How I Won My Battle With Emotional Eating

If you and I met today, you might think I was naturally lean. Born with a high metabolism. Able to eat whatever I want without gaining a pound. Not going to lie, that would be amazing. But the truth is, growing up, I was always the big kid.

By the time I was 13 years old, I weighed over 200 pounds and struggled with losing weight, emotional eating, and diets that didn’t work. While most kids dreamed of becoming movie stars or famous athletes, my early inspirations were the knowledgeable dietitians I met every summer at fat camp. I was never normal. I was never small. The pediatrician’s office constantly told my parents, “She’s obese. She’s over the 100th percentile, she’s not even on the chart!”

At eight years old, I was sent to “fat camp.” Can you imagine how that felt? But the truth is, I loved it. I made lots of friends. I was surrounded by people who didn’t judge me. I lost 30 pounds. It was amazing. Then I came back to school…and gained it all back. This yo-yo-ing went on for years. Every summer, I’d lose 30 pounds. Every school year, I’d gain it all back—and more—until I peaked at 215 pounds (my highest weight) and a size 20, going on size 22—which meant I couldn’t even fit into Gap or Old Navy’s extended sizes, forcing me to shop in plus-size only stores. This was a particularly difficult thing to accept given that my friends were still shopping for single-digit sizes.

I loved myself, but I hated by body, and I had to finally realize that one was not separate from the other. If I was having a good, confident day, but then tried something on, my whole mood would dampen. And if I were having a bad day, my weight would only make me feel worse. I was the “fat,” “chubby” girl for as long as I could remember. I hated doctor visits, because my pediatrician would show me a graph of how much I kept gaining. I hated sleepovers, because my friends would share clothes and talk about the boys that flirt with them, and I couldn’t participate. I hated shopping and getting dressed, because nothing ever fit or looked the way it was supposed to. It was all so hard and such a drag. I was officially worn out from my weight. 

I finally had the epiphany: “Ilana, you only have this one body, you might as well make it rock!”

I had to get real. I had to understand that just because some people stay thin ordering pizza and fries didn’t mean I could. These were the same people who could also eat one cookie, be satisfied, and stop, and I didn’t have that in me just yet. One cookie felt like permission to have more, and more, and more. I like to eat a lot, so I had to figure out a way to fill up and lose weight at the same time. I also couldn’t tell myself not to eat any dessert or junk foods, because that would only ever last a few days before I found myself eating them again. I grew up hearing about every diet because my parents tried them all and time and time again, but I knew there was a missing element. 

I needed a more positive approach that felt more fun than force. By that time, I had taken over 100 hours of nutrition courses from dietitians at weight loss camp so I knew what to eat, I just needed to connect it to how I would get myself to want to eat it. I brought in forms of accountability that kept me aware and kept me learning what was working and what wasn’t. 

At weight loss camp, food was restricted, so you couldn’t eat even if you wanted to. But at home, I had access to whatever I wanted, so I needed to understand how to eat well within a real lifestyle. I realized that I could microwave two frozen blocks of Birdseye broccoli with butter spray and salt and eat it in front of the tv like I used to eat popcorn, and the scale would still drop. I realized that if I made whole eggs in a pan, I would be tempted to soak up the yolk with a slice of bread, but if I made egg whites, I was more in control. I realized fruit wasn’t unlimited, so I had to figure out where fruit fit in. I realized I could actually weave in some desserts, and later, cocktails, and still see that scale drop.

 

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Through college, I also joined a sorority and had to figure out how to lose weight and keep it off with all the drinking, partying and late-night eating, so I took the challenge and found more creative ways to make the most of it. I would skip the sugary mixers and stick to the straight stuff, and when everyone came back to pizza and bagels, I would raid the salad bar for artichokes and hearts of palm, and dip them in sesame miso dressing (you should try it!). I had to figure out how I could eat at Chipotle, Noodles & Company, and Jimmy John’s with my friends, but still fill up and lose weight.I never skimped out on flavor or portion, but I had to get smarter about swaps and better control techniques throughout the day to set myself up for success. 

Sure, it would get annoying when I felt like I was putting in more effort than my skinnier friends, but rather than get jealous, I would always choose to be inspired and see what other things they were doing, besides their gene pool, that were helping them out. Any time I’d discover another helpful tool or tip, I’d add it to my system and I’d lose more weight happily. I had discovered the formula that worked for me. It wasn’t a new diet—it was a new mindset. And once I embraced it, I kept on losing weight.

I never fell for any quick-fix suggestions that seemed unsustainable. I suffered with being uncomfortable and morbidly obese for long enough to realize I never wanted to rebound and go back to that place again. So, if it weren’t something I felt like I could live with and enjoy a positive life with, I wouldn’t do it or recommend it to others. For instance, I have still been able to enjoy cocktails, sweets, eating take-out, traveling, socializing, loving food, and living. I never let losing weight interfere with that, as long as I kept my simple and sensible principles in place and at the forefront of my mindset. 

Eventually, I got down to 145 pounds. Finally, for the first time ever, I felt strong and confident enough to post a photo like this:

I was so happy at 145 pounds. I was a size 8—the lowest size I’d been since I was literally eight years old. My first summer without “chub rub” (irritation between my thighs) felt like a dream come true! I used to have to use baby powder in between my legs to control the pain and redness, and once I realized I was wearing shorts on a really hot day and my thighs weren’t burning, I felt like I had made it! And the best part was that I was able to maintain that weight, without denying myself or telling myself “no” all the time.

Intrigued, amped, and motivated by the success and maintenance of my results, I began to further develop my own customized weight-loss program and mindset. I took my interest in this to the next level, studying Nutrition and Dietetics in college, and earning a Bachelor of Science degree in the field. My studies quickly turned into my passion, and I became a registered dietitian. Soon after, I earned a Masters of Science degree in Applied Nutrition from Northeastern University (the highest standard in the field of nutrition) to apply evidence-based practices for weight loss into my own personal plan.

Pregnancy for me was wild. For years, I was in such control of my body. Then suddenly it took a whole different shape. But instead of fighting, I let the pregnancy be what it wanted to be. Until the third trimester, it was like a switch flipped in my head. It was time to get back to my weight-loss mindset to lose the baby weight. So, I refocused and thought about the hundreds of clients I’d helped and the principles that had worked not just for them, but for me as well.

After I delivered my beautiful daughter Olivia, I got right to work. I wasn’t just ready, I was excited. I had a new purpose now—my daughter. And I wanted to be the best I could possibly be.

Although I dreaded taking these “before” pics in tight clothes, I had to do it. Because, as I got ready to use all the weight-loss tactics I’d collected over my lifetime, I wanted a detailed record of this journey so I’d know exactly what worked and what didn’t in real time. And the good news is, it worked better than I could have ever imagined. I not only got back to my 145 mark, I kept going. I went from post-baby body all the way down to 120 pounds—and maintained the same weight for over two years and even did it again with my son, Julian.

You know what might be the most amazing part? It was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I always felt full and satisfied. I never deprived myself. And I never missed a meal. I just relied on a few simple principles that allowed me to lose weight while still living my life. Because that’s everyone’s ultimate goal, right? To be happy. That’s still my goal as a registered dietitian nutritionist. That’s why I took the principles that worked for me and used them for my hundreds of clients, combining them into a convenient, healthy, and practical approach, which gets rid of all the calorie counting, point tracking, and cutting out whole food groups (because who really has the time these days?!). It just became second nature, and I called it the 2B mindset. I’m proud to say it didn’t only help me lose over 100 pounds and continues to help me maintain my best self, but it has helped THOUSANDS of people!

I’m so grateful that now people can experience positive weight loss with the 2B mindset and the results have been groundbreaking. Thousands of people have lost 10-50 pounds and a handful of people have lost over 100 pounds the same program! But of course, there is always a need for personalization, and I love meeting with clients one-on-one and in group settings to understand their personal story and help them best succeed. I recently launched my Mind & Body Reset Retreats that are truly life-changing. In these private settings with 20 women (hosted at resorts that are pure luxury), I am able to get to the core of the person and create a specific action plan for her. What has been getting in her way? What are her work hours and romantic life like? What medications is she on and what does she have coming up in her calendar?  

Every change brings on a new obstacle that we must overcome because life doesn’t get easier, we need to get stronger. You can do this! We all can! 

Join Ilana Muhlstein at her next Mind & Body Reset Retreat September 19-22 in Carefree, AZ. Spots are limited.

Ilana Muhlstein M.S., R.D.N. is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Wellness Enthusiast and Educator, and has become one of the most sought-after weight loss experts and influencers around. She leads the Bruin Health Improvement Program at UCLA and also heads up her own private practice in Los Angeles. Ilana is the creator of the popular 2B Mindset™ weight loss program and also sits on the prestigious Executive Leadership Board for the American Heart Association, Go Red for Women campaign. Ilana has consulted for several prominent companies on nutrition, including Beachbody, Whole Foods Market, Curves Gyms, PIMCO, Zevia, BFree, and The Wonderful Company.  She is also a renowned public speaker and delivers nutrition seminars, cooking demonstrations and most recently started luxury Mind & Body Reset Retreats which she conducts throughout the year all over the country.

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