Hello! My name is Donna B and I am a grateful, recovered (not cured) compulsive overeater. I am 5’6” and my highest adult weight was around 220 and my lowest was about 120. At both of those weights I was miserable. I had a husband, two children, and a beautiful home but was almost always filled with fear, self-loathing, and negativity. I was uncomfortable in my own skin and couldn’t seem to enjoy life. Today I am maintaining a 75+lb weight loss since 2014 and living my life in peace, joy, and serenity. My life is not always problem free, but today I am able to meet any challenges well without the aid of excess food. More importantly, I am doing so happily and contentedly!

What was it like?

I was lucky enough to have had a healthy, happy childhood without any major negative life events. In one form or another though, comparisons seemed to dominate my sheltered life as a child. Under the age of 13, I was told by my not too impartial dad that I was the prettiest, most talented, and special girl on planet earth. I took that to mean that I was better than others. I was happily a big fish in a small sea at my Catholic grammar school, so you can imagine my surprise when I attended a large public school for the first time at age 14 and the kids didn’t agree! Always thinking in black and whites and “all or nothings”, I decided that my dad had been wrong and that I was actually ugly, dumb, untalented, unpopular, and less than others in every way imaginable. I didn’t have any tools to cope with this ego blow and I certainly didn’t want to inform my parents that they had been wrong about me. Lonely and fearful, I began to come home from school and use food as a comfort and escape.  My parents were concerned with my new habits, but I wasn’t. The food tasted good and soothed my worries, doubts, and fears. I simply didn’t care about anything else when I was eating. I didn’t pay attention to my parents’ concerns about my new habits. My mom’s nagging about it irritated me and I just wanted everyone to leave me alone. From the standpoint of maturity, I became stuck somewhere in those early teens. Food became my only coping mechanism.

I continued this way through high school and then onto college where the weight started to pile on for the first time. During this time, I started suffering with panic attacks. They would come out of nowhere. I didn’t know what they were and just assumed I was losing my mind. As with everything else, I kept it a secret, used food to cope, and stayed at home as much as possible. People spoke of the “freshman fifteen” gained mostly from drinking and partying but I was about 30-40lbs overweight from couch-surfing and eating. As my body got bigger, my world got smaller. My friends liked to go to parties and bars but I just stayed at home. Eventually, I started trying to control and enjoy my food through diets, where I would write a list of all the foods I would get to eat again (in moderation of course) once I lost the weight. The diets all worked but I always managed to go back to my previous bad eating habits. My 20’s & 30’s were a series of diets and going up and down in weight, with the “up” always getting to a higher weight than where I had started. I had managed to meet a guy in college who also liked to eat and not go out much. That worked for me because I now had an excuse to stay home. During that time, I graduated from college and got a job as a teacher, where my weight continued to rise. After breaking it off with my boyfriend, I managed to diet my way into a new relationship and marry a good man. The new relationship kept me happy and became the center of my attention but I gained about fifty pounds within the first three years of that marriage anyway.  I was able to use a commercial dieting program to diet down to a normal weight in order to get pregnant with my first child. After my daughter was born in 2001, the weight piled on to the point that when I was ready to get pregnant with my second child a few years later I was over 200lbs. This time, I was unable to stick to any diet as much as I tried and despite my greatest desire to be at a healthy weight for this second pregnancy. After my son was born in 2006, I continued to eat and gain weight. I began to feel that it was useless to try to stop so I decided that I’d just stay “fat and happy” and try to be the best wife and mother I could be in other ways. It’s important to note that after the birth of my first child, I suffered from postpartum depression and was medicated for anxiety and depression for the first time. The medicine helped with the panic attacks but not with the depression or it’s underlying causes.

At some point I had crossed an invisible line from hard-eater to a real compulsive overeater. My eating had become almost continuous. The more I ate, the more I wanted to eat. The first bite set up the urge for more and more. All I needed in my life was to be a pretty, thin, desirable wife to my husband and a happy, good, balanced mom for my kids…but all I wanted to do was eat. I would wake up and dread the day, get my kids off to school, eat, sleep, hit my “dealers” (McDonald’s, Walgreen’s, bakeries, frozen yogurt shops), hide in parking lots and eat in my car. I would eat myself sick before dinner and then eat dinner with my family as if it was my first meal of the evening. I would have several portions and couldn’t wait until everyone left the kitchen so I could eat while I cleaned up. Then I couldn’t wait until they all went to bed so I could sit on the sofa, eat, and watch tv alone. I would hate myself and make promises and plans to stop for good tomorrow and I meant it when I said it but then tomorrow would come and it was today and today I wanted to eat.  I needed to eat. My brain would not rest until I ate. When I would take that first bite I would get instant relief for about 10 seconds and then be filled with remorse and regret all over again. I would make promises and plans and I would mean them until I didn’t mean them once again. I was in the cycle of addiction and could not get out. Needless to say, I was not a pretty, thin, desirable wife and I wasn’t a happy, good, balanced mom. I felt like a failure. I was full of self-loathing, fear, and guilt.

In 2007, I was 37 with two kids and a marriage that was in trouble. I decided to go to a therapist and she suggested Overeaters Anonymous. My best friend (and eating buddy) and I decided to attend our first OA meeting together. I remember being a bit confused because they were reading from a book about alcoholism but I figured that it made some sense since I had often compared myself to an alcoholic but with food. The thing I remember the most was that a few people were talking about their personal problems that didn’t seem to have anything to do with overeating. One woman was crying about her sick cat and how she needed food stamps. I wondered if I had walked into a group therapy session. But some of the people there were also sharing about the crazy things they did with food and that made a part of me feel like I was in the right place.  Although if I’m being honest – I also wondered if I had happened upon some kind of strange cult!  Fortunately, something made me return the next week. Unfortunately, I didn’t find recovery in OA until June of 2014 when I finally surrendered my will and submitted to the program of recovery as written in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Until then I had come to regard myself as a “chronic relapser” in OA but later learned that I wasn’t really relapsing because I had never actually recovered in the first place. Instead, my disease continued to progress in the rooms of OA and I continued trying to control and enjoy my food with a group of very nice people.

Here are some of the things I tried in the rooms of OA:

  • Following a food plan and going to meetings without a sponsor but not working the Steps
  • Having a food sponsor and using some OA tools when I felt like it
  • Attending 90 meetings in 90 days
  • reading about the Steps
  • attempting to work the Steps without a plan of abstinence
  • seeking the help of a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with binge eating disorder and prescribed medication that was supposed to help with cravings but didn’t
  • wearing a rubber band around my wrist and slapping it to create a negative association with cravings (that was a good one! LOL)
  • following a committed food plan that didn’t exclude my personal trigger foods
  • hiring trainers
  • OA Donna’s way! The list could go on and on.

What happened?

At the beginning of June in 2014, I found myself sitting on my sofa crying my face off. I had tried every diet and failed. I had been to therapists and psychiatrists and failed. I had been in OA for many years and had failed. I felt trapped in my fat, uncomfortable body with nowhere to go. My mind was racing and I was miserable because I knew I could not live the way I was living for one more minute. My joints were hurting, my clothes were digging into my fat, and I was short of breath. I was a cynical person who didn’t necessarily want to die but was afraid to live. I was isolating from social events and filled with self-loathing. I had just come from a therapy appointment where my wise therapist shot down my latest plan, which was to check myself into an eating disorders clinic where I figured at the very least I wouldn’t be able to binge. I was out of ideas. I knew I couldn’t keep eating the way I was but I also knew I couldn’t stop. I was cornered. I did not know that this was my “jumping off point”. This was the beginning of my Step 1 admission of powerlessness and my eventual full surrender to this program of action, which brought me to freedom from the food and myself.

I decided that I was going to listen to an OA phone meeting and if someone identified as a recovered compulsive overeater, I was going to ask them to sponsor me and then do whatever they said. When the student was ready the teacher really did appear and I made my call to Ruth that evening right after the phone meeting. I told Ruth that I was desperate and out of ideas and asked her if she’d sponsor me. She sent me a “contract” that gave the details of my requirements. I was stunned at the lengths I would need to go to in order for Ruth to agree to sponsor me.  I had always avoided the “90 Day” people I had met in other meetings because I thought they were too militant and I could not imagine living my life that way. Surely there was an easier way. Ruth wasn’t a “90 Day” sponsor but her requirements were similar. She gave me a food plan that eliminated any common trigger foods. I was to have no sugar, flour, or wheat. In addition, I was to avoid artificial sweeteners, regular and decaf coffee, and gum. She gave me a list of approved foods and a food plan. I thought it was crazy and wondered if the food plan was healthy enough. Imagine my arrogance after the way I had been eating! I was told to commit my food to her daily along with the OA tools of recovery. That included making telephone calls, attending meetings, reading, and writing. I thought it was all very excessive and unnecessary but I was too proud to call Ruth back and say I changed my mind so I committed to following her plan until I could find an “easier sponsor”. Several things happened in that first week of following a clean food plan, making outreach calls, attending meetings, reading recovery literature, and writing. I started to feel better physically. I also started to feel good about myself for accomplishing my daily tasks. I decided that I’d stick with this sponsor and try to make it to 30 days of abstinence and then I was going to find an easier sponsor. I went through periods of feeling sorry for myself, and mourning my binge foods but for the most part, I was feeling hopeful and much better. By the time I had gotten to 30 days I had become more afraid to lose Ruth as a sponsor than I was to just keep going. Something was different this time and I had a feeling that I was onto something good so I decided that I’d try it for 90 days and then I’d find an easier sponsor. We started working the Steps together and I loved the format. Ruth took the time to read the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book with me along with the AA 12&12 and the OA 12&12. She had me highlight important parts and she helped me to understand them. I took notes and listened a lot. The Big Book started to come to life for me. Between those sessions I had assignments to complete. For the first time in my life, I followed directions without condition. Ruth was extremely “no-nonsense” and straightforward. There were many times that I felt offended and misunderstood. I was so used to over-explaining my thoughts and feelings in an effort to plead my case and try to control what people thought and how they reacted to me. Ruth was not having any of that! She did not listen to my explanations and long-winded stories. When I would start down that path she would stop me almost immediately. After all, wasn’t it my way of thinking and acting that had gotten me into my predicament in the first place? I stopped talking so much and I started listening. Attending meetings, reading the Big Book daily, and working my other OA tools kept my brain in a positive place while we went through the Step work together. I had admitted powerlessness (Step 1) and I had come to have some hope that a HP could help me (Step 2). My God concept was poor at the time. I had many prejudices that I had built up over time so I truly just had to “act as if” I believed at that point. I was filled with skepticism about the existence of God but I believed that my sponsor believed and she was doing better than I was so I put blinders on regarding my doubts and made the decision to move ahead with the rest of the program (Step 3). I learned that I was filled with resentments, fears, and guilt. I was trying to control life and everyone in it and it wasn’t working (Step 4). I shared all of my short-comings with my sponsor (Step 5) and I asked my HP to remove them so I could be a more useful person (Steps 6&7). I made a list of people I had harmed when trying to “run the show” and made amends where I could (Steps 8&9). Something happened to me along this journey – I started to change. I was losing weight and looking better but I was also inwardly different. I was feeling more hopeful and positive about life. I was more patient and kind with people. I felt peaceful and fulfilled. I began to like myself. Amazingly, the desire for excess food left me. I no longer wanted the excess food and I no longer felt I needed it for ease and comfort because I already felt good. I could no longer deny the existence of God because I had experienced a true miracle! I felt the Power working in my life even though I still could not define what it was or how it worked. I felt I was being protected from my disease. Desperation had made me compliant and when I surrendered my will I had connected with a Power that changed me. I had recovered.

What is it like now?

In Steps 4-9 I learned a skill set for living life successfully. I continue to practice that skill set daily. This keeps me free from forming new resentments, fears, and harming others. When I mess up, I acknowledge the mistake and make amends quickly (Step 10). I continue to pray and meditate daily. This keeps me connected to a source of Power that is greater than me (Step 11). I continue to try to pass along the clear message of recovery like Ruth did for me. (Step 12). I have made many friends in OA along this journey. They are my partners in recovery. My marriage is healthier and happier. I like who I am and how I look. I am a more patient, loving, and peaceful parent even through the challenges that come with raising a teenager and a pre-teen. I can only imagine how I would have responded to those challenges when I had only the food with which to cope. I am a better friend, daughter, neighbor, sister, and person. When I feel like resting on my laurels, I envision myself crying on my sofa that day in June of 2014. I think of the price I paid for the 10 seconds of relief I got from the food. The thought makes me shudder and I know I could go back there in a snap if I let up on my recovery practices. I am recovered but I will always be a compulsive overeater. I don’t regret what I went through because it brought me to where I am, but I do not want to go back to that place. In order to keep what I have, I need to continue along this recovery journey. The good news is that it isn’t hard at all. All that is required is that I continue to keep my side of the street clean, trust God, and help others. For that, I get to feel happy, contented, useful, and FREE (oh, and a nice side-effect is that I also fit in my jeans a lot better)! 😉