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What Is Emotional Eating? My Story

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Do you remember when your out-of-control emotional eating first began? I can, even though it was more than five decades ago. I was 9, a skinny, active child -- and suddenly I was stuffing myself with entire cans of spaghetti for lunch, two or more desserts at dinner, and, throughout the day, all the soda, candy, cupcakes, and potato chips I could buy or find.

At 13, I weighed 180 pounds; at 15, I starved myself and lost 50 pounds; at 18, I was back up to 180 or more. The stage was set for a lifetime of yo-yo weight gain and dieting.

Sound familiar? Then you also know how out-of-control emotional eating feels. Inside, whether I was fat or slim, I despaired. Whatever was "wrong with me," I thought, would never go away. How could it, when I didn't know what it was? I tried for years to understand why I was doing this to myself. And to stop doing it. But mostly I ended up making myself more unhappy. And fatter.

Finally one day I began to search for practical clues to the problem. Were there small steps I could take to start bringing the reasons for my emotional eating out into the open? I started by reading self-help books, especially ones that had places in them where I could write my personal responses to the questions and challenges they raised. It was like the "journaling" that's often recommended today as a way to help emotional eaters start to get control. And it really helped.

Looking back, I'm amazed at what I wrote. A lot of it was so angry, so hurt, so despairing, so scared. But that was how I felt. And as things turned out, writing it was an important sign that I was making progress toward understanding my emotional eating, although I didn't realize it at the time. I was saying things I'd kept inside for so many years because I was feeling them -- at last.

I also found my way to counselors and therapists from time to time during especially painful periods when I'd get so depressed, and my desperate food cravings, binging, and weight gain would get so out of control, I didn't know if I could go on.

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