Joyce Perata distinctly remembers her first eating binge. An ice cream truck was passing through her neighborhood, and she ran out to buy a supply of her favorite treat: ice cream bars. She ran back home, sat on the kitchen floor, and devoured the 3 or 4 bars one after another.

At the time, she was all of 9 years old.

Joyce had been living with her grandmother until that summer, when she moved in with her parents. “Because both of them worked during the day, I found myself home alone, missing my grandmother,” she recalls. “Eating was my way of comforting myself.

“I learned at an early age to use food to deal with my emotions, whether I was feeling lonely, anxious, or sad,” says the 56-year-old

Fremont, California, resident. “Eating was an antidote to my negative feelings and my lack of self-worth. It numbed me.” ^

It also precipitated Joyce’s nearly half-century struggle with her weight, which careened between a high of 170 pounds and a low of 98 pounds on her 5-foot-2-inch frame. In college, Joyce smoked to stay thin. In her thirties, she sucked down diet pills. In her mid-forties, she began eating healthfully, walking, and doing aerobics. But when her marriage fell apart, she once again turned to food for comfort.

Finally, at age 54, Joyce had had enough. “I had been getting help from a psychiatrist in working through my occasional bouts of bulimia and anorexia,” she says. “My psychiatrist suggested that I join Honesty, Openness, and Willingness, an offshoot organization of Overeaters Anonymous” (OA-HOW). The program taught Joyce how to control her bingeing and gave her tools to deal with the emotions that drove her to food in the first place. Through OA-HOW, Joyce says, she discovered an inner clarity and peace that she had never before experienced. For the first time in her life, she felt good about herself, without the aid of food. “I learned to accept my body as it is without trying to be skinny,” she says. “I could look in the mirror and feel okay about myself.”

Empowered, Joyce consulted a nutritionist to learn how to eat better. She also resumed her exercise program. As a result of her healthier lifestyle, she has lost 42 pounds.

For Joyce, even more valuable than her weight loss is her newfound self-confidence and self-esteem. “Now, I recognize my feelings,” she says, “and I feel joy and freedom.”


Feed emotional hunger without food. Like Joyce, you may have a strong emotional attachment to food and bingeing

that’s so complex that you need professional guidance to work through it. Don’t be embarrassed, and don’t let feelings of shame or pride (“I should be able to beat this alone”) keep you from seeking help. That’s what the pros are there for—to help people like you and me unravel the years of habit that have made food our emotional salve for hurt and low self-worth. Find a counselor whom you trust, and start feeling better today. If you need incentive to take that first step, think about how it helped Joyce.


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