This Is Us: The Painful Face of Trauma

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Green Mountain at Fox Run’s Dr. Kari Anderson, Executive Director, and Shiri Macri, Clinical Director, hold weekly discussions about NBC’s hit dramedy This Is Us and the all-too-common struggle around eating, weight and body image that Chrissy Metz’s character Kate faces from a young age. (Spoiler Alert! Details of weekly episodes are revealed.)


Shiri: “Did you see the show last night, Kari? Poor Kate…blaming herself for her father’s death.”

Kari: “Of course she would turn to food – it saved her.”

Another emotional episode of This Is Us provided eye-opening insight into Kate’s emotional struggle. Kate had been trying to avoid discussing her dad’s death with Toby, but the emotional charge of helping her nieces with William’s funeral proved to be too much. In a moment of deep pain and vulnerability, Kate opened up and shared the story of her dad’s passing and the pain it had caused her.

While we don’t know the details of his death, the show appears to be alluding to a drunk driving accident. What Kate shares with Toby is a painful twist: “You see…it’s my fault my dad died. I’m the reason he’s gone.”  

Wow…how incredibly sad. Sad that he died and sad that she sees herself as the cause. This is the painful face of trauma.

How Our Brains Respond to Trauma

When people experience traumatic events, the fight-flight-freeze response is activated at such an intense level that our systems become hyper-aroused and hypervigilant in an effort to protect us from future such traumas.

That hypervigilance usually gets translated into distorted beliefs about our worlds, again, as a protective measure. Much like a war veteran might have a startle response to a loud sound, Kate likely developed a fear of intimate relationships for fear ‘causing another death’.  

Trauma and Binge & Emotional Eating

Here at The Women’s Center for Binge & Emotional Eating, where we provide trauma informed care, we regularly find that trauma is at the root of emotional overeating and binge eating.

Food serves a different function and plays a different role than simply satiating hunger in this struggle. Eating can become:

  • A coping mechanism for easing painful emotions
  • A protection against future traumatic stress
  • The reason for avoiding situations that may cause fear, such as intimacy.  

It is likely that in Kate’s life she turned to food for these very reasons. The intense pain of losing her father was just too much to endure as a young adolescent girl who was already struggling with a level of body shame and some social isolation.

To add to it, food and eating was already a ‘thing’ for Kate. Despite good intentions, her mother had already created some tension around food because of Kate’s body size – she had labeled foods as good vs. bad and should vs. shouldn’t.

While at the same time and with the best of intentions, her father offered moments of ‘food freedom’ with young Kate, allowing her to sneak ‘the good stuff’ when mom wasn’t looking.

Food became a thing.


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Turning to Food

When her father died, the role of food became Kate’s connection to her father and helped numb her pain…and keep her from experiencing intimacy.

This is the distorted belief that was undoubtedly created by her trauma.

If this was indeed the progress of her disordered eating, eating in this way only perpetuated her pain…causing her to feel more shame, more isolated and more disconnected.

And what would she do with more pain?  

Probably what she thinks will ‘work’…eating. And round and round we go.  

True Healing is an Inside Job

We see this painful cycle time and again at our clinic. What we know is that true healing must happen from the inside out. Turning to dieting, weight loss programs and surgery is only addressing the external…and incidentally, is rarely successful.  

Instead, true healing for Kate and others who turn to food after traumatic stressors means plunging into mindfulness, and often therapy. Why mindfulness?

  • The many facets of mindfulness address the many facets of disordered eating.
  • Mindfulness allows us to tolerate our many emotions, even the distressing ones, as opposed to numbing them with food.
  • Mindfulness allows us to be present with our eating, as opposed to dissociated.
  • Mindfulness helps us be grounded in our choices, as opposed to impulsive.
  • And most importantly, mindfulness helps develop the very much needed self-compassionate voice that’s essential to healing the deep shame that often accompanies disordered eating.  

Here at Green Mountain’s Women’s Center for Binge & Emotional Eating, we empower our clients to self-regulate their own arousal / fight-flight system, putting them in charge of their emotional and physical state. We integrate our clients’ senses through rhythmic activities such as dance, tai chi, and drumming to heal the frozen sense of separation and isolation.

We hope that Kate continues to open up about her story, a process that we help women go through here at Green Mountain. Opening up is really the first step in releasing some of the shame that is a part of this struggle.  

If you’re struggling with eating behavior and believe trauma may be involved, let us know. This is what we specialize in as the only center in the nation that focuses only on the binge eating continuum of eating behaviors and only for women.
We’re here to help.

See you after next week’s episode.


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About the Author

Shiri Macri, MA, LCMHC

Since 2004, Shiri’s approach as a therapist for treating binge and emotional eating is holistic, focusing not only on the presented issue at hand, but also considering overall health. Working in this way, often includes mindfulness based approaches. Now as a trained MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) teacher, Shiri’s love of mindfulness and meditation practices are at the forefront of her blog writings and recordings. Shiri is the Lead Therapist at the Women's Center for Binge & Emotional Eating, affiliated with Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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