One in a series of posts on my struggles with maintaining a healthier weight, starting in early 2019 and working into the present day
#Weight 246 lbs or so September 2019
Bad Name, and That’s the Point
Overeaters Anonymous (OA) had been on my radar for a few years. I can’t remember exactly how it got there, though I think it just occurred to me one day that, since I had a kind of addiction to food, maybe someone had started applying the lessons of Alcoholics Anonymous to foodaholics.
I do remember thinking, when I first uncovered the name and existence of OA, “Really? That’s the name? Whomever came up with that awful name was definitely no marketing genius.” Organizations such as Weight Watchers and, more recently, Noom, definitely have less insulting brands. In fact, I used to be a Weight Watchers member some years ago.
“I’m not an ‘overeater,'” I thought, “just someone who has a bit of a problem stopping eating sometimes.” So, what’s the difference? Well, really, in my case, there is none. I was, in fact, a person who ate too much, who binged at times, who, once I got on a real roll (i.e., a binge) had a hard time stopping.
But as I learned more about OA, I realized that the terrible name is, in ways, part of the point. If you can get past the name, then maybe you’re actually ready to get serious about your condition. You eat compulsively, and therefore you overeat.
Now, there are other types of related eating disorders, such as bulimia and anorexia, and OA helps with those conditions as well. But, in my own case, I exactly fit the bill of the organization: a guy who at times just plain ate too much.
Tell like it is.
The Virtual Member
I’ve never officially joined OA and, as of this writing, haven’t attended an actual OA meeting, either real or virtual. Yet, if not for the resources created by OA, I doubt I would have lost any real weight.
Okay, so what were my steps as a kind of stealth OA member? Well, I started by going to the OA website, figuring out when and where the local meeting would take place, and put some of those meeting on my calendar. Did I go? No. I had every intention of going…someday. But I was always too busy, or too tired, too reticent, etc.
Things went on this way for a quite a while. I added the “Find a Meeting” page on the OA website (oa.org) to the home screen on my smartphone. Even then, though, I didn’t go.
What I did do, eventually, however, was look for OA-related phone apps. The first one I found was “OA Speaker Tapes & Workshops.” It’s one of those freemium apps that have some free stuff and then, if you want to get the premium stuff, you buy a subscription.
This was the app that taught me the basics of the OA philosophy and methodology. How? Mostly via the recordings of multiple OA speakers, all suffering from the same kind of “insanity” (their word) as I have had during periods in my life. Their stories are often darker and more dramatic than my own story, but I recognized them as fundamentally the same.
And it gave me my first experience with the common threads and concepts that run through OA talks:
- the idea that we collectively suffer from a kind of compulsion that makes us do things (such as binge eat) that are consciously and explicitly bad for us
- the controversial (to me) notion that there is a “higher power” that can help us accomplish things that we couldn’t accomplish on our own, a concept inherited from Alcoholic Anonymous
- the (to me) fantastically useful idea that there are certain foods from which we must entirely abstain because, otherwise, they send us into spates of binge eating in the same way a first drink can cause a true alcoholic to lose control of their sobriety.
Eventually I found another app called “OA Speakers Free” which contains scores of speakers telling the stories of how they began eating compulsively, how they eventually sought help at OA, and their ongoing journeys toward recovery. Like the members of AA, the members of OA seldom claim to be “cured” of their disease/compulsion/anxiety or whatever you want to call it. They know they’re only one good binge from going back to compulsive eating.
Don’t Pull that Trigger
For me, I think the single most useful insight I gleaned from listening to all these speakers is the concept of abstinence from “trigger foods.” What’s difficult to understand, at first, is that everyone has their own trigger foods that, once you consume, lead you down the road of eating ugly quantities of other foods. For me, ice cream is definitely a trigger food in that, once I start, I have a hard time stopping.
It isn’t just that I have a hard time stopping from eating ice cream itself. It’s that consuming ice cream makes me hungry for everything else in the fridge and cupboards.
Why ice cream? I think it’s the combination of fat and sugar. Either very fatty food or very sugary foods are profoundly tempting to me. Put them together in the form of ice cream, cake, pie or lots of other baked goods, and I’m lost. So, I decided to abstain completely from those kinds of foods.
I eventually went further, abstaining from processed sugar generally. That includes, of course, any type of candy. I also try to avoid foods with high fat content. For example, I don’t eat buttered popcorn because I know that’ll set me off (and I don’t eat unbuttered popcorn because, well, what’s the point without the butter?) Same goes for junk foods of all kinds. That combination of salt, fat and carbs (perfected in the form of a potato chip) is my road to ruin.
And Lose the Boob Tube
My other trigger is not a food at all. It’s the activity that, from a young age, I’ve associated with food: television. TV is, as I’ve already made clear elsewhere, a psychological trigger for me. Abstaining helps me read more and do other stuff worth doing. When I do watch TV, I won’t allow myself to eat in front of it. Not ever. I know where that road leads.
My one exception is when my wife wants to eat dinner in front of the TV, which seldom occurs. This is dangerous for me and there may come a time when I find I can’t even do this, but so far I’ve walked that fine line.
Now, you may be thinking, “Why that’s madness! Gain some self-control, man!” But that’s exactly my point. My self control is in NOT eating things that make me lose control. For other people, if they have a eating disorder at all, it may have nothing to do with TV or ice cream or sugars. Instead, they may have other triggers such as bread or rice or butter or potatoes. But I think every compulsive eater has a trigger.
I’ve had people make fun of these abstentions, which have been my rule for the last two and a half years. I just smile and roll with the ribbing. Heck, it sounds a little silly to me sometimes. I think about Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi and think about myself as the Sugar Nazi: “No more sugar for you!”
Still, I know I just need to live a different way from most other people. The good part is that it has made my “food life” so much better that it can be hard to describe. In essence, I’ve largely been set free from the Dogman, and I’m willing to give up any dessert on the planet for that freedom.
Of course, it’s not really that simple. I developed more of a plan than that, which I’ll get into in the next post.
Featured image: V.O. Hammond Pub. Co., Chicago - Postcard scan. Children in Chicago surround an ice cream vendor in 1909.