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When I ran into Bill at the gym, I was so happy to see him. I was also conflicted.
It had probably been about a year since I had been to an Overeaters Anonymous (OA) meeting. I had really identified with Bill when I heard him share. He talked about going to bed with Chinese food and eating until all the feelings disappeared. I did that too! Samesies!
I know Bill noticed my weight gain. He was one of the first people to compliment me when I lost weight. He told me how great I looked after a meeting.
“I just have to say you look amazing. You were always beautiful, but since you lost weight I am just struck by how gorgeous you are.”
I went to my first Overeaters Anonymous meeting in 2010. I have always been fat. I hated my body and would fantasize about chopping off the rolls of fat from my stomach. I dieted, binged and purged for most of my life. My partner of eight years had no idea I was bulimic. It was truly my only secret.
After a particularly bad period of binging/purging and calorie counting insanity, I realized that I needed help. I knew if I didn’t address my issues with food, the children I wanted to have would probably inherit my messed up food behavior. So I looked up OA meetings because I knew they are free. As a life-long atheist, I was unsure about the “higher power” thing but I was desperate. I would have done anything.
My first meeting was a life-changing experience. I can honestly say that OA significantly improved my quality of life. I was so grateful to find people who did the same things I did with food.
I started going to meetings everyday. I introduced myself as a “compulsive overeater.” I did everything I was told. I got a Sponsor. I worked the steps. I developed a concept of a higher power I was comfortable with. I journaled almost every day. I took service positions and started sponsoring people. Best of all, I finally told my partner and my family about my eating disorder. I wasn’t alone anymore.
I also lost a lot of weight. About 50 pounds in all.
For the first time in my life, I fit into “normal” sizes. I did this by deciding I was “addicted” to sugar and white flour and that I also needed to weigh or measure the contents every meal. I told myself I couldn’t be trusted to eat like a normal person. This was my “abstinence.”
Just like an alcoholic in AA doesn’t drink, compulsive overeaters define certain foods or eating behaviors they need to abstain from in order to remain “sober."
Here is the point when I tell you that this is my own experience and no ones else’s. What happened to me is that instead of bringing me freedom, my abstinence became another manifestation of my eating disorder. I lived in fear of food. I ignored my body telling me it was hungry because I thought it was a trick. Because I was on a weight-loss high, I also ignored my worsening mental state.
Then one day, I surrendered to the desire to eat. I ate a piece of off-limits sourdough bread. Then another and then another. I called my Sponsor full of food and shame. I felt out of control. She told me everything was going to be OK. That I needed to go to a meeting and this didn’t have to become a relapse.
But I did relapse. I ate everything I decided I couldn’t eat before. I even binged on the piece of the cake I had abstained from on my wedding day. The piece we were saving for our first anniversary.
Thankfully, I stuck to the commitment to remain honest with my partner about what I was eating and if I decided to purge. When I tried to go back to my original plan of eating, I became filled with rage. I felt split. One part of me was trying to control, to prevent the weight gain. The other part was rebelling. She was saying, “Fuck that noise! Eat some candy!”
When I initially lost weight, suddenly everyone was telling me how beautiful I looked and how proud they were of me. It always made me so uncomfortable. When I gained weight, people stopped talking about my body. That silence is also uncomfortable. I felt like a failure. At times depression took over, and I felt suicidal.
I was always very honest with my OA friends about my relapse. People told me they loved me. They shared about their own struggles with food. I was grateful for the support, but I was also feeling conflicted about the program.
I started to question my addiction to certain foods. I was uncomfortable with certain ideas that were reinforced by many OA members in meetings. The idea that people who weren’t abstinent couldn’t hold certain service positions in meetings. The idea that binging made me less capable. Speakers saying they were grateful to be in a “normal-sized” body. People announcing the number of pounds they had “released.” Even the idea that I had a disease in the first place started to seem ridiculous.
Sure I was binging, but was it because I had an addiction I was powerless over? Or was I binging because I told myself I couldn’t eat certain foods? If I allowed myself to eat everything and practiced mindfulness while eating would I still binge?
I always knew diets didn’t work, but I told myself that my abstinence was different. And then one day I saw that for me it wasn’t. It was another way for me to try to become the thin person I always knew I was supposed to be. I started learning about intuitive eating. I embraced Health At Every Size and tried to focus on health instead of weight loss. And slowly I stopped going to meetings. And then one day I really couldn’t go back.
OA helped me begin to love myself and it helped me lay a solid foundation to recover from my eating disorder. I learned so many things in the rooms. I was able to stop making myself throw up and let people in so they could help me get better.
It was in OA that I learned about self-acceptance and to forgive myself when I have the occasional binge. I learned that when I was depressed or obsessing about food or my weight to look outside myself and help other people because it makes things better. It was someone in a meeting who suggested affirmations to help heal my body image issues. It was in OA where I learned to believe that no matter what happens, I am going to be OK.
When I saw Bill at the gym, he was so warm and I realized how much I missed the intimacy and love I felt in the rooms. He asked me if I was still going to meetings. I said, “Not right now.”
OA no longer feels like a safe place for me. It’s hard for me to articulate why. I think it’s because even though the purpose of the program is to help people heal from compulsive eating, at the end of the day many people are going to OA to lose weight.
Today, I have no tolerance for any weight loss messages. I fight everyday to love this body I’m in. When I was thin, there was a rebellious fat girl trying to get out. And she has truly taken over.
She says, “Fuck that noise! Eat some candy, beautiful!”