Is there actually a relationship between them? Essay

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Eating Disorders and the Individual

Sexual abuse and eating disorders are often associated in the sense that the former is claimed to be the precursor of the latter. This is so because, according to various studies made, sexual abuse can actually have negative effects to its victims. Its effects are usually in the form of disturbing behavioral disorders which if not given ample attention and care may actually cause damage to the sexually abused victims.

            For the purpose of this paper, it is the aim of the author to establish the relationship of sexual abuse and eating disorders. Likewise, provide evidences to the said claim that sexual abuse and eating disorders are interconnected. Moreover, the author would also like to cite what are the usual treatments and or approaches that are commonly used by professionals (i.e. therapists, psychologists) in addressing the eating disorders acquired through sexually abusive acts.

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            Eating disorders are commonly described as a type of behavioral disorder. It is said that it would refer to any condition wherein an individual unconsciously engages oneself in activities that are by nature said to be compulsive obsession to food intake or weight.

It also said that people with eating disorders lack the ability to accurately perceive one’s physical appearance that in effect may either cause that individual to compulsively overeat, eat in binges, which may or may not be followed by purging, or total avoidance or refuse to eat. These practices at first may actually be taken in a normal sense, however, if not given ample attention and immediate solution, may actually become detrimental or self-destructive for that individual. This is so because it deviates from the normal process of food intake and food intake procedures.

            At a deeper perspective and taking into consideration the nature of eating disorders, it can be said that this type of abnormality actually serves as an indicator that an individual may actually have serious problems in her personal life. Thus, eating disorders can actually be taken as mere manifestations and or reactions of that individual to whatever type of serious problem she may have.

            For us to fully understand the above-mentioned concept of eating disorders, let us take into account some of the most commonly known eating disorders, their nature, and their physical and or medical complications as well as its relation to sexual abusive acts.

Types of Eating Disorders and Sexual Abuse:

 Relationship Explored

            For us to better understand and associate as well as establish the relationship between eating disorders and sexual abuse let us first examine the types of eating disorders and then try to relate it to various sexual abusive acts.

            Some of the most commonly known eating disorders would include Anorexia Nervosa, Binge eating or compulsive overeating, and Bulimia Nervosa while sexual abuse would include actions which involves rape, sexual assault, or sexual molestation.

Anorexia Nervosa is said to be characterized by significant weight loss due to excessive dieting. Most people who are prone to have this type of eating disorder are those who have a strong desire to be thin and or those who have a great fear to become obese. A person who is anorexic would always consider herself fat no matter what her actual weight is.  Likewise, even if she is already underweight she may actually still entertain the thought that she is fat. Based on various studies made, anorexic people are observed to have the ultimate goal to achieve perfection. These people are usually those who feel compelled be always competent in everything that they do as well as set very high standards for themselves.

Moreover, according to Thompson (1996), anorexic people are said to have very low self-esteem and that the area of food and weight are the only aspects in their lives that they can actually control.  Anorexia becomes very dangerous to an individual especially if not given immediate attention and ample care. This is so because this may actually cause the death of a person due to the person’s continuous practice of excessive dieting. Records would show that around 10 to 20 percent actually die due to complications related to it (Thompson, 1996). Women are not the only people who can acquire the anorexia nervosa. It also includes the men and children.

How is anorexia nervosa related to sexual abuse? Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder and falls under the classification, type of behavioral disorder. As a behavioral disorder, the occurrence of such eating disorder may be actually coined from a traumatic experience that was encountered by the individual like that of sexual abuse. Sexual abusive acts cause the deterioration of a person’s self-esteem.

Moreover, it creates obsession in the individual, the obsession to make herself unattractive to her abuser. Thinking that by making herself look thin and sickly would actually make her abuser stop from doing such action. Likewise, continuous experience of sexual abusive actions would actually lead to more serious problems which makes the individual perceive that the only solution to curtail to all the unfair treatments she is experiencing would be ending her life by committing suicide via self-starvation or death.

The above-mentioned situation is actually different from the anorexia nervosa caused by other factors in terms of the purpose of engaging oneself in excessive dieting activities. The anorexia nervosa that is caused by other factors would always be for the purpose of improving one’s physical appearance, which is exactly the opposite of the purpose of those who are sexual abuse victims. Some would be actually obsessed with the need to starve oneself to make herself achieve the goal of becoming perfect in terms of body image or figure.

This is actually true for those people who have developed within them the attitude of putting forth others opinions and or wants before oneself. Those who are often subjected to criticisms to wit: “you are so big or you are so fat!” or “you are gaining more weight now compared before”. This develops within the person the need to be thin or slim in order to hear compliments instead of criticisms from other people. Moreover, they think that by self-starving they would easily become thin or slim. This thinking could actually lead to a very serious health problem if not corrected immediately. However, compared to that of the experience of the sexual abuse victims, their cases are far graver and dangerous because of the very intense emotions that developed in them as a reaction to the very bad experience.

Furthermore, due to the unacceptability of the said traumatic experience, the results that they want must abrupt thus enabling them to develop and instill within them the attitude of being impulsive in their decision-making and their actions. The sexually abused victim’s ability to discern the consequences of wrong actions is not given attention and or worst not given consideration at all, thus making death their ultimate goal and end. Also, it cannot also be gainsaid that development of physical and or medical complication occurs at a faster rate for the sexually abused victims compared to the other anorexic people.

For those people who have compulsive overeating disorder (also known as Binge eating), it would be a different case compared to that of anorexia. People who are diagnosed to have binge eating disorders are that who often takes in large amounts of food and feels that they could not control themselves from doing so. This type of eating disorder is actually common to those people who are suffering from anxiety, loneliness, and or depression. These people embraced the attitude and the thinking that by eating large amounts of food the numbing of oneself is made possible. This actually enables them to block and or repress bad or depressing memories.

For the case of sexually abused victims, some of them develop binge eating disorder as a result of their reaction to consistently stuff oneself to make themselves feel numb, numb from all the sexual acts done to them. Likewise, by eating large amounts they find a sense of comfort because for them this aids in the blocking or repression of bad memories. Also, this not only blocks bad memories but also enables them to make themselves unattractive to their abuser. Just like the anorexics, they actually think that by making themselves unattractive, the abuser would stop all the unjustifiable acts he is doing.

Like anorexia, binge eating can also be detrimental to an individual’s health in the sense that the person or individual loses the capacity to think clearly and or decide on what type and amount of food that they take in, thus resulting to the possible occurrence of high blood, shortness of breath, hypertension etc.

Bulimia Nervosa, which is actually similar to binge eating except for the involvement of purging, is observed to occur more often on people who have been sexually abused. What is bulimia nervosa and how is it different from the other two eating disorders mentioned earlier? Bulimia nervosa is actually binge eating but involve the getting rid of food that was take in, in the form of vomiting, laxative abuse, and or excessive exercising as per Dr. Rowan Peter. People who are usually diagnosed to have bulimia are actually those who do not feel secure or confident with their self worth. They usually need the approval of others. They actually have the tendency of giving preferential option to others even to the extent of depriving oneself from what she actually wants. They find a great deal of comfort in eating large amounts of food. Like binge eating, this actually enables them to block and or let out what they actually feel inside.

How is it possible that sexual abuse and bulimia nervosa related? According to various case studies made, bulimia nervosa are developed on individuals who have been sexually abused as a result of the individual’s goal to repress oneself from bad memories obtained from the very traumatic experience encountered, which is actually similar to that of binge eating and sexual abuse in terms of relationship. Victims are compelled to make themselves appear unattractive to the eyes of their abuser. However, for bulimics purging actually aids in providing a sense of comfort in such a way that such activity allows them to let their feelings out. When they purge they feel relieved of the heavy burden they have and or it can be taken as a form of showing protest or disgust on the said unjust act. This is for those who employ the use of laxatives and other forms of purging tools.

Eating Disorders and Sexual Abuse At Present

            Not much information can be obtained regarding the actual relationship of eating disorders and sexual abuse. Based on the observations made by the other, most of the information published is actually just presenting the various possible links and angles of the relation between eating disorders and sexual abuse.

Due to the fact that eating disorder is regarded as a type of behavioral disorder, it can be said that sexual abuse does cause eating disorders.  Such claim has been proven by studies made on the relationship of both. However, only estimates on the percentage of cases can be taken into accounts since most of the victims of such abuse opt not to discuss their painful experiences as a form of protection of oneself from embarrassment and other feelings of even nature.

In short, such bad experience develops within them a sense of powerlessness. Sexual abuse victims are often found to use the various types of eating disorders discussed earlier as a tool for them to protect themselves, to enable them to have comfort and or feel numb. They try to forget their experience by way of stuffing oneself with food. Eating disorders actually become an avenue for them to express themselves.

Some of the victims of sexual abuse tend to become bulimics or compulsive eaters and based on observations made, the victims regards food as their only source of comfort. This is so because the food that they take in does not hurt them, yell at them, etc.  Food becomes their ultimate provider of security and comfort. Others, on the other hand, would stuff themselves with food thinking that this would actually put a stop to the sexual abuse they are experiencing, by making themselves unattractive to the abuser.

For the case of those victims who have become anorexic, by fasting and or excessive dieting they also make themselves unattractive to their abusers while some would think that this would be the easiest way to end all the bad things that they are experiencing. By not eating, they believe that they could easily die, thus putting an end to all the abuses being experienced by the victims.

However, between the bulimia and anorexia, records would show that the people who have developed bulimia nervosa are usually the ones reported to have suffered from sexual abuse (www.sheenasplace.org).

            Treatments/ Approaches Used for Sexually Abused Victims with Eating Disorders

There are various treatments and or approaches that are being used to treat or cure eating disorders caused by sexual abuses. Due to the sensitivity of their case, the victims are taken to a place wherein the victims are far away from their abusers. They are taken to a safe environment with a therapist whom they like, feel comfortable with, somebody whom they can actually trust. Victims are not forced to spill out the details of their experience. They let the victims themselves be the one to voluntarily tell them everything that happened.

Since this type of traumatic experience entails very intense emotions, it brings about eating disorders that could actually lead to an out of hand case. But this would be the best time to give them the ample time and attention that is needed. Likewise, due to the severity of some cases victims may be required to be confined in the hospital for treatment. Moreover, there are also cases wherein their families are also becomes involved in the treatment process especially in those cases wherein a family member have been involved in the said abuse.

Therapists usually use counseling and medications to cure the eating disorders acquired by the victims.

The most common and effective type of approach being used in addressing the eating disorder problems that are related to sexual abuse cases is counseling. This is so because counseling as an approach has a personal touch by nature. It enables the sexually abused victim to comfortably relay to her counselor the details of the frightful event that she experienced. Likewise, with the continuous counseling sessions trust can easily established because through constant meetings enabling the person to become more comfortable in discussing as well as facing and accepting the reality of what actually happened to her.

It involves the boosting of the individual’s self-esteem and confidence that actually leads the individual to realizing that there is still hope and room for change, that it is not the end of the world. This brings the person to a relatively higher plane and enables her to move on. Medications and hospitalization, on the other hand, are usually given to those people whose cases have extremely gone out of hand such as those people who have suicidal tendencies.

Furthermore, the families of the victims play a very vital role in their full recovery.  This is so because the family’s support facilitates encouragement and heightens the individual’s faith and hope for a new life.


            In totality, it can be said that sexual abuse and eating disorders have an indirect type of relationship. This is so because an eating disorder may be caused by other behavioral disturbances and or other factors such as culture and the like other than sexual abuse. Likewise, most of the people who have eating disorders caused by sexual abuse are primarily comprised of women. This is so because women are the usual the victims of sexual abuse.

            In terms of availability of information to establish the actual relationship of the two, it cannot be left unnoticed that there are only a few sources or information available. This is so primarily due to the confidentiality and sensitivity of the situation. People who have been actually abused restrict themselves from being subjected to interrogation by others regarding their traumatic experience. This is so because they feel ashamed of their unacceptable and unexpected fate.

            Sexual abuse among the other forms of abuses is said to be the most detrimental type of abuse because of the bad memories entailed by it. It distorts the soundness of the individual’s spiritual, psychological, emotional, and social being. It permits the development of eating disorders in an individual as an initial form of reaction to the said unjust and immoral act.

Works Cited

Becker, E.L. (ed) (1986) ‘Wiley’s International Dictionary of Medicine and Biology’

NewYork, Chichester; Wiley.

Binge eating disorders. <http:// www.win.niddk.gov/publications/binge.htm>

Eating Disorders: Anorexia and Bulimia. http://adam.about.com/reports/000049_7.htm

Eating Disorders: Anorexia and Bulimia. http://www.reutershealth.com

Eating Disorder: Definition.  <http:// www.dooronline.org/glossary.pl

Eating Disorders. Healthy Weight Journal 2000:14:5:66

Fact Sheet: Eating Disorders and Sexual Abuse. http://www.sheenasplace.org/quickfacts               /sexuabus.html

Faulkner, N. (1996). Sexual Abuse Recognition and Non-Disclosure Inventory of Young

 Adolescents. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI.

  1. Waller. “Sexual abuse and eating disorders. Borderline personality disorder as a mediating factor?” The British Journal of Psychiatry 162: 771-775 (1993)

Groth, A. N. (1979). Men Who Rape. New York: Plenum Press.

PT Staff. “Hidden Victims” Psychology Today Magazine. September 1992 Issue.

Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary 2nd edition. Random House, Inc. USA, 1998.

Rowan, Peter. Introducing Bulimia Nervosa. <http:// www.priory-hospital.co.uk>

Tsai, M. & Wagner, N. N. (1978). Therapy groups for women sexually molested as children. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 7, 417-427.

Thompson, Colleen (1996). Eating Disorders. http://www.mirror-mirror.org/ed.htm

Vought, Jeanette and Heitritter, Lynn (1989). Helping Victims of Sexual Abuse: A Sensitive, Biblical Guide for Counselors, Victims and Families. Bethany House Publishers, Minnesota, USA.

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