Aug. 11, 2014 at 12:23 PM ET
Two young adults who struggled with emotional eating had finally had enough: After climbing to over 300 pounds each, the two decided to take control of their lives by learning to treat food in a new way. They stopped making poor food choices, added exercise and through some extra support from family and friends, managed to lose a combined 300 pounds — and they've never looked or felt better.
Caitlin Flora's struggle with emotional eating began from a young age. After challenges with learning disabilities and bullying led her parents to home-school her beginning at 8 years old, she began to find a new best friend in food.
"I remember sneaking out quietly with cupcakes stuffed down the pockets of my jeans and sneaking up into my bedroom with treats," the 33-year-old from Venice, Florida told TODAY, adding that she would even steal food while attending sleepovers at friends' houses, and later, skip school to go eat instead.
"I was getting bigger and bigger so fast but I loved food too much to stop what I was doing," she said.
By fourth grade, Flora had hit 160 pounds. And as she continued to struggle with her growing size into adulthood, she continually became the target of taunting and rude comments by peers and strangers.
"In grade school I had pictures of pigs taped to my locker," Flora said. "People treated me horribly. I never once had a door held open for me when I was big."
Flora realized her emotional eating was taking a major toll on her physical and mental health, and decided to make a change. "I cried my eyes out because I was humiliated at what I had become," she said. "I was tired of knee pain and no energy. I wanted to be healthy, and that was my motivation."
She tossed out the unhealthy foods in her refrigerator and filled it with healthy frozen dinners and SlimFast, and began walking every day.
Most importantly, she began keeping an "emotions journal" to deal with the triggers that drove her to binge eat. Her journaling eventually led to blogging, where she found an online fan base and community in readers who could relate to her struggles.
After two months, her pants started to fit more loosely. After 15 months, she had dropped a whopping 100 pounds.
Now, Flora has a much healthier regard for food, in addition to a new body. "Food is the way I fuel my body," she said. She switched out her former eating habits, like eating a whole pizza for lunch or consuming a tub of frosting as a snack in favor of healthier options, like salad with tuna and apples with almond butter.
She's since taken up personal training to help others change their lives the way she did, and even self-published a book of her online weight loss "confessionals." At a healthy 145 pounds, she's never been more content with her life.
"I am a completely different person," she said. "I feel like I won the lottery."
As a college athlete, Andrew Belsky didn't have to think too much about what he ate.
"For me, food was something that brought comfort as well as a solution to boredom," the 33-year-old from St. Louis, Missouri, told TODAY. "For a long time I'd never had to worry about it, because I was moving so much I burned everything off."
But when he stopped working out and kept up his heavy eating habits, he started to pack on the weight fast. Coupled with his job as a college golf coach, a role that often meant eating out a lot while on the road, Belsky quickly climbed to 355 pounds.
"I never thought about the consequences of what I was putting into my body," Belsky said. "It escalated over time that instead of having one regular-sized candy bar while I was on a road trip with my team, I'd have two king-sized bars."
Though he didn't really notice his weight gain at first, his golfing ability eventually began to suffer because of the extra pounds, and he developed a snoring problem that proved a problem on his golf road trips.
Finally, it became too much to ignore. "One of the most embarrassing moments for me was when I couldn't ride a roller coaster because the bar wouldn't shut," Belsky said.
After he saw the number on the scale at his chiropractor's office, he knew he needed to make a change. He did some research on starting a diet and came across Bistro MD, an online meal delivery service for weight loss. He began ordering food from the site, and quickly noticed the change.
"I was rarely, if ever, hungry," he said. "Plus the pounds slowly began to melt off."
After losing 10 pounds, he began exercising by walking around his local mall every day. As he got more comfortable working out, he eventually upped his regimen by exercising at the gym.
Though it was challenging eating well while on the road, he made healthy choices by reading food labels and checking out restaurant menus ahead of time. But his biggest motivation was definitely his golf team.
"If I even thought about cheating they gave me hell!" Belsky said.
After seven months, Belsky managed to drop 95 pounds. Now, he's down 10 more pounds at his current weight of 250.
Though he's lost a lot of weight, he's also managed to gain a healthier regard for food as well.
"I used to live to eat, now I eat to live," Belsky said, adding that the best part of his weight loss is the number of physical activities he's now able to do. "I've walked rounds with my players, climbed cliffs and towers in Europe and played on the department softball team, just to name a few."
Even when the journey is difficult and progress has come slowly, he's kept a positive attitude.
"None of us with weight issues got there overnight, and we're not going to get back to a healthy weight overnight either."