STEP ONE, PART 1 - "WE HAVE A PROBLEM"
Hi. I'm Penny, a gratefully recovering compulsive eater and food
(By the way, unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from The 12 Steps
and 12 Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous.)
I knew I was powerless over food the day I walked into my first OA
meeting. At least, I sort of accepted the idea. I knew I had done
abnormal things with food; I knew I couldn't stop eating; I knew I
could no longer stay on a diet. I knew that food and eating, which
had at first been a means of socialization and liberation, had taken
over my mind and body.
So if this was all true, how come it took me 5 years to finally
surrender and get abstinent? Well, I was powerless over food - but I
still wanted to eat things that I had to admit created a craving that
I could not resist. I still gave myself permission to eat what I
wanted because "I could handle" these foods. I had accepted Step 1
mentally and spiritually, but definitely *not* physically. That would
not come for 5 years (to be followed by a period of abstinence, a
relapse and now a second period abstinence - more about that later).
Bottom line was that I wanted to eat, but I didn't want the results
of eating. I heard people talk about not eating this or that food,
but I was going to be different - not like those "controllers."
How *do* we admit our powerlessness? How do we tangibly and
concretely acknowledge the reality that "we are not like normal
people when it comes to eating. We can't quit . We crave more. Our
bodies and minds seem to send us signals . (We have) abnormal
tendencies?" (OA 12 & 12, p. 2)
One place to start is with knowledge that leads to awareness, and it
is suggested that we "take a good look at our compulsive eating,
obesity, and the self-destructive things we have done to avoid
obesity - the dieting, starving, over-exercising, or purging." (p. 3)
My history of compulsive eating is probably similar to most
compulsive eaters. I started bingeing, stealing money to buy food,
and sneaking around to get food in 6th grade. I felt inadequate and
socially awkward, and I decided that food would/could be my
equalizer. Food and eating could make me popular. I got this idea
from watching classmates eat lunch at a local luncheonette or go out
to local bakeries during lunch. That made them look mature, and I was
sure that if they saw me at those places, they'd want me to be a
friend, too, and that they would be impressed with my maturity. So I
ate my in-school or at-home lunch, steal money from my parents, and
sneak out to the local hangouts. Even though my ploy didn't work -
they never did like me - I stuck to this plan throughout high school.
Food was my comfort and my friend, and I jumped into eating with a
vengeance. I think I was a binge eater from the get-go. I got fat, I
was miserable, and I kept eating. I ate out of garbage cans and
freezers; I ate out of serving bowls and off other peoples' plates. I
stole food from grocery stores and spent hours eating entire boxes,
bags and jars of food. If someone mentioned my weight, it was usually
that I was so pretty, if only. Well, I'd show `em - and I ate to
cover up the pain.
I'll only talk about my first diet here. I was a senior in high
school (you know, the fat kid that no one ever wanted to date), and
my doctor had told me that if I didn't lose weight I'd have a heart
attack and die. I don't know how I found this diet, but I did. It was
a binger's heaven because I could eat all the protein I wanted and
still lose weight. Dozens of eggs, pounds of meat. It was wonderful.
I commented to my mother (may she rest in peace - she died of this
disease) that I didn't know what I was going to do once I lost all
the weight because I didn't really know how to eat any less. Her
response was that I would figure it out. I didn't figure it out, and
in fact went in the other direction, turning to anorexia because I
was afraid of gaining weight again, and I believed that I had to
severely restrict my food intake to control my weight. Power for me
was the ability to eat only 400 calories a day. I was thin and I
could wear fashionable clothing without looking stupid. And I was OK
as long as I maintained strict control over what I ate.
Needless to say, "the day always came when the excess food looked so
inviting to us we couldn't resist, and our firm resolutions were
forgotten. We always started overeating again gradually (or
rapidly); the eating worsened until at last we out of control." (p.
3) Part of my problem was that I truly believed that once I got thin,
I'd never be fat again. I thought that being thin meant that I had
developed an immunity to weight gain, and I could eat whatever I
wanted and not get fat. Denial, illusion, delusion. Whatever. Diet,
binge, fat, skinny. The cycle continued for the next 20 years.
Emotionally, when I was fat I was miserable; when I was thin, I felt
powerful (but still miserable. What on earth was this about?). My
life was a wreck no matter what, but it would be years before I would
put the two phenomena together.
"Once we honestly examine our histories, we can deny it no longer: our
eating and our attitudes toward food are not normal; we have this
disease." (p. 3)
Questions for journaling and sharing:
1. Take a good look at your compulsive eating, obesity, and self-
destructive things you have done to avoid obesity. Please share your
thoughts with the group if you feel comfortable doing so.
2. I've heard a term for my belief that thin was an antidote to ever
being fat again. The term is "magical thinking." Have you ever
Yours in recovery,
Penny, Step Leader
WTS 2002 Study, 2nd Quarter