My name is Linda and I am a compulsive overeater. I’ve been saying these words at Overeater’s Anonymous meetings for nearly three years now, but they have new meaning to me in recent days as I have seen my powerlessness in facing and dealing with the addiction to food.
I have seen that even as a child, food brought comfort and eased the pain of growing up in a tremendously dysfunctional environment. As a little girl I would sneak to the local convenience store to buy candy bars, eating them in seclusion at a favorite hideout near my house, always disposing of the evidence before returning home.
I’d been fat for as long as I could remember. In middle school and high school I went on one crash diet after another, wanting desperately to be a cheerleader and be popular, seeing my weight as the key to acceptance. I was never able to keep the weight off, each time gaining a little more than the last.
On those rare occasions where I was able to get slender, I had difficulty appropriately handling attention from boys. I became wrongly involved by the time I was fifteen, hating that I had given in and swearing I’d never get in over my head again. I associated slender with being unable to trust myself with boys. If I was slender, I was dangerous and doomed to act out. As my discomfort with the promiscuous behavior increased, so did my weight.
By nineteen I was married to a sex addict, whose first affair took place less than one year from when we wed. By the time I was twenty, I had one child, was pregnant with the second, and was separated from my husband who was living with another woman. For ten years I stayed on a roller coaster of binging and starving, overeating to protect myself in layers of fat from the man who left me feeling worthless, or starving myself in a desperate attempt to compete with the other women in his life.
Countless affairs later, I finally saw my own role in the craziness of that marriage and painfully closed that chapter of my life, starting a new chapter as a single mother of two young children. I remember going to a counselor and saying to her "I don’t have a clue as to how I’ve gotten to this place in my life – but I know I don’t ever want to go back." She began working with me on codependency issues and I began to understand the madness.
Shortly thereafter I met the man I would later marry. Just before our marriage, his son came to live with him and so suddenly there were five of us! Our local fellowship was beginning to get interested in 12 step programs and decided to work through a workbook dealing with codependency issues and addictions. It was while going through the workbook I realized I had real issues where food was concerned. By this time I was 235 pounds, had gained 50 pounds in the past two years and had a difficult time seeing that I might have a problem with food!
It was suggested that several of us who had food issues would look into the local chapter of Overeater’s Anonymous. Before I went to my first meeting, I developed medical problems that prompted my doctor to refer me to an endocrinologist. I was having difficulty with regulating my blood sugar. My doctor told me then that the binge–starve patterns of the past many years had led to me developing border-line diabetes. He told me if I didn’t take care of it I would no doubt develop full blown diabetes within a few years.
He mapped out a regimen for me which included diet, working with a dietician, regular blood sugar tests, and OA. He was blunt about telling me I was killing myself slowly with food. I argued that I had big bones and could never weigh that weight. His response was, "Under all that fat, my dear, are some very small bones!" Further, I had wanted to have another child, and his response to that was that it would not only be dangerous for a baby under these circumstances, but for me as well. He said if I lost to my goal weight and kept my blood sugar level for at least a year, we could consider having a baby. That visit pretty much blew any lingering shreds of denial!
I walked through the doors of OA shattered. I was at step one–Admitted we were powerless over food and that our lives had become unmanageable. I really began to get a glimpse of how out of control I was with food. I also saw that relying on food to medicate feelings was sin. I had believed the lie that God’s sufficiency in me was not enough–I needed more, and food provided the necessary comfort. Food addiction is much like alcoholism. Research has shown that there is a physiological reaction that compulsive overeaters experience, much like the reaction in an alcoholic to alcohol. Compulsive overeating is a disease. Its victims are not simply suffering from lack of willpower or self control. No amount of desire, effort or willpower can cure its sufferers. I had to believe God for relief and recovery from this gripping disease. Christ-I could live each day without turning to volumes of food to cope or numb the pain. Christ-I was adequate to live each day straight and sober.
Over the next year I was able to lose 85 pounds. This was accomplished through working with a sponsor, adopting an acceptable food plan, weekly weigh-ins and OA meetings, and working the twelve steps. I was realizing the truth about my personhood–with my human spirit in union with His Holy Spirit I was fully complete and adequate to live life. For the first time in twenty years I could shop in regular stores for clothes. I didn’t hate how I looked. I could wear shorts and a bathing suit. I even taught a Weight Watchers class for a time. God had done for me what I could not do for myself–I was at a healthy weight for my frame for the first time in my life. It was wonderful sharing the miracle with others in my support group who were still suffering, always those who had never quite grasped that they were totally powerless to do any differently so long as they saw themselves independent, believing that on their own they could experience freedom from this addiction. Perhaps the greatest joy, however, was being told I was healthy and stable enough to consider having another baby. I knew it would mean gaining weight again, but the desire to have another child out-weighed that problem, so we proceeded with our plan. Besides, I could lose it again, right?
Well, during the pregnancy several complications arose, not the least of which was continual blood sugar instability. I was ordered to increase my food intake, eat small meals every 3-4 hours, even eat before I got out of bed in the morning so I wouldn’t pass out. During the months to follow I gained a total of 50 pounds. I really thought I could keep the weight gain to a minimum and lose the extra pounds quickly. I was angry that wasn’t the way it turned out.
I gave birth to a healthy baby girl in September of 1993. By the day I came home from the hospital I had lost only 11 pounds. During the next eight weeks, while I was nursing and before I returned to work, I lost another 18 pounds. This may seem perfectly normal to most people, but I wanted instant results! I was already frustrated enough with having gained 50 pounds during the pregnancy and I wanted to be back to my goal weight immediately! While I was pregnant I’d had to avoid almost all sugar, so I enjoyed eating an occasional sweet. I was overwhelmed with juggling a new baby with three teenagers and going back to a career. I resisted getting back into a structured food program and even attending OA meetings because I felt every minute of my days were spoken for already. I rationalized I knew what to do because I had gone through it all before. I could lose the weight without weigh-ins and meetings. I was back to "trying" again.
I had seen that I was powerless, and that God was the only power to stop me from compulsively eating whatever I please. Yet I was beginning to lose sight of Who it was Who accomplished this good work in me–certainly not me!
Several times over the next many months I’d find myself committing to some kind of structured food plan, whether it be counting fat grams or counting exchanges, only to fail again. I also got serious about an exercise program at countless points in time, swearing each time "This time I’ll stick with it" or "This time I’ll do bet-ter." I’d be so frustrated I wasn’t losing weight, but I really wasn’t willing to go to any length to do it either. Like the frustration Paul experienced in Romans 7, I just could not seem to be able to do what I really wanted to do and ended up doing the very things I’d sworn I wouldn’t.
At OA meetings it became more and more difficult to relate to others. I would find myself thinking "I’m not that bad" or "That’s not how it was for me." I’d hear of people being afraid of food and talk of the addiction they were experiencing and the lengths they’d gone with it. I would listen but not understand. It just was not that way with me; I could not relate. I would listen but not understand. "It just isn’t that way with me" or "I can’t relate" were Satan’s lies, and I believed them rather than to confess the truth about my own struggle, accept my powerlessness and believe God for recovery and health. I had no clearly defined abstinence or program, wasn’t actively interacting with a sponsor, even stopped going to OA meetings when I returned to college night classes last fall. It was then that things really got crazy. I had lost the picture of the seriousness of my disease. I felt I had some place of power in dealing with the addiction. I really wasn’t willing to go to any length and didn’t think I needed to. I thought of how much I had given up with food in years past and began to resent the thought of having to do it all over again for the short term, much less for the rest of my life.
I became like an alcoholic who says "It’s not that bad, I can stop if I want to; I drink too much but I don’t have a real problem with it." This craziness led to several months of what I call grazing–eating bits and pieces here and there constantly. I would tell myself if I can stop at a bite, it’s not really a binge. Out of control would be eating a gallon of ice cream in a sitting, not grabbing a spoonful when no one was looking.
People in my fellowship began expressing concern for me because I was not losing weight. I began getting concerned because it was getting more and more out of control with every day, but I didn’t like what I knew to be the solution – surrender to a program and ultimately to God. I fought the idea that I was an addict tooth and nail, but I was growing miserable too.
Finally, around the holidays I rejoined my OA group and asked for help in defining a program. I committed to working with a sponsor locally and one long distance. They both recommended the traditional OA food plan (the 3-0-1 plan), which calls for three meals a day, nothing in between, and one day at a time. I agreed to it and really wanted to make a fresh start. What I didn’t want to do was admit how bad it had gotten. I thought I could just begin fresh and do it differently–my amends would be changed behavior.
My sponsor kept telling me how she had seen that the shame was in the details and how necessary it was to confess every incident. Satan does not give up his stronghold easily, so I felt much resistance to coming totally clean, but I had seen that as badly as I wanted to stay sober with food, I had not been able to do so because of this unconfessed sin in my life. Then one Sunday we were discussing how lying–overtly or by omission–was protecting Satan. To not talk openly and honestly about my situation was seeing a self that needed protecting–Satan’s lie! I committed then to working a fourth step–make a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself.
I wasn’t even sure if I could remember every offense I’d committed, but I prayed to God to reveal them to me. When I sat down to write what came to mind, I was able to fill pages with details of binge after binge, bite after bite, sneak after sneak of food over the past four months. The pain of seeing how crazy and confused those months had been, and knowing it was Satan who I had given power to during that time, was so devastating, I ached for days. I thought I would die if I couldn’t confess every detail immediately to my sponsor.
Thankfully she listened intently, pointing out the rebelliousness of my behavior and the consequences it had reaped on my family and fellowship. As grieved as I was and as badly as I wanted to not have it happen again, I could not imagine living a day without binging either. The addiction was more out of control than ever before. As with any addiction, when it is picked back up, it is always much worse with each relapse. I knew any addiction, left untreated, was progressive and fatal. I had seen just how quickly it could progress and I was scared! I didn’t know if I had another recovery in me. I found myself at a wonderful place–POWERLESSNESS. It was good that I couldn’t imagine walking it out because it wasn’t me who was going to walk it out anyway. Only God could live my life straight and sober. All I had to do was agree with God about the truth of my condition. I am a food addict. My part is only to agree with that. In doing so, the struggle ceases. I’m not being deprived of anything in my life–God wants me to have an abundant life! And there’s no "just me" to give up anything anyway.
Applying the 12 steps on a daily basis, a Christ-operated me is my only hope for recovery. It is a process that’s never really complete so I can stop thinking it will be different when….I am a food addict today, I will be a food addict tomorrow, and I will be a food addict until the day I die. I’ve often questioned God about why He allows the physical defects that provide a potential for addictions such as compulsive eating or alcoholism. I can see now it has been a blessing in disguise–a weakness requiring His strength to overcome. I was born with the propensity for addiction, but He provides the way out through faith.
Taking inventory is an ongoing process too, and promptly admitting when I am wrong. Sharing with God, myself and another human being is essential–I could not experience the first sober day until I had come totally clean on the details of the past. And now I can relate to the others in my group as they share about their temptations and struggles because I’m no longer ashamed to admit that’s my story too. I’m Linda and I’m a compulsive overeater. More importantly, I’m Christ in Linda form and Christ lives my life soberly and perfectly one day at a time!
Anonymity is a fundamental tradition in OA. However, the writer welcomes any questions or comments, which may be sent to the magazine office.
More Articles from The Intercessor, Vol 11 No 2
- God’s Obsession
- Isaiah 45:5-8
- Editor’s Note
- Moments with Meryl
- Excerpts from The Intercession of Rees Howells
- Thoughts on Abraham
- The Single Eye
- The Letter to the Romans
- My Story
- Questions & Answers
- The Key To Everything
- God’s Promises
- The Mailbox
- New Light on the Twelve Steps
- Tape Talk
- Words to Live By