What’s Eating You? Find Out
Overeaters Anonymous addresses compulsive eating, disorders
Eating. It is essential to life and provides the nutrients our body needs to function and thrive.
For some, diet and eating habits can become detrimental and sometimes even life-threatening. A support group, Overeaters Anonymous (OA), was created to help individuals develop and maintain a balanced and healthy outlook on nutrition and their bodies.
The group focuses on the compulsive nature of overeating and other eating disorders and believes compulsive eating is a physical, emotional and spiritual disease that can be slowed or stopped, but not cured. A desire to stop compulsive overeating is the only requirement to join OA.
“Julie Smith” joined OA at the age of 17. “I am a recovering anorexic/bulimic. I have almost 15 years of continuous recovery from compulsive eating due to the grace of God and the fellowship and Twelve Steps of OA,” said Smith. “It has been life-saving, and today I live a rewarding and fulfilling life as a result.”
The 12 Steps OA members utilize include admitting they are powerless over food and their lives have become unmanageable, taking a moral inventory of themselves, and making amends to people they have harmed when possible.
“We have nine tools that help us work the steps. The tools are things like going to meetings, literature, using the telephone – we get each other’s phone number,” said Smith. “If I’m hungry, the thing is to call someone before you take the first compulsive bite. It’s not what you are eating; it’s what’s eating you.”
OA’s Tools of Recovery include an eating plan to help members abstain from compulsive eating. This helps aid them in their physical recovery from the disease. Smith says many members plan their food out ahead of each day, and some may seek the expertise of a nutritionist in their food journey. “You develop your own plan to what, when, where and how you’re going to eat,” she said. “Whatever our trigger food is – for me, it’s anything with sugar – I do not eat that. I just understand that is not for me.”
Attendance at meetings is another tool. “We have three meetings a week. I, myself, go to all three. We also have telephone meetings. Those are (available) all day long, and they have different topics,” said Smith.
The telephone can also be used as a tool to reach out to other members or their sponsor. Sponsors are another tool to help members through their recovery. “I sponsor people now, and I have maintained ‘abstinence’ now for 15 years. That means, in layman’s terms, being on your diet with no purging or anything,” said Smith.
There are no set rules for when or who can become a sponsor, but Smith says a sponsor is typically further along the 12 Steps than those they sponsor, and it is best if the sponsor is abstinent. “[Being a sponsor] is not the easiest thing. Some people come in for a while, and they can’t get into it or they relapse. It’s a hard thing to break your denial and get committed,” she said. “It takes commitment and making up your mind. It’s recovery.”
Also included among the tools are having an action plan, service to other members of OA, and anonymity. According to the OA website, maintaining anonymity “allows each member the freedom and safety to develop personal honesty, accountability and responsibility about his or her actions and choices.”
“We believe [overeating is] a disease. I grew up in New York, and I was a ballet dancer. I used to dance at the School of American Ballet, which was George Balanchine and the Lincoln Center. [The dancers] were just so thin. My whole mindset was to be really slender,” said Smith.
Smith says she is not cured and still struggles periodically with wishing her body was different. She says her Christian faith has helped her in her recovery journey. “I’m fearfully and wonderfully made. I’m a child of God, and God loves me,” said Smith. “I am the happiest I’ve ever been in my life, and it’s all due to the program. This is not just about weight, it’s about being emotionally and mentally happy and healthy. It’s about restoring relationships, going out and enjoying life, and being OK with your body.”
Visit OA.org for more information about Overeaters Anonymous. Local meetings are held in three locations: Shreve Memorial Library Broadmoor Branch, Broadmoor Baptist Church and Broadmoor Presbyterian Church.