This Is Us’ Chrissy Metz has bravely recalled the physical and emotional abuse she was subjected to as a child – and explained how it triggered her complicated relationship with food.
Chrissy Metz – who plays Kate Pearson in the critically-acclaimed TV series This Is Us – was just eight years old when her father walked out on her mother, Denise.
Now, in her powerful new memoir, This Is Me, the SAG Award-winning actress has opened up about enduring painful physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her stepfather.
“My mother was always at work, so she didn’t see how he treated me,” writes Metz, in an extract obtained by People magazine.
“My body seemed to offend him, but he couldn’t help but stare, especially when I was eating. He joked about putting a lock on the refrigerator. We had lived with a lack of food for so long that when it was there, I felt like I had to eat it before it disappeared.
“Food was my only happiness.”
Metz continues: “I began to hide my eating. I’d get up in the middle of the night and eat. I’d sneak food to eat in the bathroom. Cookies, chips. Things I could eat as fast as possible to avoid detection… [and it] would give me the brief bliss of numbness.”
While she considers herself a “tough cookie”, Metz adds that the situation often left her feeling broken and alone.
“I don’t remember why Trigger hit me the first time,” she reflects. “He never punched my face. Just my body, the thing that offended him so much. He shoved me, slapped me, punched my arm. He would hit me if he thought I looked at him wrong.
“I remember being on the kitchen floor after he knocked me over, and I was begging to know what I did. He just shoved me hard with his foot.”
Metz’s story does have a happy ending, however, and she stresses that she has since forged a healthier relationship with Trigger.
“I do care about him,” says Metz.
“We all go through stuff, but I truly believe that everything that happened to me, happened for me… and [I’ve learned] some beautiful lessons.”
Metz’s story, sadly, is far from unique: one analysis of 57,000 women in 2013 found that those who experienced physical or sexual abuse as children were twice as likely to be addicted to food than those who did not.
Similarly, another study has found that about 8% of all cases of obesity, and 17% of “class three” severe obesity, can be attributed to some form of child abuse. The NSPCC, similarly, has reported that the long-term effects of childhood abuse and neglect include mental health problems, such as eating disorders, and obesity.
“Trauma that occurs during critical periods in the brain’s development can change its neurobiology, making it less responsive to rewards. This anhedonia – a deficit of positive emotions – more than doubles the likelihood that abused children will become clinically depressed adults. It also increases their risk of addiction,” reads a report from The Atlantic.
“With their brains unable to produce a natural high, many adult victims of child abuse chase happiness in food. It’s this tendency, when combined with what many described as a desire to become less noticeable, that makes this group especially vulnerable to obesity.”
Professor Lisa Firestone, writing for Psychology Today, says that “to have a healthy relationship with food, it is necessary for us to understand ourselves on a deeper emotional level or to uncover why we eat the way we eat”.
She continues: “If we challenge the behaviours alone through diet and exercise, the emotions we were using eating to cover up won’t just go away. Once we identify the feelings and inner voices that perpetuate the cycle of self-hatred and the insensitivity to our body, we can gain control of self-destructive eating habits and not react adversely to pressure and triggers that lead us to abuse food.
“By taking action on a physical level and taking interest on an emotional level, we can re-establish our relationship with food, with our bodies, with our past, and with ourselves as a whole. We can uncover who we really are, our real wants, desires, and goals, and we can stop engaging in the patterns that get in our way.”
Images: Rex Features