In this episode, I explore the connection between trauma and weight. Diet culture and traditional weight loss journeys often fail because they don’t address the deeper healing needed to maintain weight loss.

The problem isn’t when life feels good and it’s easy to make better choices. It’s when life hits the fan and we have all these strong + old patterns of using food to fix whatever icky we’re feeling.

I share a bit of my own story and the work my coaching team and I do to help women feel better and more connected in their bodies.

It can feel a little daunting making the connection between weight and trauma, but when we understand that it’s not about going back and re-living the past, but rather it’s about working with what’s alive and present right now…it’s not scary and offers a true sigh of relief for those who have felt truly stuck with their attempts at feeling better in their body’s and losing weight in a sustainable, healthy way.

This episode is perfect for anyone who has struggled with losing weight or regaining it despite their efforts.

Tune in to discover how trauma and weight are connected and how to embark on a healing journey for long-lasting results.

Full Episode Transcript:

Hello. Hello. Welcome to the hello body freedom podcast. I’m your host, Audra Baker, and I am super stoked to be diving into the trauma and weight connection today. Yes. So I feel like this is a very exciting topic. I don’t feel like there’s a lot of people out there making this connection in terms of the world of feeling better in our bodies, right?

In terms of a weight loss journey but not a weight loss journey where you keep losing it and gaining it, but an actual weight loss journey where you do some deeper healing so that the weight doesn’t come back. And to really make that connection is a huge part of why I do what I do. Cause it was definitely part of my story and the training that I have had and my capacity and our capacity as a coaching team here at Hello Body Freedom to really serve people and move them into a much healthier and happier space with their body where they feel more connected and safe in their body. In a way where they can access a weight loss journey and start to do this healing work and feel better, just flat out feel better in their body.

So that is what I want to talk about today. I want to dive into this weight and trauma connection and I want to do it in a way that is not scary. Okay. Because it’s not and I think everybody can really appreciate this as we keep going on, but here’s how you will know that you might be in the right place.

All right. And so if you have struggled. If you feel like you just can’t seem to lose weight, no matter what you try, no matter how hard you try it, no matter the diet plan you try or the fitness workouts that you do, you can’t seem to figure it out. Another telltale sign is just like you lose the weight and you gain it back or you lose the weight and you gain it back.

Another thing I see in common with a lot of clients and myself for a really long time, it’s a self-sabotaging behavior where we feel like we want this thing that we know is good for us, that is in alignment with our health, with our values for wanting to live a healthy, happy life. And yet we always seem to get in our own way.

And the fourth one is you’ve tried absolutely everything, but the weight just won’t budge. All right. So these are usually the places where I want people to maybe look at a little deeper. All right. So now here we are at the very beginning of the hello body freedom podcast. This is one of the first few episodes and I want to just really let you understand the past few episodes in this one and a few more coming. We are going Meta, okay.

I’m trying to give you like this bird’s eye view so you can start to understand all of these different pieces of the puzzle that matter whenever it comes to this deeper healing and I want to give it to you in a tangible way so you can understand, but just know that as we move forward with this podcast, I will be doing like very specific, three steps and do this and whatnot, but none of that matters if you don’t even understand why we don’t hand people food plans and we’re not sitting here going, Oh, suck it up buttercup.

You just need to exercise more and eat less. There’s oh, we really need to change this paradigm. And that is, I think, an important reason why I do my work. And it is what we are doing inside of Hello Body Freedom over and over again. All right. So the first thing I want as a concept for everybody to understand is that.

All of us have a trauma body. Okay. Every single one of us holds a level of trauma body. And that might sound like, what does that even mean? We’re going to define that. We’re going to look at what that actually is in a way that we can understand. One of the things I like to say is that nobody escapes childhood without trauma.

And now there’s research and data that shows that. So we’re going to dive into that. Now, if no one escapes childhood without trauma, I will say that there are some people that have a trauma body, however,  they don’t struggle with their weight. Okay. 

They might have other issues and we’ll talk a little bit about that, but from my work and from my experience and looking at the work of John Bradshaw, who was a psychotherapist in the eighties and nineties, who really started putting these pieces of the puzzle together is that all of his clients who were really struggling with their weight, with their body definitely were holding on to trauma.

So for you to just understand that and the other big point I want to make is that this work that we do to resolve at a body level, absolutely does not require us having to go back into the story, go back into our childhood, go back and relive the shit. That’s not actually helpful.

And what the newest cutting-edge research in trauma shows us is that whenever we show up to, let’s say therapy. And your therapist is not trauma-informed and they’re just walking through cognitive behavioral therapy techniques. And then you’re just sitting there retelling the story. You’re ultimately reliving a past that isn’t helpful.

What it’s actually doing is re-traumatizing you essentially it’s not the way to do this. Okay, so there is good news here and I want to start off with that hook for you to know that this work is not scary. It’s just work that we have to do to untangle some old stuff.

All right. So, what I want to start with right away is understanding a little bit about this research that’s come out. So back in the nineties, we had some amazing research coming out and it include the ACES scale. And the ACES scale, it stands for adverse childhood experiences scale. All right. And what was cool about this that happened in the nineties is that this scale actually showed, and it was very tangible.

There were some very specific things that they talked about. So they talked about verbal abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect. Divorce. If one of your parents was a  active substance abuser. So alcoholic drugs, all the things, or if you happen to have had a parent who was incarcerated.

So these were the bullet points for this scale. All right. And the coolest thing about this scale that  they came up with is that it was very clear that  as we moved into our adulthood, it showed that there are lasting marks of these old things that we had to deal with as kids that we never asked for that weren’t ours to bear, but that happened. And indeed these experiences that happened in the past, they show up in present day. Okay. Now here’s the next coolest piece of information is that as researchers were looking at all of this, and this has been my own experience with my own self and with a ton of clients that I work with as well, because I work with a lot of clients.

That, that gauge a little different on the scale. So for me in particular, like my number on a scale of one to 10 for this ACEs scale is like a three, right? So compared to somebody who might be a 10, you would think that, Oh, somebody with a 10, they’ve got, all this trauma and somebody with a three, they don’t have a lot of it, but that was not my experience.

Okay. As I’ve started to do the work, which started in about 2011 that I started really diving into this work. I’m like, man, I got a lot going on, but the scale said I was low on that number. All right. And so this, now, we bring us into more of the present-day pioneering researchers of trauma.

So I’m talking about Peter Levine. I’m talking about Bessel van der Kolk. There are some true pioneers that have helped us learn more about understanding how we hold our trauma body. And what I love about their definition is that it’s not just about the thing that happened to you in the past. And it’s not even just that, oh, maybe we carry this in our present moment, but maybe you’ve heard of the term like big T trauma and little T trauma.

So all the neat things we talked about, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect. Divorce like these, Oh, these are just, those are big T traumas, right? But actually what we can have, not just as children, but we can have them in our adult life of these little T traumas and these little T traumas when they happen over and over again.

So maybe you didn’t have like major neglect, but it was enough that your nervous system in the moment that you needed love, safety, support, understanding, connection that enough times it was just little t, little t. Over time, what that does is it also creates this trauma body, right? And so it’s pretty powerful for us to understand this.

And I want to talk about the definition, okay? Because what an old definition of trauma is like this big T trauma, which is this event happened and it affects us today, right? Actually, The definition that I have gotten from Peter Levine from Bessel van der Kolk is that it’s not this thing that happened in the past.

It is, it is a thing that happened in the past, right? For sure. But what we need to understand is that it’s about what is going on with my nervous system. It’s less about how real or not real an event that happened to us in the past. It is how my nervous system perceives that event. Okay. And I’ll give you a great example, this is a important example.

My brother and I were at the Texas state fair with my dad and my step mom and my step siblings and it was a big group of us and I, this was about when my parents divorced. So I think I was probably six or seven, which my brother would have been four or five. Okay. And if you’ve ever been to a giant state fair, the Texas state fair is this crazy thing.

So it’s just a ton of people. It’s a ton of people. And I was hanging out with my dad and I could see, my step siblings or the, whatever the gaggle of people that we were with. But I looked across and I saw my brother, but he didn’t see me. He didn’t see me. And he’s four or five years old.

Okay. He’s very young. And in that moment, I watched him. I watched him look around and it was obvious he was looking for us. But he didn’t see us. He did not see me. He did not see my dad. He did not see us. And I remember watching his face go from like happy to like, What’s going on to sheer terror because he couldn’t find his people, he couldn’t find his parents, he couldn’t find me, right?

That is an example of an incredibly overwhelmed nervous system in a small child who does not have resources, right? My four or five-year-old brother doesn’t have a cell phone. Let me call Dad. Where are you at? I can’t find you. He doesn’t have these resources. So this is the other thing about childhood, right?

So whether it is a real or perceived event in that moment, he was not neglected in that moment he just couldn’t find us. And we were a little far apart and he just got a little scared or a lot scared enough that his nervous system got hijacked. He went into a major overwhelmed stress response and he started screaming and crying and just holding his hands like this and rocking.

I witnessed the whole thing. Now, in that moment, my dad was like, Hey, get over here. What, and then he moved on. But here’s what we need to understand about nervous systems. The trauma response, again, real or perceived what matters is that this nervous, this happened in his body, in your body, in my body.

So, we need to stop judging what we think of as trauma. Oh, this didn’t happen to me or my childhood wasn’t that bad or it’s not even about childhood. All right, I’m going to give you another example that all of us experienced on this entire globe. Okay. I love using this example because in February ish, March ish of 2020, we were all really scared.

Weren’t we? When we didn’t understand what COVID was. Like the whole situation and we’re just trying to get information and news and now everything’s getting shut down. This has never once happened on this planet ever before, right? That my friends is for a lot of us, an overwhelm of our nervous system.

What you agree?  I went into full-on freeze mode right? So like the stress response in our body is fight and flight. And then the next level up is called freeze. This is, I’m talking in beautiful layman’s term because it’s very easy to understand in this way, right? We can all understand that when our stress gets high, our nervous system, specifically our autonomic nervous system, and even more specifically a part of our autonomic nervous system, right?

So we have our sympathetic part, which is the stress response, sympathetic nervous system. This is our fight and flight response. And then we have the other part, which is the parasympathetic nervous system, right? This is our rest and digest part of the autonomic nervous system. These two parts of our primal brain, our autonomic nervous system, the oldest part of our nervous system, right?

This part runs and its main job is to keep us safe and alive. And it happens and runs inside like unconsciously. If our prefrontal cortex, if this front part of our brain is the smart part of our brain, where we have lots of consciousness, the primal brain, the stress response, the autonomic nervous system, the back of our brain is very unconscious and it is directly connected to what is going on with the body.

Meaning that when my little bro didn’t see us and all of a sudden his stress response went up to fight or flight, he started screaming and crying. That was an overwhelm of his nervous system. And here he is. And quite frankly, I don’t know if my memory serves me right, but like it had gone on long enough.

He just, he was like standing there, like that’s a freeze response. So that is even a bigger overwhelm of that nervous system. And the reason why we have this part of our nervous system, it is to keep us safe and alive to fight or flight. It’s literally our unconscious nervous system, our primal brain.

It’s our way, our nervous system’s way of saying, I can, C A N, can figure out how to get away from this scary, stressful, overwhelming situation. I can fight, I can run away, I can do something right. Now, why do hold on before I go there, back up a second, Audra. What happens is when our nervous system gets even more overwhelmed outside of the fight or flight, which is the, I can do something about this.

If we get even more overwhelmed, we go into what’s called hypo parasympathetic doesn’t even matter, but what that’s called is freeze. So that is the highest level freeze response. And in terms of trauma speak. So to speak, this is where we get into disassociation. All right. And this is super important part of this conversation.

Now we’re going to come back to that in a second, but I want to just get back to the definition of trauma for you to truly understand that , it does not matter if it is real or perceived. If your nervous system gets overwhelmed, then you will experience a trauma response. Now I want to take it back to childhood.

A lot of kids,  they’re not going to sit here and go, mom and dad are fighting. Screw you guys. I’m going to get in my car. That is a stress response. I don’t want to listen to you guys fighting. It doesn’t feel good for me. I can get out of the situation and get to safety.

As children, we just have less resources. We don’t have as much resiliency. We don’t have as much as we do when we’re younger. Quite frankly, adults, right? We can get a job. We can move out. We can do things, right? We can have levels of resiliency, right? So this is why a lot of that overwhelm of the nervous system does happen in childhood.

It’s just so easy to happen in childhood because we have needs that we need met. We need love. We need safety. We need belonging. We need food. We need shelter. We have all of these needs and we cannot meet them. We are requiring our tribe to meet them for us. And a lot of times our tribe, our caretakers, our parents.

All the time. There’s no such thing as getting all of those needs met all the time. And then that own child’s nervous system, the overwhelm, the perception of that overwhelmed, whether it was real or perceived, I’m just going to beat this in. So we understand that we’ve got to stop judging. What we think is trauma and is not trauma.

All right. Now, this is a very powerful. All right. Because we’re going to get back now into understanding a little bit more now that we talked a lot about definition. Okay. I want to take this back to that nervous system talk we were just having the fight and flight is the start of that stress response that is on purpose.

It is there to keep us safe and alive, right? So we can do something. So, if I can keep myself safe and alive by fighting or running or screaming or whatever the thing I need to do, then we’re going to do that. But when the nervous system gets even more overwhelmed, this is that hypo parasympathetic nervous system that we just talked about.

And that is the freeze response. And where the words that you would use in that moment is I can’t get out of this situation. And that’s why you don’t have a lot of control over this, right? In the moment that the overwhelm is happening, real or perceived overwhelm of your nervous system.

But in that moment, if you get past that up into that freeze space, it literally is a bodily shutdown. It is your body’s way. Again, the wisdom of the primal brain, the reason we are even here today because our ancestors have the same nervous system that we’ve had for millions of years before. And that’s why we’re even alive because we have this system and that freeze response is like a shutdown.

It is a shutdown of the whole system as a way to keep your body safe from your mental mind, what’s going on and as a way to keep your mind dissociated and safe from what might be happening to your body. That is like that dissociative quality. All right. And I want to finally make the connection here.

With food, how many of us mindlessly eat, how many of us eat whenever we are feeling something uncomfortable, right? And then we go to food as a way to soothe, as a way to feel better. And I’m talking about in the, in the smallest of ways of I’m bored. Bored is a feeling if you are uncomfortable with bored and eating is your answer.

That’s a way to fix boredom, right? But, if we take it even bigger to the sense of freeze response, so now the nervous system is so overwhelmed, there is a freeze response. 

Since most of our childhood, since most of our trauma, the freeze response of the real or perceived overwhelm of our nervous system, child response. Since most of that happens in childhood, and I’m talking about freeze, right? Cause we have less resiliency. We have less strategies to cope with that thing in the moment.

What ends up happening is that we figure something out, right? We figure out something to make us feel better. And I don’t know about you, but I definitely have strong memories. Now that I’ve done a lot of work now, memories came rushing back of eating like sneaking food, sneaking the candy bar, sneaking into the cookie jar, sneaking all the things and just eating and eating.

And I now know that was a response to a way to dissociate a way to numb out a way when I’m feeling what I’m feeling in my body that doesn’t feel good. This is a way to feel safe. It is a total, absolute solution. Okay. It is a solution. We are not going to judge that solution. We are not going to shame that solution.

It is a way that our younger self was able to cope. And quite frankly, it was a good solution. Food does change our state. We feel different, right? Just think if you’re just hungry, if you’re hungry and you eat, you feel better, right? Like it’s state changes. It literally is a state change. So we are not making it wrong.

We are making our younger self, we’re looking at our younger self going, you are so wise. You figured out a way to feel better, to not have to feel this intensity that we did not get the opportunity back then to actually process what we were experiencing and feeling in our body. Okay. Now, the reason this is important is because most of us, if we learned how to do this in childhood.

I want to really look at now, looking at how habits are made, right? We have a cue, we do a thing, and then we get a reward from it. All right? So the cue might be, I am feeling something that does not feel good in my body. And if we don’t know how to process then, and we learn, we go, ah, food. And immediately that’s the behavior.

The behavior is eating. We eat the food. And what is the reward? Dopamine hits, serotonin flooding through our body, feel like even if you’re stuffed and like you feel uncomfortable, even if you ate until you were just overstuffed, at least it is a different sensation than what you were experiencing before.

I hope that this is sometime, I hope this is a little mind blowing for you to see these connections. Now the next thing you might be wondering is how do we fix this? So before we go into fixing this, I want to slow this whole thing down because trauma loves speed. And we all know that if we use food to cope and all of a sudden, next thing we know, we’re just like, I need something to eat.

I don’t know about you, but like trolling in the kitchen and like opening up and eating food in front of the fridge and eat it just loves speed. So we’re going to slow this down and I want to just go back to that habit loop, right? Once we have that habit loop and that reward system down, and then we practice that habit loop over and over again, you guys can go read the book Atomic Habits that really explains how we create these habit loops.

Now what we have is a really strong habit loop and the more we do something, the more it turns into this habit that we get a reward for, the deeper and deeper it goes into our habit brain. Because as human beings, we don’t want to have to think of every single freaking thing we do. If you had to think of, remember when you started driving, when you were like 16, remember how you were just like dripping in sweat.

There were so many things to think about it. And now you get in a car and you don’t even remember how you got to where you’re at. You’re like, Whoa, little scary, right? Our brains love habits. We have to get into them. We don’t want to think about them all the time, but whenever we create a feeling, eating reward loop.

That’s when it starts to get tough. And then the older we get, the harder it gets because now what we did so let’s just go back to understanding this overwhelm of the nervous system. We don’t have to go back to our childhood because the truth is whatever we did not resolve, whatever intensity we did not resolve back then, it just shows up today.

It shows up today. Present moment. So it’s not about what happened to us in our childhood. It’s now we’re at work and our boss like said something offhand and really pissed us off and stressed us out with this extra work that we didn’t need. And now your coworker is seeming in cahoots and there’s this whole drama going on and it doesn’t feel good for your body.

And what all your body knows is this doesn’t feel good. And because you have a strong habit loop of using food to cope, this now becomes the circle. Now, the reason why this is powerful and we’re not shaming this circle, we’re not shaming ourselves or getting angry at ourselves for using food in this way is because it worked when we were younger.

What I do know now, if you are resonating to any of this, you are likely in a place where you were like thank you for helping me see that I needed it when I was younger. It was a coping mechanism that I learned how to do back then. And quite frankly, it worked. Thank you, Audra, for that information, but I’m ready to let go of that.

And here is the thing. Let’s go here.

The food, every time we eat, because we’re trying to fix something, we work that habit loop. It makes it so we are unable to process whatever that thing is that’s going into the body. So what we do with hello body freedom is we have our clients working Right when they come in and you can start to do this too, we try to have them start working with body cues.

So, the goal is to have them eat only because of physical hunger and learn how to stop it enough. Now there’s way more to this. There’s a lot more nuance to it, but the idea is that we have times of the day that we eat and then there’s times of the day that we don’t eat, right? That’s normal. It’s a normal relationship with food.

When there are the moments that you are not eating because you are not physically hungry, there’s no need to eat in those moments. It’s in those moments that we start to practice. Can I just feel whatever might come up in this moment? So let’s go back to the work example and you’re super stressed out and in this moment your boss is pissing you off, the coworkers driving you nuts, you don’t know, and you can feel it in your body.

But in this moment you’re like I already ate lunch. I know I’m not supposed to eat. Now, I have the opportunity to actually process what is happening in my body. And here’s what I want to say about this. Okay. Because so many people think, Oh, I’ve got to go to therapy, live my, relive my past. No, you don’t.

What we have to do is reconnect with our body, reconnect with our emotions, have more attunement inside. And then what we do is we work with the actual sensations themselves. We work with the actual emotions. Feelings and sensations in our body and what this does, it’s so beautiful is it makes it so it’s no longer about the story.

Because remember, whatever that was, it’s showing up in present day. Now it is simply, and it’s not even about the boss anymore. Now it is about this is what’s going on in my body. This is what’s happening here. What skill sets do I need to use my body to be with what is happening? And we have a ton of these.

These are embodiment practices. This is tools in our tool belt. So this is using breath and sound and focused and body and movement, right?  We use step by step of ways to talk to yourself, ways to say things, right. And this is the actual process of taking this intensity in the body and starting to dissipate it.

Fizzle it, move it away, separate it, make it so it’s not so scary anymore. And so this is the work. And I just think it’s like the coolest thing ever, because when we can understand that, yes, part of a weight loss journey includes looking at our behaviors around food. So many of us eat when we’re bored, sad.

Stressed, angry, lonely, tired. Tired is an emotion. Would you say your emotions are heightened when you’re tired? Does anybody eat more when they’re tired? That one was a big, that one was a hard one for me to kick that one. It took me a while, right? And we also just eat mindlessly, right? So we have all, and I want to be really clear.

Some people here might not identify as an emotional eater. I never did. But the reason I never identified as an emotional eater is because I never let myself feel my emotions. The food was in my mouth before I felt anything. I’m like, what do you mean? I’m not sad. Just like I just eat too much. That’s my problem.

No okay. But there’s a reason you’re reaching for food, right? So there’s that strong habit loop, but that strong habit loop is in place as a way to protect. So as to not feel the things that we’re feeling. Okay. Whew. That was a doozy. That was a lot of fun. So I hope that this was helpful. Again, what we’re doing here for these first few episodes is we are going meta.

I want you to be able to see a bigger realm of why you might be stuck and struggling and where do my clients struggle the most and where maybe do you struggle the most. It is in your relationship with food. It is in your relationship with your body in terms of like negative self-talk, always down on yourself.

It is a physical manifestation, right? Where I just can’t seem to lose the weight. And it is a relationship with your body that is also emotional. What is going on with my ability to be able to process these feelings? Sensations and emotions so that we can become what I call emotionally unconstipated.

We’re going to, we’re going to get emotionally regular and process this old stuff in a way that is gentle, in a way that doesn’t necessarily at all have to have a story attached to it that can literally be. A connection to self, an inner attunement, if you will. This ability to feel and be present with present moment, whatever is going on and know that you’re going to be okay.

And when we do this work, my friends, this is where you build self-trust. This is where you build self-love. And I don’t mean self-love in like a manicure, pedicure way. That’s all great too. Really in a way of more I got me. And another way to say self-trust and self-love is a deeper connection to yourself, which is the opposite

of dissociation. Dissociation separates you. We are looking for a place of reconnection and bringing it back home. And that takes time. It is a process. But to this day, again, this work that I’ve done is the best work I’ve ever done because it changes everything. It changed everything in my life.

This connection that I have with myself changed my relationship with food, changed my relationship to be able to say yes to certain foods and no to certain foods. It changed my relationship to my body. It changed my relationship to people. It is such beautiful work. So for those of you who struggle with your relationship with food and your relationship with your body, I think I’ve already said it once, but I’m going to say it again.

Please.  I look at this is like the soul’s journey, right? And if you are willing to go in and heal at this level, it heals and fixes a whole lot of things. So that’s what I have for you guys. If you have any questions, let me know. I hope you’ve loved this episode and I will see you next time.

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