This Mom of 3 Is 'Free of the Emotional Addiction' to Food After Losing 165 Lbs.

Shawna Tindal had a difficult relationship with food as a child, and would shoplift snacks to eat in secret

For Shawna Tindal, food was always an “emotional crutch.” She started putting on weight as a young child, growing up in a household that “didn’t model good relationships with food,” but she took it to the extreme.

“I would sneak food when people weren’t around, going to 7-Eleven in the middle of the night for ice cream and burritos. I even shoplifted food,” Tindal, 39, tells PEOPLE for the 2020 Half Their Size issue. “I knew enough to be ashamed of what I was doing, but I didn’t know how to ask for help.”

Tindal hit 322 lbs. and was pre-diabetic by the time she started high school.

“I remember always being nervous on the first day of class because there were certain desks I couldn’t fit into,” she says. And extracurricular activities became complicated: “I had to special order a uniform in my size for the flag team. Normal tasks became difficult and embarrassing.”

Shawna Tindal Golden
Shawna Tindal. Shawna Tindal Golden

Tindal estimates that she was around 340 lbs. when she went away for college. There, unlike most freshmen, she started losing weight.

“I was around people all the time so I couldn’t really hide food, and I didn’t feel inclined to,” she says. “I was busy and walking everywhere, and I felt like I had more choices in what I was eating. I kind of had the opposite of the freshman 15.”

Those changes were largely physical, but Tindal noticed that her mindset was shifting, too.

“I was finding myself,” she says. “I was building new relationships, building this life for myself and building a community, and I no longer needed food to fill the gaps in my life.”

For more on Shawna and five other women who changed their life to get healthy, pick up a copy of PEOPLE, on newsstands now

Half Their Size

During that first year of college, her weight was “slowly but surely” coming off without really trying, but Tindal wanted to give it a boost. The next year, she joined WW, then Weight Watchers, to track her food throughout the day, something she still does now.

“I ended up losing about 20 to 25 lbs. a year, which is a little depressing when you have 150 to lose,” she says. “But I say I’m not a weight loss expert, I’m an expert at maintaining weight loss. I call myself the tortoise — just slow and steady, and that’s okay.”

Tindal was down to 180 lbs. by 2010, about seven years after she started losing weight. At that point she was married and pregnant with her first child, and was admittedly nervous about purposely gaining weight.

“It was a little bit hard,” she says. “But after my daughter, my eldest, it took me about a year to lose the weight I gained and then I lost even more.”

Shawna Tindal Golden
Shawna Tindal. Kat Borchart

Tindal, who now lives in Tuscon, Ariz. and works as a photographer, has two more kids, and she ended up losing more weight after each pregnancy.

“After her, I was like, ‘I can do this. This is in me, I can do it.’ ”

Tindal now weighs around 175 lbs., but says that she doesn’t worry about her size.

“I’m very proud of my weight loss, but it is not the center point of my life,” she says. “My family is. Ultimately, the weight loss has let me be free of the emotional addiction I had to food.”

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