Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Angela in OA

PHOTO: I'm at Bosch Baha'i School with the Rancho Cordova Baha'i community, about six months before I entered food addiction recovery. I may have weighed more than 306 pounds, from the way I look in this picture.

I can’t recall the exact month or day that this happened, but I know the season and the year—it was late winter, 1987 that I entered the rooms of Overeater’s Anonymous and stayed for a while. (For those of who are familiar with the traditions of 12 step programs, please be assured that I am not breaking my anonymity by revealing this because I am no longer a member of OA.) I had attempted to attend the meeting a few years before, but I wasn’t ready.

The entire experience seemed completely surreal to me, from the circle in which people sitting to the way they said “My name is Janice (or Susan or Betty) and I’m a compulsive overeater.” Why did they do that? And why the rest of the group keep saying “Hi, Janice (or Susan or Betty)” in response? Then there was what felt to me to be an interminable silence following the short testimony given by Janice (or Susan or Betty), which was quite uncomfortable to me. The silence lasted until another person raised her hand, and I felt like I could breathe again. I was hoping they didn’t want me to say anything because I had no clue what was going on. Besides, nothing I heard seemed to relate to the reasons I came to OA in the first place, which were: a) I wanted to lose weight and, for the first time in my adult life, live in a normal sized body; b) stop my then-husband from sleeping with other women by losing weight, since he told me that was the reason why he did it.

An aside pertaining to the letter “b” in the previous paragraph: I know this is a hot topic with many women, and I promise it will be the subject of another blog when I get enough serenity in my recovery to stop referring to my ex-husband as a “piss-colored bastard” and many other “choice” monikers that I have retained for him over the past 20 years.

Every single word coming out of the mouths of those OA members were incomprehensible abstractions to me. When it was over, I decided to ask a few of them some burning questions: “What is abstinence? Does it mean you just stop eating completely?” (The thought of that kind of abstaining from my best friend and lover, was terrifying to me.) The ladies smiled graciously and told me that the OA program suggested that they eat three moderate meals a day with nothing in between, avoiding white flour and sugar. Since I was well over 350 pounds at the time this made no sense to me. Did that mean that I could eat as four huge slabs of thick crust pizza for lunch and a plate filled with macaroni and cheese for dinner, as long as those items were made whole grain wheat? Yes, they responded. OA does not endorse any food plan, and what you eat is between you and your Higher Power. I liked that concept because it seemed to me that I would get to continue eating the foods I loved and still lose weight. If that program could do that for me, I was all for it. Eating whatever I wanted, even though it was supposed to be in moderation, seemed heavenly to me.

But the skeptic in me wasn’t convinced, so I asked them, “Is that how you all lost weight?” Again, they smiled. “Yes, that is part of it, but the program also promise release from the pain.” Inwardly, I scowled. What pain? What are you chicks TALKING about? But that’s not what I said out loud. “So what you are telling me is that if I eat three moderate meals a day with nothing in between, I will lose weight.” “You will, if you keep coming back. It works.” Well, none of them were particularly large; in fact, one lady looked down right skinny to me. Even more importantly, she told me lost eighty pounds by doing the three-moderate-meals-a-day-with-nothing-in-between deal, and kept it off for five years. That impressed me somewhat. I had reservations about whether I could do the same because I had a lot more than eighty pounds to lose. But for the first time in my life, I had some hope about what to do about the most difficult issue in my life, which was my weight. An idea was planted in my mind about recovery from OBESITY (versus compulsive overeating or food addiction), which was that I could lose the weight and eat whatever I wanted as long as it was limited to three moderate meals a day.

After all, as OA explained to me, my food plan was between me and my Higher Power, who is certainly powerful enough to change my body chemistry so that I would experience miraculous weight loss on that food plan. I was going to slide into home base, free and easy. Since I didn’t hear any objections from the heavenly realm, I proceeded to define moderation as a large dinner platter or bowl heaping with whole grain pastas and/or breads and cereal products with sauces, protein and fats. And I could have dessert, as long as it was made with whole grain flours and natural sweeteners, like honey, raw sugar, agave nectar, brown rice syrup or molasses.

Wow, where was Overeater’s Anonymous when I was suffering through that contemptible Armed Forces Diet! I would have been saved from all that agony! OA was, indeed, a miraculous program. The prospect of being able to lose weight without going through the horrible deprivation, mood swings and stomach growls, not to mention being able to eat food that actually tasted good, was extremely appealing to me.

“I lost weight WITHOUT dieting!” I heard some of the ladies in OA enthusiastically proclaim that, year after year. I believed them; they were living proof. But there was something very faulty about the way I translated those words while applying them to working my program. So I ate my three large feasts a day with nothing in between, avoided all refined white flour and sugar, went to Overeater’s Anonymous meetings faithfully each week, and waited for the miracle to happen.

To my dismay, I gained more weight. My body became overwhelmed with the very serious health consequences of carrying over 200 pounds of excess weight. After while, I could no longer work because walking for more than two feet at a time caused daggers of pain to sear through my lower back and left hip. I became wheelchair bound and mostly dependent of my family to get me around town for shopping and medical appointments. I came to realize that the three meals-a-day-without-anything-in-between and eating unrefined sugar and flour was not working for me. But what else could I do? I had tried everything, Weight Watchers, hypnotherapy, protein diets, liquid fasts, Nutri-System….you name it; I’ve done it. I even had Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery in 2002. That did work for a little while. But I began re-gaining the weight after I was one year out of the surgery. At that point, I became severely clinically depressed and placed on very strong anti-depressants under the care of a psychiatrist.

Another aside: My unofficial pre-gastric bypass weight is 400 lbs, which I can't statistically verify. At the time, I refused to get on a scale, and most bathroom scales didn't register weights over 300 lbs anyway. However, I was massive enough to bust the zipper on a pair of size 54 waist jeans, which I paid big dollars for from Irene's Sport Shop on Arden Way, Sacramento. Irene's is a specialty clothing store for large women that carries up to a size 8x. I wore a size 5x, and I was still attending OA meetings during this time. When I entered Kaiser Permanente's gastric bypass program a year later, I had lost about 30 lbs through CEA-HOW, which was another 12 step for people with food issues. In order to qualify for gastric bypass surgery, I had to lose another 10% of my body weight, so I went a strict vegan diet and lost 30 pounds. I weighed 331 pounds on the morning of my surgery, which July 11, 2002. My lowest post-operative weight was 235. I entered my current recovery program in October, 2007 weighing 306 pounds. I now weigh 183 pounds.

It has been one hell of a journey, but I’m no longer on that road spiraling downward. I'm now working a 12 Step program that addresses my particular brand of total insanity around food. I thank Overeater’s Anonymous for introducing me to the 12 Steps, but I am too far gone to work a loosely structured program like that. It works for some who don’t have the completely bizarre mental twists that seem to justify destructive eating behaviors, like filling up a dinner platter to an overflowing capacity and considering that mountain of food a “moderate” meal. And I thought I would lose weight by eating that way! Only an insane person would hold onto such delusional thoughts.

There are a lot of people like me who live every day of their lives in the same kind of delusions. They are FOOD ADDICTS.

Hi, my name is Angela, and I am a low-bottom, gutter level food addict.


  1. Dear Angela, I came across your post and wanted to share some information with you in hopes that it might help you in your struggle with food and weight. I represent University of Michigan Psychotherapist/Obesity Expert Marilyn Ann Migliore who specializes in treating compulsive eating disorders. Marilyn offers a program that tackles the psychological issues that people turn to food. She takes the focus OFF of food and helps people examine and uncover the root causes that fuel and drive their disordered eating behaviors. You can find more info at her website: thehungerwithin.com. She has a self-help workbook and audio-book called "The Hunger Within: An Enlightening Journey to Recovery from Compulsive Eating." I am certain you'll recognize some of the characters in her book. I wish you well.

  2. Thank you for reading my blog, Shelle. Right now, I am in a rigorous, structured 12 Step program for food addiction that is working for me, one day at a time. For me, foods like high fat protein, flour, sugar and excess portions are drugs, and I use them the same way a drug addict uses meth, marijuana, crack or ecstasy. One bite and I am off and running on a binge. For a drug addict, the answer is STOP using the drugs first, then the underlying reasons for the addiction become apparent. The same solution applies to me.

    However, there might be readers out there who would greatly benefit from Ms. Migliore's program. I encourage anyone who has serious issues with food to investigate any manner of help that is available. While it is my belief that I am too far gone past the point where "self knowledge" would avail me some relief from food addiction, I do urge the readers to check out thehungerwithin.com.

    I hope you will read my blog in future, and please leave comments. So many people are suffering from obesity, and they need to know that help is available to them.

    On that note, I cannot reveal the name of the 12-step program that I currently work because of my commitment to the anonymity tradition, but if anyone emails me personally, I would be more than happy to share information about the program.


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