06/30/2010 09:39 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

M&M's & Me

If I had a dollar for every package of M&M's I ate during my lifetime, I would not be sitting here blogging. I would be blogging from my yacht moored off the Bahamas. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating, but only a little. I'll admit it took me a while to get used to the blue ones, but I learned to accept them. Because the truth is, I love M&M's.

My relationship for M&M's began during my early childhood. Often, my mother would surprise my sister and me by giving us each a pack. She knew our preferences -- peanut for my sister, plain for me. It was a special treat. I ate them one at a time. A pack would last all day. Unbeknownst to my loving mother, I developed an early attachment relationship with M&M's that would have a fundamental affect on the rest of my life.

As my brain developed and I started to learn the difference between right and wrong, M&M's became a reward I would receive for being a good girl. The behavioral conditioning was fine with me. I no longer had to wait to for a treat. M&M's were my behavioral frequent flyer miles. I could earn them. However, the control I gained in securing M&M's provoked a loss of control with respect to eating them. I could down a pack in less than an hour.

Young and unaware of the consequences of my actions, I decided to take a risk. I began trading M&M's with my sister and acquired a taste for the peanut kind. How foolish of me for not embracing them years ago. Nevertheless, I made up for the loss when I reached adolescence and acquired some financial independence. I was at a developmental stage when I could buy all the M&M's I wanted - whenever I wanted. I could treat and reward myself to my heart's content. I was in M&M bliss.

By early adulthood, I started buying in bulk. I would get two packs at a time. One was to indulge what had become my passion. The other one was to share. The little candies never melted in my hands. They never had a chance. My self-discipline slipped through my fingers. I never paused to consider my actions. I just gobbled with abandon. These were my M&M halcyon days.

Fast forward to my years working on Capitol Hill when M&M's became my favorite comfort food. I had no problem justifying them as "food" and attesting to their nutritional value. Did you know a pack of M&M's has more fiber than a medium apple? Did you know a cup of M&M's provides 23% of the recommended daily amount of calcium? What a great way for a busy gal to add fiber to her diet and fight osteoporosis.

My penchant for M&M's was no secret. I had a dispenser on my desk. People gave them to me as gifts or as peace offerings. Interns quickly learned they could gain my favor if they helped replenish my supply. When we changed offices, the movers found enough M&M's behind my desk to feed a kindergarten class. I was not embarrassed. I was amazed I had let so many get away. What a waste.

M&M's had become my daily pick-me-ups, and my main source of sustenance during late night sessions. (That's a lot of M&M's.) I ate them to feel good. If I was feeling good, I ate them to feel even better. They were my lifesavers (no pun intended) during stressful times. They were my antidote for any unfavorable situation that occurred or might occur. I chose not to acknowledge it, but they were no longer a treat, comfort or passion. They had become my drug of choice.

Then, one late night it happened. A prolonged Senate session wiped out my supply. I ran to the candy machine in the basement of Russell Building to get an emergency pack. As I watched the machine go into motion, I immediately sensed trouble. Sure enough, the pack never cleared that stupid metal spiral thing. All of my attempts to tilt, tip, and bang them free were futile. They just hung there.

A passing Capitol Police officer offered assistance but to no avail. Jokingly (okay, half jokingly), I suggested he use his gun. We could shoot them out! I learned you really should not joke with the Capitol Police that way. I also learned that my years of using M&M's as an emotional crutch had caught up with me. It was time for an intervention.

In order to break my M&M dependency I had to engage in a reality check. I had to acknowledge that my relationship with M&M's was nothing more than a bad habit. I had been engaging in candy-coated self-destruction. Eating too much of anything is never a good idea. Ingesting piles of fat-laden calories is a really stupid idea, especially when there are so many healthy alternatives available.

I had to admit that my emotional eating never made any situation better. If anything, my own behavior actually made unhealthy situations even worse. It was time to act like an adult and to take responsibility for my actions. It was up to me to push back hard against my own habitual thinking and behavior in order to stop the madness.

It wasn't easy and there were a few slip ups along the way but, eventually, my determination paid off. My self-discipline returned. The abuse stopped and I renegotiated my relationship with M&M's. I still think they are the best candy in the whole, wide world. However, I love them (and me) enough to let them go. Now, only on rare occasions will I let them melt in my mouth. But I will always hold a special place for them in my heart.

Tricia Ferrone
Capital LifeWorks
Washington, DC