Food fight

OA helps fight compulsive eating

Nick Blank
Posted 3/15/17

JACKSONVILLE – Overweight since childhood, Claire had always known she had a problem with food.

Claire – whose name has been changed to protect her anonymity – tried Weight Watchers and …

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Food fight

OA helps fight compulsive eating


JACKSONVILLE – Overweight since childhood, Claire had always known she had a problem with food.

Claire – whose name has been changed to protect her anonymity – tried Weight Watchers and several diets. She had two lap band surgeries, and experienced periods of rapid weight loss and weight gain. Nothing worked.

It wasn’t until she found a local chapter of Overeaters Anonymous until she learned she had a problem and that she wasn’t alone.

“My name is Claire and I’m a compulsive overeater.”

“Hey Claire,” said the other 16 members sitting in an intimate room tucked away at the western campus of Mandarin Presbyterian Church. The meeting functions as a sanctuary for compulsive overeaters, who converge at the church every Saturday morning.

The structure of OA mirrors Alcoholics Anonymous – attendees read from the “Big Book,” AA’s seminal text. Members get a few minutes to share their experience coping with the disease.

Claire told of a particular instance where she would cry and eat a whole bag of chips on her couch. To cover her tracks, she would buy another bag and eat it down to where the first bag was to keep from bringing attention to herself.

“I couldn’t do this anymore, I was like ‘This sucks, this is nuts,’” Claire said. “I didn’t know I had a life problem and I was eating to overcome that.”

She started going to OA meetings and kept coming back thanks to the support of the group.

“I’m saving my life and so are all of you,” Claire said.

On March 17, Overeaters Anonymous will host the Soar 8 Region Assembly and Business Convention at the Doubletree Riverfront Hotel in Jacksonville. The three-day convention covers compulsive overeating, food addiction, anorexia or binge-eating. “The Blessings of Recovery” is the convention’s theme. The event also “serve as a wake-up call” to Jacksonville about food addiction and compulsive overeating and addressing the OA’s version of the 12 Step program.

Next to speak was Maryanne who recalled when she learned she was an overeater. She was eating breakfast and talking to her daughter on the phone and her daughter asked, “Which breakfast?”

Maryanne noticed she ate cereal while she made eggs. She always thought about food. Maryanne couldn’t make a sandwich and take it to the table without taking a bite.

Maryanne would wake up and those feelings would start, but she said she’s getting better.

“I’ve been working on keeping those feelings and those ravenous cravings down. It’s no longer, ‘how fast can I get this in my mouth,’” Maryanne said.

Now Maryanne goes to OA to discover a way of looking at herself without feeling bad about herself.

“I’m trying to separate the humanity from the character defects and find a way to deal with life and to deal with me.”

Overeaters Anonymous was founded in 1960 and held its first meeting in Los Angeles. Nearly six decades later, OA is a global organization with 7,000 meeting groups in approximately 80 countries helping people deal with overeating.

Lisa and Donna share positive instances, small triumphs against overeating. Lisa began overeating to compensate for the death her father and became suicidal. She went to counseling, a physician and a pastor, but nothing helped until she took part in OA. Lisa said OA has been life-changing. Lisa announced that her cholesterol had dropped from 230 to 119 to the applause of the members.

When a co-worker at Donna’s office left four boxes of cookies on a table, she debated asking for some.

“Old Donna would’ve said something,” Donna said.

She checked every hour or so and the cookies were still there. Donna called her OA sponsor and talked for an hour. Donna mustered the will to leave the cookies on the table.

For some OA members, the problem isn’t food. Some members in OA confront family troubles, where they ate to comfort recent stress or past trauma.

Amy never mentioned food. She brought up the things causing her distress: a recent job change and her boyfriend’s ex-wife resurfacing.

“Under all my resentments is fear bitter and finding the faults in others, people-pleasing and [being] addicted to people,” Amy said.

Rosemary grew up around unhappy people and constantly tried to please them. She said she never knew what her purpose or mission in life was.

“I became a vessel for other people, Rosemary said. “It was tremendously uncomfortable, so I ate.”

With kids and a marriage, she reached a place of desperation where she didn’t want to overeat anymore.

“You understand and accept in spite of all of these awful stories [I have] that I’m OK if I just be who I am.”

Maria said she had to quit playing God, referring to step 3 of the program: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Thy will, not mine, be done.”

For Maria, she needed to change everything. Her overeating stemmed from a desire to be perfect.

“There was this thought of how I should be – this perfection – this expectation in my head. There was a constant conflict and underlying agitation. The food soothed me.”

Maria had to identify her trigger foods, and say “My name is not on them.”

“You have to let it go. I couldn’t get it because I couldn’t let it go. I can feel the sadness and the grief,” Marie looks up at the rest OA who are listening attentively to her story. “But I have you, so I don’t have to be alone.”


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