Healing the Roots: The Role of Trauma-Informed Care in Obesity and Diabetes Care

By: Jeanette A., Lagniappe Wellness Dietetic Intern

In today’s fast-paced world, the prevalence of obesity and diabetes has reached alarming levels. While medical interventions and dietary changes play crucial roles in managing these conditions, there is another vital aspect that often goes unrecognized—the impact of trauma on individuals’ health. Trauma-informed care has emerged as a paradigm shift in healthcare, highlighting the need to acknowledge and address trauma when providing treatment. In this blog, we aim to raise awareness among registered dietitians and the general population about the importance of trauma-informed care in obesity and diabetes management.

Understanding Trauma and Its Connection to Obesity and Diabetes

Trauma refers to an overwhelming experience or event that exceeds an individual’s ability to cope. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as abuse, neglect, or household dysfunction, can have long-lasting effects on physical and mental health. Research has shown a strong link between trauma and the development of obesity and diabetes later in life. Chronic stress from trauma can disrupt hormonal regulation, increase inflammation, and impair metabolic function, all of which contribute to the development of these conditions.1

Figure 1.3 Realms of ACES. This graphic was created by PACEs Connection with inspiration and guidance from Building Community Resilience Collaborative and Networks and the International Transformational Resilience Coalition. This graphic can be downloaded and used freely from the following URL: https://www.pacesconnection.com/pages/handouts 

The Role of Trauma-Informed Care

Trauma-informed care recognizes the impact of trauma on an individual’s well-being and aims to create a safe and supportive environment that promotes healing and recovery. By integrating trauma-informed approaches into obesity and diabetes care, registered dietitians can better understand and address the underlying factors influencing their patients’ health. Here are key principles to consider from the Center for Health Strategies:2

  • Safety: Prioritize physical and emotional safety by creating a non-judgmental and supportive space for patients to share their experiences and concerns.
  • Trustworthiness and Transparency: Build trust through clear communication, respect for autonomy, and involving patients in shared decision-making regarding their treatment plans.
  • Peer Support: Individuals with lived trauma experiences who receive specialized training can effectively engage with patients by building trust and promoting treatment participation, offering a powerful tool to combat the isolation often experienced by trauma survivors.
  • Collaboration: Foster a collaborative partnership between the dietitian and the patient, recognizing the patient as an expert in their own lived experiences.
  • Empowerment: Support patients in developing a sense of control and empowerment over their health by providing education, tools, and resources.
  • Cultural Sensitivity: Be mindful of diverse backgrounds and experiences, recognizing the influence of culture, race, and socioeconomic factors on health outcomes.
Figure 2.6 Guiding Principles to a Trauma-Informed Approach. This graphic was created The CDC’s Office of Readiness and Response (ORR), in collaboration with SAMHSA’s National Center for Trauma-Informed Care (NCTIC), developed and led a new training for CPR employees about the role of trauma-informed care during public health emergencies. This graphic can be downloaded and used freely from the following URL: https://www.cdc.gov/orr/infographics/6_principles_trauma_info.htm 

Practical Strategies for Trauma-Informed Care in Obesity and Diabetes Management

Registered dietitians can integrate trauma-informed care principles into their practice to provide comprehensive care for patients with obesity and diabetes. Here are some practical strategies3:

  • Conduct Trauma Screening: Include trauma screening as part of the initial assessment to identify patients who may have experienced trauma.
  • Foster Emotional Well-being: Incorporate mindfulness techniques, stress reduction strategies, and counseling referrals to address emotional distress and promote self-care.
  • Individualize Treatment Plans: Tailor dietary recommendations and lifestyle interventions to meet patients’ unique needs, preferences, and abilities.
  • Address Food-Related Trauma: Understand the relationship between trauma and food, addressing any disordered eating behaviors or emotional eating patterns.
  • Collaborate with a Multidisciplinary Team: Work closely with psychologists, therapists, social workers, and other healthcare providers to provide holistic care and support.

Trauma-informed care is a crucial aspect of obesity and diabetes management that should not be overlooked. By adopting a trauma-informed approach, registered dietitians can help patients address the underlying causes of their health conditions and support their healing journey. 

A case study illustrates how trauma-informed care improved glycemic control for an individual with diabetes.4 Examples of trauma-informed interventions align with standards of care in Diabetes and nutrition therapy goals.5 By incorporating trauma-informed care into obesity and diabetes treatment, we can address underlying trauma and facilitate transformative healing. Furthermore, raising awareness about trauma-informed care among the general population can encourage a more compassionate and empathetic society where individuals are understood and supported in their health challenges. Let us join hands to foster healing, resilience, and well-being in pursuing better health for all.

Works Cited

  1. Carrie Dennett, M. R. (2021). Trauma-Informed Nutrition Care. Today’s Dietitian, 36.
  2. Mason, S. M., Austin, B. S., Bakalar, J. L., Boynton-Jarrett, R., & Field, E. A. (2016). 
  3. Child Maltreatment’s Heavy Toll: The Need for Trauma-Informed Obesity Prevention. Psychology: Faculty Publications.
  4. Meadows, A. L., & Marsac, M. L. (2020). Early-Life Trauma and Diabetes Management: An Under-Recognized Phenomenon in Transition-Aged Youth. National Library of Medicine, 93-95.
  5. Menschner, C., & Maul, A. (2016, April). Key Ingredients for Successful Trauma-Informed Care Implementation. Retrieved from samhsa: samhsa.gov

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.