Stop Eating Your Heart Out: The 21-Day Program to Free Yourself from Emotional Eating

Stop Eating Your Heart Out: The 21-Day Program to Free Yourself from Emotional Eating


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Stop Eating Your Heart Out: The 21-Day Program to Free Yourself from Emotional Eating by Meryl Hershey Beck

Stop Eating Your Heart Out speaks to anyone's challenges with food, weight, and emotional eating, and then offers a multitude of effective self-help tools. As the author discloses her very personal struggle with food and out-of-control eating, she is telling the story of millions of others who use food to self-soothe. The book's focus, however, is on recovery. In her wisdom as a licensed professional clinical counselor, the author enumerates methods that have worked for her and her clients over the past twenty years. Tools for recovery include Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), Inner Child work, 12 Step recovery, journaling, creative visualization, meditation, gratitude, conscious living, and so much more. Compulsive overeating is conquerable. If you, or anyone you love, want freedom from emotional eating, this book is for you.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781573245456
Publisher: Red Wheel/Weiser
Publication date: 04/01/2012
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 375,219
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Admired for her authenticity, Meryl Hershey Beck, a licensed professional clinical counselor, is appreciated and respected for her clarity and constancy in doing the hardcore work in finding no-kidding solutions to end the misery of addictions. She spent the first half of her life as a closet eater, gaining weight and feeling overwrought. Once she became active in 12 Step support groups, the bingeing fueled by anxiety, low self-esteem, and the desire to escape started to wane. Intent on uncovering the root cause of her overeating, Meryl began to incorporate other modalities in her quest for self-understanding. As a counselor, teacher, and author, Meryl joyfully shares these many tools and techniques that skyrocket personal growth and curtail emotional eating. Visit her at

Jeanne Rust, CEO and founder of Mirasol Eating Disorder Recovery Centers

Read an Excerpt


The 21-Day Program to Free Yourself from Emotional Eating


Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC

Copyright © 2011 Meryl Hershey Beck
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57324-545-6


My Story: The Making and Breaking of a Compulsive Overeater

We must go beyond our history to arrive at our destiny.

Alan Cohen, Dare to Be Yourself

"SEE THOSE FAT PEOPLE OVER there?" my father asked as we drove down the street, his finger pointing at a group of overweight people.

"Yes, Daddy," I replied.

"You don't ever want to look like that!" he admonished.

I was an impressionable eight-year-old girl. It was the 1950s, a time when looking good mattered most. World War II had ended the previous decade, and with no external war to contend with, many families like ours focused on social appearance and physical attractiveness. Airlines had stewardesses, not flight attendants, who were obligated to conform to specific weight, height, and age requirements. They had to look good to keep their jobs. This was the time of Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best—those happy Tv families with the pearl-wearing housewives decked out in heels, even at breakfast. I was part of a looking-good family in a looking-good culture, most of us holding the belief that in order to be accepted, we must look acceptable. And, having weight issues ever since I was a little kid, I felt like the ugly duckling of the family.

Children like to please their parents; the praise it evokes feels good. I made my parents very happy by being an amiable and obedient child. And, as a charter member of the Clean plate Club, I was commended at mealtime for eating and finishing all the food in front of me—beginning when I was a baby in a highchair. The conditioning had begun.

Always eager to do what was expected of me, I was mortified when, as a three-year-old, I misunderstood my parents and felt humiliation for the first time: My mother walked into the living room and saw my feet thrust into the playpen, which also contained my baby sister. When my mother asked what I was doing, I calmly replied that she had said I could touch only the baby's feet, so I was letting my sister touch mine. It made perfect sense to me, but hearing the thunderous roar of laughter spewing forth from the adults as she immediately recounted the story, I was mortified. At the tender age of three, I made a decision to never make a mistake again—the shame was too great and I felt crushed.

I set out to be "the best little girl in the world"—to be perfect and do everything right. Inside I felt very alone—a feeling heightened by my father traveling a lot for business and my mother being emotionally unavailable. It wasn't long before I discovered that stuffing myself with food was a great way to take the edge off the emptiness inside.

When I was six, my brother was born, and the hoopla surrounding the birth of a male said to me that boys matter and girls don't. I felt negated for being "just a girl." The hole inside me continued to grow, and I bolted through meals in an attempt to fill the void. I was losing the ability to feel physical hunger—I ate to feel full and to numb out. I ate large portions whenever possible. I ate with gusto, and I wanted to feel stuffed.

Although never diagnosed, I exhibited many of the symptoms of childhood depression. I had very little energy; many times on my walk home from school I had to push myself to take the next step and then the next. I felt depressed about my weight and disgrace around it. Life was not fun; it was an ordeal to be lived through. No, life was an ordeal to be smiled through. Smile, no matter what I am feeling. Smile, no matter what is happening. Smile, to keep my inner pain a secret.

As I grew older, I became more and more quiet and isolated. A voracious reader, I kept to myself most of the time with my nose in a book. In the presence of others, I did whatever I was expected to do—filling the role of the good student, the good helper, the good daughter, and the good sister. I put on my I am wonderful mask, wore a smile on my face, and suppressed my feelings. Even though I often acted like the hero of the family, I usually felt like the invisible lost child. I needed extra food to pull this off.

I first realized my dissatisfaction with my body during my preteen years. When I was seated, a roll of fat protruded around my belly. One day my father grabbed it and said in a teasing voice, "What's this?" I felt humiliated. I had something on my body that wasn't accepted, and I couldn't hide the fat. My body image issues had begun.

I knew I needed to lose weight, and the next morning I wrote in my diary: "Today I am starting my diet." The following day I wrote: "Yesterday I had a chocolate-chip cookie. Today I am really starting my diet." Then the next day I scribbled: "Yesterday I had some candy. Today I am really, really starting my diet!"

Each day I would pledge to start again. For me, in those days, dieting meant I wouldn't have any sweets, and it was a struggle to not eat sugar. Visiting a friend's house, I'd often sneak into the kitchen and surreptitiously wolf down cookies or chocolate chip-muffins. Or I found excuses to go to my next-door neighbor's house, where, when no one was looking, I'd head straight for the candy drawer, which was always filled with chocolate haystacks and other mouth-watering goodies.

Although the portions were substantial at our family meals, I always wanted more so I would feel satiated. When I'd ask for another helping, Mom or Dad might remark, "Didn't you have enough?" or, more emphatically, "You've had plenty!" The only way I could consume enough to feel full was to eat in secret, and early on I developed my talent for sneaking food to not feel so empty. For example, my mother would sometimes bring home a loaf of fresh, warm, Jewish rye bread, and I'd creep into the kitchen and snatch slices from the middle, pushing the ends closer together so it just looked like a smaller loaf. I'd gobble the bread down as fast as I could—without ever tasting it—so nobody would see me.

When I was ten, I entered a pancake-eating contest and easily won. And I could have kept on eating—I only stopped cramming in the pancakes because they had already named me the winner. I liked those eating contests. They were the only times I would allow others to see how much I could consume.

Somehow I fooled everyone about my eating behavior, and no one seemed to know the quantity I consumed. It was important for me to eat in secret because criticism shattered me. Jarring words cut into me like a scathing sword. I chose to be good and look good to avoid harsh judgments and disapproval. At one point, I even wished I had a tapeworm. I thought it would be the perfect solution—scarf down as much food as I wanted and let the tapeworm eat it so I wouldn't gain weight. I also considered swallowing Mexican jumping beans—maybe the larva inside each bean would consume my fat!

When I look back at early childhood photos, I don't see a grossly fat kid. Yes, sometimes a little chunky, but not obese. My parents, however, believed I needed to lose weight, and the diets began at age eleven. They took me to the family doctor, who put me on my first diet and gave me a shot once a week. I became stoic, rolled up my sleeve for the injection, and never complained. Although I kept my feelings submerged, I still felt them. I believed I was inferior and defective—land mines for compulsive overeaters like me. And, though I lost weight, I was never able to keep it off.

As a teen, I identified with the lyrics of a popular platters song, "The Great Pretender"—pretending to do well but really feeling very alone. I saw myself as an impostor. Every day in seventh grade I'd walk home from school with classmates, and we'd always cut through the local department store. Meandering through the Juniors department, the other girls looked at the size 5 and 7 clothing. I feigned looking at the size 9s and 11s, as if I wore that size. Who was I fooling? I was squeezing myself into a size 15.

Yes, I pretended a lot. I pretended it didn't matter to me that my daddy was gone all week and I felt abandoned. I pretended I didn't care if no one gave me a compliment or if I wasn't asked out on a date. I got so used to pretending that I lost track of what was real and what was the world I invented or pretended to live in.

Since I had mastered the art of closet eating, I knew I was tricking others into believing I was constantly on a diet and ate only low-calorie food. When eating out with friends, I'd order a small meal and never anything fattening. But I had to eat something substantial beforehand in order to pull off this charade. If I had consumed solely what I allowed others to see me eating, I probably would have weighed 90 pounds!

But I didn't weigh 90 pounds, and I had a strong reaction to the numbers on the scale. If the scale read 125-130, my spirits were high and I loved life. When the scale read 150, I hated myself, verbally lambasted myself, and everything looked dark and bleak. It perplexed me how my weight fluctuated 25 pounds—it felt as if I'd get up one day and the numbers on the scale had mysteriously jumped way up.

As teenagers, my friends began dating, but I spent my Saturday nights babysitting—a job I loved. I was in compulsive-overeater heaven: unlimited use of the phone, my favorite TV shows, and snacks galore. I convinced myself it didn't matter that I didn't date; I had my babysitting job, so I was alone with my real love: the food!

I tried "diet pills," which I found out later were speed. But instead of feeling wired, I felt extremely tired. Several of my friends loved these new pills and seemed to get skinnier by the minute. Once again I felt defective. Why did these pills work for others but not for me? What was wrong with me?

During a routine physical, I was diagnosed with an underactive thyroid. I heard this with great excitement and hope—thyroid medication was, I thought, the magic pill I had been looking for. Now the weight would fall off. No such luck—I took the thyroid meds, but the weight hung on.

I was continually on the lookout for the latest diet craze and was filled with high expectations when I discovered Metrecal—the first diet drink. Used as a meal replacement (except by my grandmother, who misunderstood and drank it with her meals and then wondered why she didn't lose weight!), I drank it for lunch each day. But I didn't achieve the much-desired weight loss. I tried fad diets and other diet pills. I chewed on AYDS (an appetite suppressant tasting so much like chocolate candy that I ate many more than the recommended one piece). I went to Diet Workshop. I followed the Weight Watchers diet. Sometimes I lost weight, but if it was lost, it was soon found. I felt disappointed and hopeless about the numbers on the scale. The immensity of these feelings increased my appetite, and I'd pig out even more.

There were times when I tried to be bulimic—in part to lose weight and in part to relieve indigestion—and, thank goodness, I was not successful. Although I'd put my fingers down my throat, I was not able to regurgitate the large volume of food I had consumed. Instead, antacids became my trusted ally, eventually easing the horrendous pain in my gut from gorging.

At an early age, I lost my sense of self and became more interested in what others felt or needed. I thought of myself as a chameleon—you tell me who you want me to be, and I'll be it. As long as others were happy, my needs were inconsequential. (It sounds like initiation for martyrdom.) I negated my own feelings, pushed them down, and gave them no importance. Out of touch with myself, I didn't know how I felt most of the time. I was conditioned to put on a happy front no matter what happened. To keep up this charade, I was compelled to consume an enormous amount of food.

I felt a lot of guilt and shame. The shame intensified when I received critical comments from my parents such as "You're the oldest—why would you even ask such a question?" or "You know better than that!" or "Why did you do that? What kind of example are you setting?" I became hypervigilant—seeking to anticipate my parents' every need rather than be reprimanded. It wasn't enough, however, because their voices took residence in my head, and I used those messages to rebuke myself, often by calling myself stupid. Is it any wonder I turned to food for love? To feel full? No, actually, to not feel.

As a high school English teacher, I taught the poem "Richard Cory" by Edwin Arlington Robinson. Richard Cory seemed to have it all—he had money, he had friends, people admired him and wished they could be him. I thought my life sounded a lot like Richard Cory's: people liked me and respected me and thought I was very responsible—an image I had worked hard to create. But Richard Cory went home one night and put a bullet through his head—and I understood. I realized the outward appearance might just be a cover-up; I knew his pain. On the outside I had everything—a nice home, a hardworking husband, two cars in our garage, enough money, plenty of food. Yet inside I was tormented. I told myself over and over that I was inadequate and defective, and that I was a fraud.

I knew I was a sneak eater, and I knew I ate to the point of physical distress, but I didn't know until recently that I had a binge eating disorder. The mental health description of binge eating disorder includes the following:

1. Eating a large amount of food in a short period of time

2. Lack of control over eating during the binge episode

3. Eating until uncomfortably full

4. Eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry

5. Eating much more rapidly than normal

6. Eating alone because you are embarrassed by how much you're eating

7. Feeling disgusted, depressed, or guilty after overeating

I easily identified with each aspect:

1. Yes, I could pack it away.

2. In the midst of a binge, I would command my hand to stop shoving cookies into my mouth, but it wouldn't stop.

3. I would eat so much that my stomach ached intensely. I'd chew a few pepto-Bismol tablets and curl up in the fetal position until the pain subsided—and then I'd get up and feast some more.

4. I know I ate because of emotional, not physical, hunger.

5. I inhaled my food.

6. I always preferred eating alone so I wouldn't be judged.

7. Disgusted, depressed, or guilty? Yes, yes, and yes! I was often all three. That's why I became a closet eater in the first place.

When I was twenty-nine, a friend told me she had attended a Twelve-Step meeting for people with weight issues. "There really is a place like that?" I asked incredulously. Many years earlier, as a child, I had seen the teleplay Days of Wine and Roses, which depicts the total devastation of an alcoholic's life before he achieves sobriety with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous. At that time, I thought, "Wow, I wish there was a place like that for me—I'm a foodaholic." That's what I'd called myself since the age of twelve. I knew that whenever I started to eat, I didn't want to stop. I had to contain myself or get scolded for eating too much. I knew I had an emptiness no amount of food would fill. Actually, I didn't know that then. But I know it now. Thinking back, I wonder if my appestat (the area of the brain that controls the appetite) was broken.

I accompanied my friend to the next Twelve-Step support group and, right away, made a decision to follow the 3-0-1 food plan: three meals a day, nothing in between, one day at a time. What a struggle. It was almost impossible for me to refrain from eating between meals. Whenever I drove past my favorite bakery, for example, my car would automatically turn in. At the beginning, over and over again I fell off the wagon, which is how I saw it in my mind. As I continued going to meetings and working the Twelve Steps, I began to get truthful with myself about my feelings and started to let go of the ludicrous notion that I had to be flawless. And, lo and behold, the emotional eating began to wane. When, months later, I drove past the bakery and didn't stop, I was elated. After that first success came many more, and soon I could drive past all bakeries without pulling in.

Committed to not eating between meals, I developed a technique to delay immediate gratification: If I really wanted a particular food, if something "called" to me, I gave myself permission to have it—tomorrow, and with a meal. For instance, if my husband decided to eat popcorn in the evening while we watched TV and I wanted it, too, I told myself I could have it ... with a meal ... tomorrow. And that worked for me. Sometimes I devoured that coveted food with my very next meal (such as popcorn for breakfast!). But at least it was planned for my meal, rather than a binge. Often, though, since I didn't immediately act on the craving, the obsession went away and I forgot all about it.

As a member of a Twelve-Step Program (and following a specific food plan), I eventually stopped the emotional eating by

• strengthening my spirituality (a belief in a Higher Power who loves me unconditionally),

• becoming honest with myself,

• facing my feelings,

• having a support group,

• admitting my faults,

• making amends,

• journaling,

• healing my Inner Child,

• calming my Inner Critic's voice,

• white-knuckling it.

My eating behavior now is a far cry from my eating behavior as a child, teen, and young woman, when I was using food as my "fix." Food used to be my best friend, my savior, my everything. Now food is just food. I enjoy it much more today than when I was rapidly shoveling it in without stopping to savor a single bite.

Excerpted from STOP EATING YOUR HEART OUT by MERYL HERSHEY BECK. Copyright © 2011 Meryl Hershey Beck. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Foreword by Jeanne Rust, PhD          



Chapter 1: My Story: The Making and Breaking of a Compulsive Overeater          

Chapter 2: Becoming Self-Honest          

Chapter 3: Finding Support          

Chapter 4: Spirituality and Spiritual Growth          

Chapter 5: Energy Techniques          

Chapter 6: Going Within          

Chapter 7: Personal Housecleaning          

Chapter 8: Conscious Living          

Chapter 9: Putting It All Together          


Daily Assignments Overview          


Recommended Reading          


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Stop Eating Your Heart Out: The 21-Day Program to Free Yourself from Emotional Eating 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
dana1111 More than 1 year ago
"Stop Eating Your Heart" out is one of those 'keep near you' books if you really want to work on your eating habits. I am one of those lucky people who got to know Meryl personally through her workshop that was life changing for me. When Meryl laughs your soul wakes up, when Meryl cries your heart opens, but when Meryl shares her stories you feel understood and not alone. She is so non-judgemental and because of that I was able to acknowledge my own hidden battles with eating disorders. Thus began my journey of healing and self-discovery. Thank you Meryl for giving me permission to reveal and heal instead of cover and fester those feelings of shame that often lay under eating issues.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Stillie More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderfully written book. The author shares her own personal journey as well as methods and techniques she uses with her clients/patients.
knock3xsBF More than 1 year ago
I really would give this book 4.5 stars. The only reason is that some of it is based on OA/AA. I don't think that's bad in any way but some of the techniques is just not for me. But, that being said, overall I really liked this book and like the techniques she outlines to do to get over emotional eating. There is a good bit I can use in this book. Some I already heard before but there is plenty that just makes sense to overcoming your emotional/overeating addiction. There are things in the book about dealing with past issues, the present, keeping journals, food mood diary (which makes alot of sense to me), and I love guided imagine methods. I wish I could find some good tapes on them though. Any suggestions let me know. I never heard of the left/right hand method but it's interesting for sure. If you want more explaination you will have to read the book. I don't want to give it away. Love the section in the back of references and the author put a recommended reading section in the back to read further about eating disorders, weight control, etc. I will read more from this author for sure.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved being able to "preview" this valuable offering while working on the copyediting and feel like I was healed in the process. Whether your relationship with food is an issue or not, there is much to be gained from reading and participating in the encouraging and effective program set forth in Meryl's book. What a real treat! ~Andra S. Ewton
amaSA More than 1 year ago
I started reading Meryl Beck’s book Stop Eating Your Heart Out on a flight from New England to South Florida, Being on a plane we have our little space which isolates us and as I turned the pages, there was no place for me to go but within. The first chapter was so deep, profound and touching that it became the crack in the cosmic egg for me to explore my own young life of past. I felt very much like Alice going down the rabbit hole as I began to read. It was an amazing journey touching the very depth of my soul. Meryl Beck allows her world to become yours and her reflections for us to recall our own. My young world flashed past me page after page and Meryl gave me the courage and permission to look at my young years through my adult eyes. It was incredible realization. I just finished chapter one when the plane landed. It was brave and compassionate showing us that the light at the end of the tunnel is for us to choose what is in our highest good and go for it. Thank you on to chapter two. Suzanne Aubrey