How She Beat Depression-Driven Eating to Lose 50 Pounds

Nikki Marshall had lost all faith in beating obesity, until she found running.

December 1, 2015
Nikki Marshall before and after her impressive weight loss. RW Run to Lose

Nikki Marshall had always been a size 10. But after she had her son Charlie, everything changed. She was so focused on taking care of him, she didn’t have the time to think about her own nourishment. She’d shovel in dinner while standing up in the kitchen, barely even tasting her food. After exhausting days with the baby, she felt like she deserved a sweet treat, such as take-out food or a few glasses of wine. At the grocery store, she beelined for chocolate milk or a candy bar.

“Treating myself all the time was a big part of my weight gain,” she says. Boredom and depression also prompted mindless eating. “I was trying to eat my feelings away!”


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Two years after giving birth to her son, she felt stuck at size 16. Getting up and down off the floor—which she constantly had to do as a preschool teacher—felt embarrassing.

Friends had dropped their baby weight quickly. “That really depressed me because I thought something was wrong with me,” she says. And even though she wasn’t pregnant, the worst part was, people kept asking, “When are you due?”

“I became extremely depressed and found myself using food as a way to cheer myself up, which would just make me more depressed later on,” says Marshall, 38, from Melbourne, Australia. “It was a vicious cycle. I lost faith in myself and began to pull away from my family and friends.”

As she got bigger, she started making excuses to avoid social events because she had no clothes that fit and felt embarrassed about her size. “Secluding myself was the worst thing I could have done, because it gave me the opportunity to sit at home and eat,” she says. And it became a vicious cycle.

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“The bigger I became, the more depressed I became, and the more depressed I became, the more I would eat,” she says. Though she was aware on some level of what was happening, she also felt like she couldn’t stop.


Marshall joined two different gyms but would quit after a few weeks, feeling embarrassed about working out in front of people at the size she was. The quitting just made her feel like a failure, which led her to eat more.

Inspired by a friend’s weight loss and happy mood, she tried a couch-to-5K program and started running. In 8 months, she lost 50 pounds. “I have energy, I sleep well, I have a positive outlook on life,” she says. “I feel like me again.”

Running was a key part of what got her out of her funk. In the course of the weight loss and the training, she has built up to running three times a week and has finished a 31-minute 5K. Now she’s training for her first 10-K. But the biggest reward was how it made her feel about working out. As the weight has come off, she can hold a faster pace for a longer amount of time. “When I first started running when I was heavy, I often felt as if my feet were barely shuffling along the ground,” she says. “Now there is a fluidity to my running. I feel like I have a rhythm when I run.”

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She also started practicing habits that have been proven to work for long-term weight loss: She started eating breakfast. She made smart swaps, forgoing her usual morning latte for a cup of black tea, along with a bowl of oatmeal with blueberries and cinnamon. She started eating lots of fruits and vegetables and keeping meals regularly timed— noon for lunch and dinner by 6:30 p.m. She also started incorporating whole grains such as quinoa and brown rice. She scaled back her portions. She started planning her meals, stocking her fridge and pantry with healthy options, and made time in her schedule to prepare healthy foods. But the biggest impact came from the changes she made to why and how she ate.


She stopped eating in front of her phone, computer, and TV. “This made a huge difference,” she says. “I no longer mindlessly eat and instead savor and enjoy my food.” She also started to drink water and mint tea, and keeps healthy snacks around for when she feels the urge to eat but isn’t hungry.

She’ll also treat herself to cupcakes or fries from time to time. For her, complete deprivation is a recipe for disaster. “If I deny myself rich foods completely, I’ll just want to binge on them,” she says. “But I no longer see them as ‘treats I deserve.’ Instead, I view them as ‘sometimes foods.’ I have removed the stigma attached to them and no longer feel like a failure or get depressed if I eat something rich.” She credits running with helping to turn her mood around; in the first month she got a sense of accomplishment from sticking with her plan. The slow, steady increase of couch-to-5K felt doable and gave her something to be proud of. Posting her runs on social media elicited an outpouring of support from her family and friends. That further bolstered her mood. It also helped her insomnia, which gave her energy to move more throughout the day.

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She has also made big changes in the ways she copes with stress. If she needs a lift after a stressful or depressing day, she’ll crank up the headphones and head out for a run instead of reaching for food. When the old urge to eat because of stress or depression arises, she tries to distract herself with her favorite hobbies, music, errands, or by calling friends or family while she waits for the urge to pass. She has also started seeing a counselor and keeping a journal. “Letting my feelings out through talking or writing negates the urge to ‘eat my feelings away,’” she says.

To keep temptation far at bay, she keeps only healthy food in the house. Though there have been slip-ups, she’s focused on letting them go instead of letting them drag her down: “Instead of letting them depress me, I start fresh the next day and recommit to my healthy lifestyle.”

Excerpted from Runner's World Run to Lose