Jennifer Weiner (Credit: Javier Sirvent)
Liz McNeil
September 22, 2016 09:00 AM

In 2006, author Jennifer Weiner had a three-year-old toddler, a marriage under strain and an unstoppable desire to eat.

“I didn’t have an off switch,” she says. “I was probably on the cusp of not being able to buy the plus-est of the plus size clothes. Every time I went on a plane, I was terrified that this was going to be the time that the seat belt wouldn’t buckle.”

In this week’s PEOPLE, which excerpts her brave new book of essays, Hungry Heart, Weiner, 46, reveals for the first time the depths of her struggle that led her to have gastric bypass surgery in 2006. “I stopped looking at the scales when the first number hit 3,” she says of her weight at the time. “[But] it was around 300 pounds.”

While the best-selling novelist has been celebrated for her candor about her own weight – and weight loss struggles, she’s never spoken about her surgery until now.

“I really went back and forth because I know there are some people who are going to feel betrayed and think that ‘I thought she was a champion for larger women and she went and did this,’ ” Weiner reveals. “But I wanted to be honest about it and I wanted to say for me, it wasn’t a choice I made to get thin. That was not going to be a possibility. I had been at such a war with the body I had all through my twenties. I spent the whole decade on a diet and even did things that weren’t safe, like being part of a trial for a drug that was eventually yanked off the market.”

For more details about Jennifer Weiner’s weight loss, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

But it was only after her first pregnancy and the emotional struggles that followed, that she considered weight loss surgery. “I gained a lot of weight when I was pregnant and more weight after,” she says. “Looking back, while no one ever diagnosed it, I think the fact I could not stop crying or eating for a year, I must have had post-partum depression. I was just undone.”

WATCH: Best Selling Author Jennifer Weiner Is Posing in Her Swimsuit to Give Other Women the Confidence to Wear Theirs

Around that time, she bought Carnie Wilson’s book about her own weight loss surgery and began to consider the possibility.

“I wanted to take ownership of myself and I wanted to take care of myself at size 16. And if I could have this surgery and be a size 16 again, I could stop dieting, and exercise and be mentally healthy,” she says. “It was about getting the body I was meant to have. And making peace with it.”

It’s a struggle that began as a young girl growing up in Simsbury, Connecticut.

“Remember George Michael’s Freedom video with Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford and Christy Turlington?” she says. “That was the body I always wanted as a teenager, it was long and lean but with breasts. I just felt like I looked like squashed beer can next to them.”

Now that she’s a healthy and strong size 16, she’s had to relearn how to eat – and how not to eat. “I can pretty much have anything, just not a whole lot of it,” she says. “So I have to eat strategically.”

And she’s had to learn to deal with the emotions underlying her desire to overeat. “I have to figure out when I’m hungry and when I’m not really hungry, or when I’m sad, or lonely or tired,” she says. “I ask myself ‘Did I have my exercise today, did I go outside, have I done my yoga?’ There’s a lot of ways to be mindful and ways to give myself the feeling that food used to – but I still miss it sometimes.”

RELATED VIDEO: Jennifer Weiner ‘Hungry Heart’ Exclusive Cover Reveal

While she’s nervous about how her decision will be received, she says: “If I can tell the truth, whether it’s about motherhood or weight, and have someone feel less alone, it’s a good thing.”

And the author whose larger-sized heroines always find a happy ending, has finally found her own.

As she says, “Now when I look in the mirror, I see a healthy and relatively happy woman, who’s relatively content and got the ending she wanted.”

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