By: Jean Johnson for Reflux1
It’s hard to pick up a magazine or listen to a news broadcast these days without hearing about the nation’s overweight and obesity epidemic. Indeed, since the 1980s, Americans have been packing it on. As a result, the nation is staggering under the weight of its own fat.
|When is it time to get help?|
The OA gives these questions as a guideline
1. Do you eat when you're not hungry?
2. Do you go on eating binges for no apparent reason?
3. Do you have feelings of guilt and remorse after overeating?
4. Do you give too much time and thought to food?
5. Do you look forward with pleasure and anticipation to the time when you can eat alone?
6. Do you plan these secret binges ahead of time?
7. Do you eat sensibly before others and make up for it alone?
8. Is your weight affecting the way you live your life?
9. Have you tried to diet for a week (or longer), only to fall short of your goal?
10. Do you resent others telling you to "use a little willpower" to stop overeating?
11. Despite evidence to the contrary, have you continued to assert that you can diet "on your own" whenever you wish?
12. Do you crave to eat at a definite time, day or night, other than mealtime?
13. Do you eat to escape from worries or trouble?
14. Have you ever been treated for obesity or a food-related condition?
15. Does your eating behavior make you or others unhappy?
If you have answered yes to three or more of these questions, you may want to seek outside help for a compulsive eating problem
To find an OA meeting near you, click here
What to do about this problem is puzzling the best of us, and there are many theories out there on how we might address this tragic situation. So far, though, the answers are tenuous at best.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m sitting in a bucket of lard,” said Louise Carroll of Virginia who has to get the clothing for her manager’s job from the large size stores. “It’s hard for me to go out and enjoy my life when I’m so big. I love to dance, but who would ask me? I mean even my former husband couldn’t take it, and we’re divorced now. So it’s just more comfortable to say home and watch TV… I admit that there’s something that feels so safe about plopping down on the couch with carton of ice cream.”
Carroll says she has heard of Overeater’s Anonymous, but it’s not for her. “Hello, my name is Louise and I’m a compulsive overeater,” she said with a stagy tone in her voice. “I’m sure not going to walk into a room full of a bunch of strangers and do that kind of thing. I’m used to being a manager, remember?”
How Overeater’s Anonymous Works
You’ll find them clustered across the country in church meeting rooms, VFW Halls, and anywhere else Overeater Anonymous (OA) groups can find reasonable rents for their weekly meetings.
Meetings have established formats; first there’s a welcome to newcomers, then some readings from OA-approved literature and time for the volunteer leader for the night to tell her or his story of recovery. Finally the meetings are opened for sharing where all gathered are invited to speak briefly about what’s on their mind.
The idea is to provide a place where compulsive overeaters can find inspiration as well as talk about their ongoing struggles and how they are using the OA program to address those problems.
“The first time I went to an OA meeting, I felt like the lady from Virginia does now. But underneath those feelings about OA being corny, I discovered, was fear. I was just really scared,” said Vianne Bodley of Denver, who is speaking under an assumed name. “Here I was around 5 foot 5 and 180 pounds, but I saw myself as ‘not that fat’ – like someone who was somewhat heavy, but really didn’t have a big problem with food. By walking in the door of OA, though, I had to admit that there was a little more going on than I had ever come to terms with. And I soon discovered that it’s not nearly as much about one’s physical size as it is about what’s going on in your head.”
Bodley says that when she started hearing people talk about their fixations on food and all the horrible things they’d done in their lives because of that compulsion, she listened up and quit worrying about what she still thinks are the sillier aspects of OA.
“Here I’d carried my shame all alone all my life. It was so debilitating. Like the one time I was with an old friend and some of his new friends. We made dinner and ate, and I kept asking him if he didn’t want to make some chocolate chip cookies for dessert. He kept ignoring me, but finally he said in sort of an embarrassed undertone, ‘Vianne, I think everyone’s too full.’
“Talk about humiliating. I just wanted to jump into a pot of chocolate syrup and drown my sorrows, let me tell you,” said Bodley. “But the night I found OA was a different kettle of fish. That night, in some crummy church basement perched on those miserable folding chairs in a circle with 20 others, I knew that for better or worse, I’d found my home – a place where I could relate to people. People that like me just can’t say ‘no’ no matter how many healthful diets people try to get them on.”
Now Bodley attends one to three meetings a week where she both listens to others and shares her own story.
The 12 Steps of Overeater’s Anonymous
As in Alcoholics Anonymous, new members find another member who has recovered sufficiently enough to help them work through the 12 steps. The idea is that in order to resolve issues surrounding the compulsive behavior, an individual needs to first acknowledge that they have a problem and then grasp that help is out there somewhere in the cosmos if they just ask for it.
Much laborious work is done by new OA members. In an effort to appraise their situation and gain insight into why they are powerless over their food compulsion, they list all the shameful things they’ve done in their lives, all the resentments they have for others, and also their fears and insecurities. They also make lists of people they have harmed and set about straightening out that score so they will no longer have to lug their secret burden of guilt around.
“It’s not a judgment thing,” said Bodley. “Even though most all of us have done lots of really awful things. When you’re driven by a compulsion, you tend to step on more than a few toes to get your drug of choice, which for OA-ers is food. But the idea is to look analytically at the past in order to really see how compulsive overeating ruled our lives and how undermining it is. Once we do that, there’s not much turning back, since once and for all we realize that an out-of-whack behavior like that is more insidious and ruinous than we ever wanted to admit.”
Does Overeater’s Anonymous Work?
The jury is all over the map on success rates in OA, and since the program is an anonymous fellowship, there are no records that might lend insight into degrees of efficacy.
According to Bodley, though, “The program really does seem to help many people. It’s very slow, though. Also to work it, you have to open an emotional can of worms. But they say ‘there is no failure in OA, only slow successes.’”
Bodley adds that OA is for all individuals who have problem eating behaviors, whether it is compulsive eating, bulimia or anorexia. “It seems like the bulimics especially find recovery since it’s an on or off thing just like taking a drink of alcohol is. For the overeaters it’s a different story. Like one OA-er I know said, with food ‘you have to let the tiger out the cage three times a day.’”
Bodley doesn’t want the difficulty of dealing with emotional eating to overshadow what OA offers to people, however. She says in her 20 years in OA, she has seen her own success, witnessed the considerable physical recovery of a woman who lost 200 pounds and seen others who have kept off the 60 and 30 pounds they lost for years.
Dealing with the Emotional Aspect of Compulsive Eating
Another way OA helps its members to start learning how to stave off food cravings is with the telephone. Each meeting has a phone list and members are encouraged to call each other when they feel weak.
“It’s like having a therapist available 24-7,” said Bodley. “Actually it’s better than a therapist, since the person on the other end of the line understands exactly what you are talking about because they’ve been there!”