Recovery from childhood abuse requires healing on a variety of levels. One level that tends to be overlooked is the physical level. Once the scars, bruising, and welts heal, people often falsely assume the physical consequences are over. But just as emotional and cognitive healing requires intentionality and effort, so does physical healing. Fortunately, the body has a great capacity for recovery and restoration.
This first recommendation sounds so simple—eat healthy—yet I’ve found people have a difficult time accomplishing this. People at my clinic work with me as well as with registered dietitians who are trained to understand the connection between what you eat and how you feel. While the dietitians’ interaction with each person is individualized, they teach certain constants:
- Eat whole foods. These include fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain products. Our dietitians teach people to shop the “outside” of the grocery store, where the produce, dairy, and meats are found, and to avoid the inner aisles, wheremany highly processed products are found.
- Avoid artificial anything, from additives to flavorings to sweeteners.
- Don’t be afraid of healthy fats and oils, especially flaxseed and olive and canola oil.
- Watch for hidden added sugars, trans fats, and salts.
- Round out your meals with a mix of healthy carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
Healthy eating is not only what you eat, but how you eat. Have you ever found yourself cramming down food in the heat of the moment, only to finish and have no real recollection of what you just ate? Food is not a necessary evil nor is a meal meant to be an indulgent free-for-all. Food should be consumed intentionally, with awareness of what you are eating. A meal is not a race to the finish line, either. So often our dietitians must help people learn to slow down when they eat, to savor flavors and textures, to chew and not just consume.
Survivors of childhood abuse can have difficulty eating healthy. Sometimes they were not taught what a healthy meal looks like. Other times they grew up scavenging for themselves, the only criteria for a meal being what tasted the best. Sometimes the abuse they suffered involved food—food was withheld through neglect or punishment or used as way to force compliance. Mealtimes may have been battle zones to be avoided at all costs. Food may have become the only reliable pleasure in a chaotic world. Or food may have been the one way to exhibit some level of control.
Let’s also talk about hydration. I’ve heard varying percentages over the years about the adequate amount of water humans should consume per day, but what stays consistent is that many Americans walk around every day chronically dehydrated. In short, we don’t drink enough water. Notice, I didn’t say liquid. We drink plenty of soda and coffee and other beverages, but not enough water. Sodas and coffee often contain caffeine, which is a natural diuretic. A diuretic is anything that causes you to urinate more frequently.
You know you need to drink more water, but how much is enough? The answer depends on your gender, body size, geographic location, and how much you sweat. The “right” amount of water for you might vary from day to day, depending on where you are and what you’re doing. Since many of us are unintentionally dehydrated, it makes sense that we would need to become more intentional about the water we drink.
Proper hydration involves not only avoiding too little water but also avoiding too much. Too much water leaches important components from your body and can create health issues. There is a way to determine if you’re drinking enough and that’s to, somewhat crudely, apply the pee test. If your urine is dark, you need to drink more water. The goal is pale or clear.
When you’re dehydrated, your body starts sending you signals. However, these signals can be misinterpreted. Instead of reaching for something to drink, you may reach for something to eat because the body can extract water from foods. If you have a headache or feel weak, you may think you’re hungry, when you’re really dehydrated.
The human body is 60 percent water. Water is the lubricant for our muscles and our brains. We need water to digest food, absorb vitamins and minerals, and flush out our kidneys. A hydrated body contributes to a healthy body.
If you have experienced physical abuse, emotional abuse, or sexual abuse, The Center • A Place of HOPE is here to help. Our team is skilled at navigating these sensitive issues. For more information, fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a specialist today.