When I came to OA in 1986, I didn’t identify with all the details people shared about life in the disease, but somehow I knew I was in the right place. I came in at a normal weight, but I had been about 20 pounds (9 kg) heavier or thinner at certain points in my disease. No matter what my weight, I was always obsessed with food and believed the number on the scale reflected my value as a person. I was lucky to hear that “thin is not well,” and I felt enough kinship to keep coming back. I realized I was a compulsive overeater or food addict, but that did not tell the whole story.
After plenty of time, meetings and program work, it became clear my compulsive overeating was just one part of an obsessive-compulsive cycle that had begun with compulsive undereating. Along the way I adopted many bulimic and anorexic behaviors that fueled my disease. A period of compulsive overeating followed every stretch of undereating. I had to see the pattern of obsession with food, weight, exercise and body image if I was to comprehend who I was and develop abstinent eating and living that could work every day.
Hardest to understand was how undereating hurt me. Society and I—and sometimes even people in the rooms—considered undereating and thinness as almost being virtues. And I enjoyed the false sense of control undereating gave me over my food, body and life. All this made undereating a seductive aspect of the disease, which often caught me unaware.
The OA “Twelve and Twelve” says we need to look at how a defect both helps and hurts us if we are to become willing to let it go (The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous, pp. 56–57). I learned to look at how my undereating, supported by excessive exercise, my obsession with numbers on the scale and poor body image, always set me up to overeat compulsively. I began to see that undereating allowed me to overlook the real issues in my life, the common themes of all my addictive behaviors.
I became willing to eat healthy, moderate meals and snacks throughout my day, whether I felt like it or not. This is my medicine. To stop the cycle, I must avoid specific foods that lead to more food. I eat this way, one day at a time, regardless of what is happening in my life. This, along with using the tools and living in the Steps, gives me the ability to live life on life’s terms.
From the March, 2012 issue of Lifeline Magazine