When I left the classroom for the gym, working no longer as a teacher but as a personal trainer, it didn’t take me long to recognize that something was amiss as I began training adults, particularly the ones interested in losing weight. They had other challenges besides adhering to an exercise program and a healthy nutrition plan. These struggles were resistances coming from other areas of my clients’ lives. For me, forever the teacher, the natural response was to design a curriculum on health; so I created a health and wellness Bible study based on my belief that the entire person—body, mind and spirit—had to be healthy in order for the individual to obtain optimum health. A trauma to one member of our being affects our overall health. Take sexual abuse: The mental health profession has shown that sexual abuse is associated with “high rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, dissociative disorders, interpersonal dysfunction, sexual problems, and suicidality” among women and men. And now, we can also add to that list obesity, which is a serious issue within the church.

 Sexual Abuse and Obesity

One day, as I was listening to a NPR recent research report, my ears became acutely attuned to a study on sexual abuse and weight gain. Dr. Vincent Felitti, now director of the California Institute of Preventive Medicine in San Diego, had stumbled on an interesting discovery while assisting severely obese patients to lose weight. His morbidly obese patients lost as much as 300 pounds in a year on a new liquid diet treatment. But something strange also happened. The individuals who had lost the weight quickly regained the pounds, and faster than they had lost them, or they simply quit the program altogether. Dr. Felitti started asking questions and he found an interesting connection between past childhood experience and adult health:

 First, one person told him she’d been sexually abused as a kid. Then another.

 “You know, I remember thinking, Well, my God, this is the second incest case I’ve seen in

[then] 23 years of practice,” Felitti says. “And so I started routinely inquiring about childhood sexual abuse, and I was really floored.”

 More than half of the 300 or so patients said yes, they too had been abused.

 Felitti, joining up with Anda from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, designed a test composed of 10 questions to measure adverse childhood experience (ACE). Of the severely obesed patients surveyed, 1 out of 10 patients grew up with domestic violence. Two out of 10 had been sexually abused. Three out of 10 had been physically abused.

 Now here comes the caveat:

When these patients grew up, diseases such as cancer, addiction, diabetes, and stroke occurred more often among the patients with the high ACE score. Certainly, there was some kind of connection between childhood trauma and adult health.

 Family Secrets

Family secrets, such as sexual abuse, is a breeding ground for shame. Instead of using one’s energy to become healthy, the victim expends most of their energy intentionally or unintentionally protecting the secret. According to the Contemporary Discovery Pathway Theory (CDPT), it is the emotion shame that forms an outer covering to protect the hurt and what comes to be known as the “false self.” The theory further postulates that shame is associated with depression, anxiety and, if left untreated, possibly suicidality, or masochism.

Since teaching the health and wellness Bible study, I have walked with women who have had a history of sexual abuse. And let me tell you, to carry the weight of that secret is heavier than two sumo wrestlers in a room. I have had the honor to walk with one of the ladies in the study for several years. I have watched her life transformed before my very eyes. Truly, it has been a privilege to witness her transformation that continues today. This year she started her own blog, Journey to LiveLiving. Too often we want the quick fixes, but quick-fix types of healing are not lasting when it comes to healing the heart. We have to go to the root: Become aware. Confront such emotions as shame in a safe place. Be committed to the long haul of the journey. Let’s face it, dealing with childhood traumas is not always by miraculous cures overnight. Ask Marilyn Sellman who has been taking the trek to discover her true self and find wholeness through God’s word. As I have watched Marilyn’s journey, she has begun to share the principles of a deeper and more meaningful life.

 Health and Wellness Bible Study

I believe it is God’s plan that we be healthy individuals. But life is wounded. Adverse childhood experiences can affect our adult health. That’s why for believers who are interested in being healthy in body, mind and spirit, we need to take the time to study a biblical holistic approach to health, such as The 10 Commandments for Living a Healthy and Fit Life. The Bible study groups become a safe place to learn and grow and address issues such as sexual abuse.

It is important to note here that every negative childhood experience does not lead to illness or obesity. And not every obese person has had a negative childhood experience. However, if we are going to seriously take our health into our hands, we need to make sure that our approach is holistic, where the entire being is nourished and restored to wholeness. For more information on the health and wellness Bible study, email us at info@liveliving.org/.