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Oprah Opens Up About Using Food to Cope With Her Emotions

If there’s anyone who truly understands the difficulties associated with weight loss, it’s Oprah Winfrey, whose refreshing openness and honesty about her decadeslong struggle with her weight has touched the hearts of millions of people.

The media mogul continues to bare her soul to the public in a new interview with Vogue, in which she explains what catapulted her into a vicious cycle of overeating and depression. In classic Oprah style, what she has to say is both heartbreaking and inspiring.

Back in 2008, the then-54-year-old was heartbroken after her passion project film “Beloved” tanked at the box office — and she ended up using food as a way to cope with the sadness.

“I shall never forget Saturday morning, October 17,” Winfrey says. “I got a call from someone at the studio, and they said, ‘It’s over. You got beat by “Chucky.” And I said, ‘Who’s Chucky? What do you mean it’s over? It’s just Saturday morning!’ I knew nothing about box-office projections or weekend openings.”

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The star, who had recently lost 20 pounds through dieting and exercising for a Vogue cover shoot, immediately treated the emotions she was experiencing with food. “It was 10 o’clock in the morning, and I said to Art [her personal chef], ‘I would like macaroni and cheese for breakfast.’ And sooo began my long plunge into food and depression and suppressing all my feelings.”

Before the devastating event, life for Winfrey had been smooth sailing: She’d scored her first Vogue cover, every book she endorsed landed on the best-seller list and she had tons of money. It was “the happiest time I’ve ever spent on the planet,” she says about life pre-October 17, 2008. But in the flash of an instant, she felt like a failure.

“I actually started to think, maybe I really am depressed. Because it’s more than ‘I feel bad about this.’ I felt like I was behind a veil. I felt like what many people had described over the years on my show, and I could never imagine it,” she says. “What’s depression? Why don’t you just pick yourself up?”

Her bout of depression lasted six weeks until her “gratitude practice” kicked in, “because it’s hard to remain sad if you’re focused on what you have instead of what you don’t have,” she explains. The experience also taught her to “never again — ever — put all of your hopes, expectations, eggs in the basket of box office. Do the work as an offering, and then whatever happens happens.”

To say that Winfrey is not the only person who has used food to cope with depression would be a gross understatement, as several studies have linked depression to weight gain. A 2009 study found that people who suffer from mental health issues like depression and anxiety are more likely to gain weight and become obese compared to those who don’t have these problems. Similarly, a 2010 University of Alabama at Birmingham study found a link between depression and abdominal obesity as well as increased BMI.

Almost 20 years later, Winfrey, who recently launched a healthy comfort-food line that actually includes a healthier version of mac and cheese, has “no … damn … apologies,” about the person she is today at 63. “And the weight thing that was always such a physical, spiritual, emotional burden for me — no apologies for that either.”

Those who can’t think themselves out of depression may actually be able to eat their way out of it — the healthy way. A recent clinical trial found that maintaining a healthy diet consisting of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat/unsweetened dairy, raw unsalted nuts, lean red meat, chicken, fish, eggs and olive oil could actually improve someone’s mood.

Here are nine more natural treatments for depression.

What Do YOU Think?

What do you think about Oprah’s method of getting out of her depression? Have you ever turned to food during a depressive period? Does it make you feel better or worse?