Currently, in the UK, about 65% of men and 58% of women are clinically classified as being either overweight or obese. In the USA, the figures are similar: approximately 58% of women are clinically defined as overweight or obese, whilst the corresponding statistic for male Americans is 70%.
A study conducted by Bartoli et al. found that those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were about one and a half times more likely to suffer from obesity than were the controls (participants who did not have PTSD) who took part in the research.
So, if, as adults, we suffer from PTSD as a result of our highly disturbed childhoods we are at increased risk of also becoming obese compared with the average individual (all else being equal).
Why should this be the case? Well, one explanation is that the depressive symptoms that accompany PTSD can lead to the so-called ‘comfort eating’ phenomenon as well as much decreased levels of physical activity due to lack of motivation (in my own case, I was frequently utterly incapable of getting out of bed); therefore, we are likely to consume more calories each day than we burn up.
Also, the severe anxiety that accompanies PTSD can lead to various different compulsions, one of which being compulsive eating.
Furthermore, many PTSD sufferers experience severe insomnia and intense, terrifying nightmares (as I know from my own bitter experiences). This can lead (as it did in my own case) to getting out of bed frequently in the night for the purpose of consuming self-medicating (i.e. mentally soothing), nocturnal feasts (especially carbohydrates, which help many to feel slightly calmer, temporarily).
A Psychodynamic Theory Of Why Some Individuals May Become Obese:
Psychodynamic theory suggests that if we suffered severe childhood trauma and frequently felt threatened, intimidated and fearful due to the treatment we received by those who were supposed to be caring for us and protecting us then we might be unconsciously driven to become very large (i.e. obese) as it gives us the feeling that we are less vulnerable and more able to defend ourselves. This theory is, however, difficult to prove (although it does not logically follow, of course, that it is necessarily incorrect; indeed, it seems to make intuitive sense).
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).