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The "Food-Family Connection": Letting Go at Last

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WebMD Weight Loss Clinic-Feature

People can get caught up in emotional eating for many reasons, I'm sure, and at any age. For example, I knew someone who was slim until her 30s and then began compulsively overeating, and became fat, in response to extreme life changes. Everyone's emotional eating origins are uniquely personal; what you'll read here just happen to be mine.

My emotional eating and weight gain go back 50 years or more, to my childhood. Thus, the story of how I came to say goodbye, with love, to excess food and my fat is inescapably the story of saying goodbye to my anger and resentment toward the family who made my growing-up years so unhappy.

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You won't be surprised to learn that changing these lifelong feelings was a painful journey. But it was also the crucial breakthrough in my understanding of how I came to be so dependent on food for getting through life. And it freed me to become the woman I am now: no longer alone, afraid -- or fat.

Like every child, I needed my parents' love to grow up loving myself. It didn't happen. Instead I became a target within the family, the child who was criticized and shamed -- usually without knowing why.

The trouble with this, of course, besides the devastating effect it had on my feelings about myself at the time, is that I grew up hearing my own voice, in my head, criticizing and shaming me.

Today I can see how doing this to myself became, over the years, an expectation that others were doing it, too, when most of the time they weren't. For example, I tended to think that people who really had other things on their minds were criticizing me, or just waiting to do so. (Reality check: I occasionally deserved it!) And I also allowed myself to be shamed -- read: victimized -- in some very unpleasant incidents even long after I grew up.

In response to these and other real and imagined fears, I learned to isolate myself from others -- if not always physically, certainly by seldom letting my real feelings show. But still, like everyone, I needed something to take the place of close relationships and the richness they add to life.

And while I was still very young, I found it. I formed, and nurtured, and above all defended the "relationship" that became my lifeline: My close, loving relationship with food.

I believe now that the food I loved and could never get enough of, at least while I was stuffing myself with it, was the family I never got enough of. I even had my own "family" of favorite foods! Our "family meals" -- of course eaten alone and if possible out of sight of others -- included such delicacies as pizza, coconut cake, and pasta with rich, creamy sauces and lots and lots of cheese.

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