Updated: May 18, 2022
Sabrena Klein has battled food addiction her entire life. Her addiction caused weight gain and led to obesity. "When I was a child, I started getting heavier and remember always wanting more food. Any emotion caused me to turn to food. It was almost like a friend for me, and I felt like it was the only 'person' I could turn to," Sabrena said. "It made me feel comfortable—I ate anything. I binge ate when I was bored, happy, or sad. I always snuck food when my mom wasn't looking."
According to one study, her story likely resonates with many; in fact, more than 5 percent of the U.S. population may suffer from food addiction.
Food addiction is not always something a person can ”will-away.” It is like a drug addiction—leading to cravings, tolerance, and even withdrawal. When addiction is the underlying cause of obesity, traditional treatment with diets that rely on personal responsibility or willpower may not be sufficient. This is because food stimulates the reward center in the brain. Many psychologists believe it must be treated in the same way as any other addiction, and traditional methods of weight loss have minimal effects unless the underlying addiction is addressed.
Sabrena struggled with her diet and exercise all her life. She tried diets like Jenny Craig, and Atkins; she bought a gym membership and tried working out. "I was embarrassed. Nothing ever worked for me," Sabrena said.
That was until seven years ago when Sabrena's life changed. She was faced with a devastating turn of events. "I was six months pregnant with Adalynn (my third child) when my husband had left me," Sabrena said. "I turned to food for a while after she was born—I was really depressed and I ate a lot."
Indulging in self-pity, Sabrena comforted her sorrows with food. "I often told myself I was so fat, and I really doubted myself," Sabrena said. "I was the heaviest I had ever been. In my head, that was why he left me."
She continued on the path of destruction after her daughter’s birth. When Adalynn was six weeks old, she realized it was time to make a change. "The one day my son [who was a toddler at the time] was playing outside and asked me to chase him. I couldn't do it," Sabrena said. "That was enough for me. I knew it was time to do something, or I was going to die with these young kids. That was a kick in my butt."
"It was like a mindset flip—sparking a fire in me. I wanted to be able to chase my kids and play," Sabrena added. "But there were so many other things I experienced; I was tired of it. I couldn't fit on the rides at theme parks. I couldn't fit into booths at restaurants or go into certain clothing stores. I always wanted to shop at Victoria's Secret, but I was always too big."
Her weight made her feel ashamed. "When I flew one of the most embarrassing things was having to ask the flight attendant for the seat belt extender because I couldn't get the belt around my stomach," Sabrena said. "People would look at me funny. I could tell they were uncomfortable sitting next to me."
Sabrena is the second oldest of four children. She has an older sister and two younger brothers. She lives in Shinglehouse, Pa. and is a mother of four, including Pheniox (age 10), Maddiox (age 9), Adalynn (age 6), and Lincoln (age 4). Sabrena works as a full-time stylist at Vonda's Hair Salon in Shinglehouse, Pa. "I've struggled with food addiction since I was about three years old," Sabrena said. "I was heavy when I was little and growing up in that time that wasn't normal—it was even more difficult because my siblings were skinny. People would make comments when we were out in public. I could hear them—it was horrible."
"People would tease my dad that he got one fat and three skinny children," Sabrena said. "My weight bothered my father a lot. He would always tell me I had enough to eat—he thought he was helping me, but it didn't work. Instead, I snuck food to eat as much as I wanted."
Sabrena found success in her weight loss journey when she discovered Weight Watchers. She stuck with it for eight months, losing a total of 84 pounds. "I had reached a plateau. For a couple of years, I traveled back and forth to Erie, Pa. (two hours one way) to meet with my doctor," Sabrena said. "I did not want surgery—I wanted to continue with natural weight loss. Still, I consistently lost weight and gained a couple pounds back."
"My doctor wanted me to consider a vertical sleeve gastrectomy (VSG)—a minimally invasive procedure to reduce the size of your stomach," Sabrena said. "I was hesitant. I was a single mom with four kids, and I was scared something might happen to me."
In July 2019, Sabrena went through with the VSG procedure. She has since lost a total of 184 pounds. This massive weight loss caused a significant amount of saggy skin. She managed her saggy skin for two years, and recently decided it was time to say farewell.
As a nod to her success and mark a new beginning, Sabrena partnered with a local photographer to photograph her skin. "I hated my skin so much—it was a daily struggle for me. I knew that when I got it cut off, I wouldn't remember," Sabrena said. "I messaged Colesha (from Colesha Seeley Photography), and she was totally on board. I wanted a way to embrace myself and remind me of how big I once was. I wanted something to reference to remind myself of how far I've come."
The pictures were boudoir style and received many accolades. "Colesha posted them on her Facebook page, and I received overwhelming support from my friends, family, and community," Sabrena said. "People stopped me at the grocery store to show their support, saying they had no idea—I always wore a bodysuit and knew how to hide it well—it felt good."
Her family is proud of her success. "My mom is ecstatic—we work together at the salon and she brags about me to people coming into the shop. Our older customers don't recognize me," Sabrena said. "My sister used to say if I lost a bunch of weight, we could be twins. I bought a wig similar to her hair color and put it on as a joke—we look a lot alike now! My whole family is proud of me. Every time my youngest brother comes home to visit, he is so surprised."
Even her dad, who was once her critic is proud of her success. "My dad is not one to compliment," Sabrena said. "When my mom said he complimented me about my weight loss, I couldn't believe it."
Despite her success she realizes her food addiction is a lifelong journey. "I still struggle at nighttime—that was always my thing. After my family fell asleep when I was a kid, I would make my way into the kitchen and eat. Even now, after everyone goes to bed, I'll lay there bored and have the urge to eat."
"If I give in to my cravings, I try to eat Keto food, so the effects of my urges aren't as bad," Sabrena stated. "I plot pictures of when I was big to remind myself that I never want to go back to that."
Her advice to others who may be struggling with a similar situation is simple. "We're all human, and we make mistakes," Sabrena said. "I take it day by day. I now have the confidence that whenever something comes my way, I will take care of it and figure it out. But if (or when) I mess up and I'm beating myself up, I yank out pictures to remind myself of where I started. As long as you can shift your mindset to get back on track, it's not that bad."
The greatest reward now that she's lost weight is so many, but her most favorite is clothes. "Now I am a shopaholic. I'm obsessed with makeup and trying on new clothes," Sabrena said.
She’s also no longer limited to where she gets to sit at a restaurant. "After I lost a lot of the weight, my mom and I went into a restaurant," Sabrena said. "They asked if we wanted a table or booth—we chose the booth."