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Abuse and Eating Problems

Posted Sep 14 2008 3:35pm

Recently I attended a seminar on Domestic Violence and have been thinking about its connection to eating problems. I suspect that a number of you may be victims of domestic violence and use food to turn negative feelings against yourself rather than toward your abuser, causing you to feel even worse about yourself.

Domestic violence includes chronic anger, blaming, arguing, name calling, threatening violence and other verbal abuse as well as battering and sexual coercion (even between spouses). It is found in every socioeconomic class, race, and age and its victims are characterized by low self-esteem, dependence on a partner for self-worth or believing a partner is dependent on them, and isolation due to few or no emotional or social supports. Victims may suffer from depression or substance abuse and typically deny, minimize, rationalize, and/or defend a partner’s abusive behavior, accept blame and responsibility for it, fear and walk on eggshells around their partner, and magically hope that their situation will improve without having to do anything to change it.

You don’t have to feel like a victim to become involved with an abuser—all you need is poor judgment—but you need to have a victim mentality to remain with one. This means you have power and believe you don’t due to fear (of real and imagined terrors) and irrational thinking. You believe: I can’t leave, Leaving will hurt the kids, I can’t manage on my own, I deserve what I get, How will he survive without me, He doesn’t mean it, He’s a good man when he’s not drunk/drugging, etc. Along with irrational, disempowering thinking, there are also serious realities about domestic violence that prevent victims from getting out, including lack of money and job skills, the fact that abusers often escalate violence when they believe a partner is about to leave, family and society pressures to stay together, concerns about breaking up a family, and the sexist culture we live in that says women should be passive and dependent and fix what's wrong in relationships.

This mindset plays itself out with food when you believe: I can’t stop eating, I need something to comfort me, I’ll never be able to lose weight, I’m so unhappy that it doesn’t matter if I’m overweight, etc. Victim think is at the root of poor problem-solving when you tell yourself “I can’t …” Changing your thinking and actions around food can help you empower yourself and believe in your abilities, and may be a first step in addressing domestic violence. When you change your eating, you may start to recognize that you are worthy, deserve better than abuse, can get help, and decide to get it or get out.



Visit the message board exclusively devoted to my new book, The Food and Feelings Workbook, at

PLEASE NOTE: I encourage you to comment on my blogs and will do my best to address topics/questions you raise in future blogs. Unfortunately, however, due to time constraints, I cannot provide individual responses.

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