The Importance of Healing from the Past

Someone once asked me if weight loss was mainly a physical issue or an emotional issue. This is how I answered her question. I said:

In the ideal world, weight loss is mainly about taking in less calories than you burn. However, I’ve haven’t met too many people who don’t have a lot of emotional feelings surrounding food. So in my humble opinion, successful weight loss often requires us to conquer the emotions while at the same time working on improving what and how we eat.

Agree or disagree?

For many of us, the experiences we have had in the past influence our reactions to food. I know it has for me. Without going into too many details, there were some situations that happened during my childhood that were less than ideal. I learned at a young age that food didn’t talk back to me, didn’t judge me, and seemed to make me feel better. So I indulged whenever I could, and overindulged the older I got.

And I gained massive amounts of weight as a result. I gained 150 pounds in about 8 years.

Professional Help

Healing the past isn’t easy, and often requires the assistance of a professional, or perhaps a trusted confidante. A lot of people ask me if I sought counseling during my obese years to help me on the right path and I didn’t. Not that I think anything is wrong with counseling, (because I do NOT) but quite frankly, it wasn’t something we could afford at the time had I wanted to avail myself of it.

Self-Directed Strategies

So how did I work through some of those complicated issues that helped me gain weight?

  1. I had to be 100% honest with myself that there were some issues in the first place, and worth through my feelings surround them.
  2. I had to allow myself experience the emotions that were associated with the emotions
  3. I learned that just because I knew what the emotions were, I still needed to learn not to eat based on those emotions.
  4. When I messed up I gave myself a break, and didn’t beat myself up.
  5. I finally understood it wasn’t a quick fix. Losing weight wasn’t going to change the past, but I could heal and move past the past while at the same time losing weight.

I wanted to say that I haven’t “healed” the past completely, but rather I’ve worked through it and been able to acknowledge it without allowing the past to rule my emotions and unduly influence my choices.

What do you think? Is healing and/or acknowledging past hurts a part of the weight loss journey for some people?  Diane

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Image: Stuart Miles /

31 thoughts on “The Importance of Healing from the Past

  1. Miz says:

    My best friend has shed the same 100 pounds over and over and over.
    I know until she takes a little time and looks BACKWARD and figures out why and how she got where she is it will never stay off.

  2. Diandra says:

    I do think so. Putting the past behind you (where it belongs) is not easy, but it is necessary if you want to change the patterns based on this past.

  3. me says:

    Definitely! And just when I thought I was doing well with such issues, this made me cry. Miz’s comment hits me particularly hard~I’d like to get it right this time!!!!!

  4. Sharon says:

    Oh Diane, one of the statements in this very post has clarified for me something I’ve struggled to express for years. The statement, “experiences we have had in the past influence our reactions to food” is spot-on! I was loved and always had the things I needed to get by, but emotional issues within BOTH parents have truly “influenced my reaction to food.” I’ve tried every way in the world to express those feelings, but always knowing the choices were always mine and no one or no circumstances MADE me eat. But those circumstances certainly could, and most definitely HAVE, “influenced my REACTIONS to food.” It’s amazing what clarity (and freedom) one short sentence can bring. You have made my day and given me a whole new light in which to frame my thoughts. Thank you!

  5. Alissa says:

    It’s been such a huge part of my journey. When I first started losing weight, I didn’t know how much experiences in my past had affected me. I have started to work through them and it’s been a slow process- but it’s WORKING. And because I have finally realized that the things people said to me are not true, I am growing and have become more successful and happy with myself. Great post, as usual, Diane!

  6. vickie says:

    I have always been very verbal about the fact that my psychiatrist and my therapist have been an important part of my process. I think I might have been able to loose the weight without them, but I do not think I would have been able to maintain my weight, all these years, without them.

    Here are some quotes from my side bar that I thought you might like:

    “you can’t change your habits, your weight, or your life, without changing the way you think and react.” from Hanlie

    Sandrelle: The weight will always come back unless you are willing to peel back the layers and examine the reasons why you let yourself gain weight in the first place.

    Janice Taylor (Our Lady of Weight loss): EVOLVE! (Don’t just improve.) Improve means to do something better. Evolve, however, means that you permanently and fundamentally change a part of who you are.

    Maria Robinson…Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start TODAY and make a new ending.

    Mal: “for years and years, I focused on the symptoms, rather than the causes, of my internal and external distress.”

    “It’s okay to glance backward; just don’t stare.”
    Stephen M Pollan and Mark Levine

    and my favorite (I was looking for it and found all the others on the way):
    “We cannot help the birds of sadness from flying over our heads, but we need not let them nest in our hair.”

  7. Lisa @ Fat Chick Fed Up says:

    Diane-I just love your blog. You continue to inspire me.

    I have been blogging through all of my emotional/mental stumbling blocks in my recent “Freedom Friday” posts and I think you are spot on. Like you, I had several childhood experiences that did contribute to me being emotionally dependent on food.

    Whenever I say that I always feel like I have to qualify it by saying that I am not blaming anyone else for the way I am and that I realize I am an adult, capable of making my own decisions and I take full responsibility for my weight issues. But the fact of the matter is that those things DID happen and they ARE/WERE painful. I have since been able to forgive these people and circumstances, but that doesn’t take away the fact that there is still pain involved.

    For YEARS, I have turned to food as a way to avoid FEELING that hurt. I have very recently realized how immature that is. Where did I get that idea that it is not okay to actually feel those things? Now, I am much more intentional about giving myself permission to feel those feelings and work through them, rather than immediately turn to food.

    I know for some people weight loss can be as simple as “eat less, move more” or “calories in vs. calories out” but that is most definitely not the case with me. The food addiction and emotional dependency runs deep and I am finally learning to break free from that. It’s not just as simple as making a decision to stop eating the wrong things or trying harder or having will power. In fact, I would venture to say that my issues are MOSTLY about the emotional/mental dependency on food to comfort and medicate and the weight is merely the symptom of the deeper heart issues. THAT is what needs fixing, the rest is just bonus and I know will continue to fall into place as I focus on becoming an emotionally whole person.

    Thanks so much for this post and helping me to see I am not alone and there is MUCH HOPE for someone like me. I respect and admire you so much!

  8. Holly says:

    Yes!! This is a big one for me. It is all very intertwined. My continued success is dependent on me developing new coping strategies that don’t involve a box of donuts or bag of candy. Also I have to find ways to deal with the guilt of things I wasn’t able to do in the past because of my weight. In some ways, the more I lose the more I find many of these things rising to the surface. Hidden for awhile because I couldn’t handle them before. But now popping up b/c perhaps I’m strong enough to handle them now. You are constantly giving us tools to help us survive this struggle and move forward. I am so proud and happy to belong to your blog community online!!

  9. Holly from 300 Pounds Down says:

    Oh I forgot to add that what you said is so true…”Even though I knew what the emotions were” you still had to find a way to deal with them. I also found a therapist who specializes in weight loss and eating disorders. Specifically one who understands the needs of bariatric patients since I had surgery. But I do recommend that when you go looking for one you just keep looking until you find the one that gets you. I had to go through 3 before I found one that I really felt understood me. Anyway, great post!!!

  10. John says:

    Regarding your question at the end of the blog post, for some people yes, for others no. I guess I’m in the “no” category. I put on weight because I had a health problem that made me tired all of the time. As for losing weight, I try to think the way that a thin person thinks. 99.9% of people have had past hurts in their lives (the older you get, and the more interactions you have, the greater the chance it will happen) and I think that 95% of people are emotional eaters. Yet some are still able to either stay slim or get back to being slim.

  11. Mary says:

    I love this. It’s so exhausting to hear ignorant people berate the obese for their size – if I had a dollar for every time a stranger yelled out his/her car window “Hey fatty, stop eating!” I’d be rich. It’s very rarely just about calories in and out. I got big because I overate and wasn’t active, and I got smaller by eating better, eating less, and moving more; the difference this time, though, is recognizing not just THAT I overate, why WHY. WHY I chose to sit on the couch instead of even just walking around the block. I owe my weight loss success this time around to finally focusing on the emotional weight component too.

  12. Siobhan says:

    I agree that unless you deal with that emotional aspect you will have a difficult time being successful losing weight. And it doesn’t even have to have been some traumatic event, it can be as simple as always seeing food as the ultimate reward.

  13. E. Jane says:

    This is such a good post, Diane, because it pertains to so many of us who are overweight and trying to do something about it. I know how hard it is to “just stop eating,” because what we eat, how much we eat, and when we eat are all habits formed from past experiences and our emotions reconnecting with those experiences. Also, what you said about not beating ourselves up is such a true statement. When we do that, after a diet indiscretion, our emotions take over, and for me, that leads me right back to the food.

    Weight loss is such a “tricky” business. That’s why blogging and reading the weight loss blogs of others are so helpful. We’re not alone, and we learn so much. Thanks for sharing this.

  14. Karen@WaistingTime says:

    For some, but not for me. However, for me it is very much NOT about calories but clearly something more that I have yet to figure out. Habit or emotions or something.

  15. Amanda says:

    It’s absolutely a part of it. I know a large part of why I gained my weight (it had to do with a terrible living situation I was in at the time), and although my weight loss started before I fully acknowledged what I was dealing with, as I lost the weight I began to see more and more what was going on, and I finally had the self-confidence to end the situation rather than fear what would happen if I did.

    And I am so incredibly grateful — not just for myself and my own peace of mind, but especially for my children. It’s amazing how making one positive life change can lead to others.

  16. Marie@feedingfive says:

    I agree with not beating yourself up when you don’t make the best choices. We have to realize it’s part of life and actually own that cookie. Sit down with it, have a little milk, enjoy it, be happy and know that you can fit a treat into your diet without feeling shame. Just don’t have 10. Eat a meal first so there isn’t tons of room for treats.

  17. Jody - Fit at 54 says:

    I do think so much of being overweight is the mind & emotional stuff…. it is a mental battle for sure – always – as you wrote. I still struggle at times after all these years.

    Although I think many have to solve issues to move on, I was one that did not solve issues yet lost weight anyway. To this day, I still have things I have not resolved but being healthy & fit is more important to me & for some of them, I have just decided to put them aside & not let them run my life even if they are not resolved….

    We are all different so I think like anything else – each has to find their own way…

  18. Taryl says:

    It is very much mental – both in terms of emotions and habits! And changing either is a slow process that involves a lot of daily maintenance. It is surprisingly easy to eat my feelings, so to speak, rather than experience them, acknowledge them, and move forward. Even after years of practice this is still a temptation. And the same with habits – slipping into comfortable rather than healthy is still a work of mine, daily.

    Everyone has struggles to overcome in life. It just so happens many of mine are tied, directly or indirectly, to food and gluttony in general. That’s my lot and it’s just something to keep praying about and working on. I’m grateful it isn’t something more destructive like a sex addiction or severe health issues! There’s always an upside 😉

  19. Meg (@LadyMegSoprano) says:

    Yes. Definitely.


    A week or so ago, I stood in front of a vending machine before choir rehearsal, *thisclose* to buying something gooey and sweet and salty and filled with crap. I was stressed. And I stared at that machine and thought, “No, I’m not going to eat my stress tonight.” This is something I have learned about myself, faced up to, and overcome. I still have to face up to it. I no longer eat my emotions, but it’s still something that exists in me. In facing all of my past demons, not only have I lost weight and become fitter, I’ve found myself, and the Meg I want to be. It’s liberating, and it’s glorious.

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  21. Big Girl Bombshell says:

    Diane, this is SUCH an important issue that is often overlooked…we reach for the instant success and honestly, for me, that was the same pattern of reaching for the food ….

    We can’t always get what we want or when we want it, but if we take on the hard, hard work…it is worth a whole heck of a lot more than those numbers on the scale….those too will come, but the rest of it is unmeasurable.
    The only thing I would add, from my own experience only, is that this hard work was not something I could do alone. As much as I thought I could, i didn’t realize until I got some guided help, that I could KNOW what needed to be done, but still using the same old behaviors to get there.

    Thank you for what you share always….

  22. Kimberley says:

    I used to think so. Now that I am having success with Atkins and being gluten, grain, and sugar free, I have no food cravings and no feelings about food in general. All the “feelings” I used to have about food and my relationship with it are gone. It is fascinating and frightening to me at the same time.

  23. Jenna says:

    Great article Diane! This is so timely as this is what I’m working on right now! Thank you for showing it can be done.

  24. Elizabeth says:

    I do think our past can influence our relationship with food choices. I grew up in a grocery store – literally. My parents owned two businesses and food/candy was always available. We never really discussed moderation or serving size, so I would just eat whatever I wanted and whenever I wanted. I lost all that weight during college by working out and eating very little – not the healty way of eating either. Now I work on exercise, moderation, and good food choices. I don’t eat when I’m stressed but I have eaten through certain emotions. When I feel that type of eating starting to happen, I stop and assess the situation. I agree that losing weight must be both: physical and emotional well being.

  25. Julie says:

    This post rings so true for experiences in my life. I’ve had to do a lot of healing the past few months from all of the hurts in my past – childhood sexual abuse, mental abuse from my bulimic mother, and my own eating disorders that came as a result. I grew up thinking that nothing I did was ever going to be good enough. I’ve actually started my own blog as a result of reading this blog, and it has totally helped me to acknowledge WHY I have allowed myself to live the way I have over the past 10-12 years. I went from being a bulimic cheerleader in high school to 333 pounds at my highest weight. Comfort food was my friend for a long time, but it really didn’t love me back. I’m now at 300.2 pounds and while the sense of accomplishment that I have is great with that first 30 pounds gone, but I know that I still have a long way to go both mentally and physically. Thank you do much for your honesty in your blog.
    Is healing and/or acknowledging past hurts a part of the weight loss journey for some people

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