What are your experiences with Overeaters Anonymous?
September 1, 2010 11:11 AM   Subscribe

What are your experiences with Overeaters Anonymous? I am tired of eating to the point of physical pain.

I'm female and in my 30s. I love to eat. I don't want to eat anything that doesn't taste absolutely fucking delicious - this usually means sweet, rich, creamy, or cheesy. Anything chocolate and mexican food are some of my main weaknesses. When I'm eating, I can't get over how GOOD something is, and I just have no desire to stop. I know it's going to hurt and I'm going to feel bloated, sick, and slovenly, but I can't stop. I have never purged or starved myself.

I've seen a couple of therapists and hated them both. The first was a guy who could not/would not believe that I was being truthful about my background - I have NO abuse or neglect in my history. My parents are lovely people and I have no complaints about my childhood. He also didn't believe that I enjoy physical activity and insisted I was only doing it to burn calories. I don't have a bad body image. I'm not overweight and I'm actually quite athletic (triathete, no compulsive or excessive exercise.). The 2nd therapist was a woman who literally waved her hand at me and said, "Just work out! You're young, you can eat whatever you want!"

I've tried again and again and again to set rules (such as a certain amount of sugar/treats allowed per day), go cold turkey on refined sugar, practice moderation, and eat intuitively. Nothing has worked.

Did OA work for you? Will I get the stinkeye because I'm normal weight? I am NOT trying to lose weight. Is it particularly focused on the higher power thing? Anything else you can tell me is welcome.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I have no personal experience with OA, but FWIW the (young) women I've known went were all "normal weight"/thin (sizes 6-12), and focused on the addictions/disease model of overeating (so none of that, "but you look fine" or, "but you must do it because of something that happened to you as a kid" that you're running into now). They did all have a "higher power" and were focused on the 12 step model of "spiritual awakening", so you may run into that at the meeting you attend.
posted by availablelight at 11:22 AM on September 1, 2010

I recommend the Whole 30 program, for 60 if not 90 or 120 days.

I was in a very similar boat (fit, not overweight, but often ate delicious things to the point of pain and temporary illness) and doing Whole 30 was like pushing a "reset" button on what I considered to be an unhealthy relationship with food. Worth a try, right?
posted by telegraph at 11:36 AM on September 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't have personal experience. But I know from a friend of mine, who goes to OA meetings frequently, that there are people there with all different sorts of eating disorders, so you will not stick out for being normal weight. And yes, it definitely has a higher power compoment.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 11:53 AM on September 1, 2010

Book suggestions:
intuitive eating, and breaking free from emotional eating. Both are a look at your relationship with food, rather than on how to lose weight.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:54 AM on September 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I did OA for about 6 months.

1. You will not get the stinkeye for being fit. There are plenty of people there of all sizes (I guess this depends on where you live) some have made their goal, some are bulimic or anorexic and some feel just as you do, that they can't control their eating and need to give it to a higher power.

2. If you do give it a try (and why not?) get a sponsor who has a similar story to yours. It will help a lot in setting some goals and not having to explain sooo much.

3. Everyone's goals and abstinence are different. Don't feel you need to give up white flour and recreational sugar just because everyone else is. Three distinct meals a day could be your abstinence, or under a certain # of calories or whatever you feel is causing you anguish.

I left because of the higher power issue, eventually. I'm not sure what your spiritual background is but I worked the program, hard. Minimum 6 meetings a week, hard. I'm an atheist though and just couldn't get my head around the higher power thing.

Feel free to email me if you'd like.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:54 AM on September 1, 2010

Also, re: therapists, I highly recommend seeing someone who specializes in eating disorders. I am not saying you have an eating disorder, I am, however saying that someone who specializes in EDs will have a better understanding of what your issues are and what can be done to help.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:57 AM on September 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I attend OA and I have had only positive experiences. You should know: OA treats overeating as an emotional/spiritual problem, not a self-control problem. Through OA I realized that I don't just like eating, I eat in order to stuff down emotions and distract myself from what I'm thinking and feeling. Even though your therapist sounds crappy, he was probably trying to figure out if there was something similar going on with you. Before I went to OA, I didn't really think of myself as an emotional eater, but I totally am. So please don't dismiss OA out of hand if you don't think of yourself that way. You might find that there is an emotional component to your eating that you haven't recognized yet. Or you might not. They recommend that you try out five or so meetings (and different ones) before you decide not to continue and I recommend that, too.

You absolutely will NOT get the stinkeye because of your weight or body type, no matter what it is. There are people of all sizes in OA and it's a safe place where everyone understands the struggle that you're going through to come to peace with your eating. It is not a weight loss club and weight loss is usually not discussed because it can be triggering for those who struggle with anorexia or bulimia. That's not an official rule, that's just what I've noticed.

I was apprehensive about the higher power thing, too, but you are free to define your higher power however you want. My higher power is a sort of nebulous thing involving the commonality of being human and not so much a god and that's completely fine. I would identify as agnostic, not as an atheist though, and that might be why my experience differs from Sophie1's. I'm very sensitive about overt religiousness (like, I don't say the "Under God" part of the Pledge of Allegiance) and I find it ok. But I also live in a big city and attend meetings held at secular locations. Church meeting groups might emphasize the higher power thing more. This is just one of those give-it-5-meetings things that you'll have to determine for yourself, I think.
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 12:02 PM on September 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I meant to add that you can MefiMail me if have more questions!
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 12:02 PM on September 1, 2010

[comment removed - question is about OA and not "how can I eat less" thanks]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:04 PM on September 1, 2010

OA is very, very much like AA -- OA uses the AA text-book, the meetings and the OA fellowship itself are structured like AA. The focus of OA, same as AA, is working the 12 steps, which are designed to establish a relationship with whatever it is that god is -- I've been told that there is much more of a focus on capital G God in more religious areas of the US but more free-ranging in cities and/or less dogmatic religious areas in the US, and same with other countries.

I know for a fact that there is no requirement that you believe anything, that there are atheists and agnostics who attend meetings and are able to get their eating disorder to a place where it's not dominating their lives. Some of the more dogmatic members, who will shove their beliefs upon you -- just remember, they are maybe a bit out of control in other areas of their lives, too, and not just in compulsive overeating.

My understanding is that if you walk into an OA meeting at a "normal" weight you won't be out of place, as many who attend the meetings have been attending for a long while and in that time have gotten better, which often or mostly does show up as losing excess weight. So you probably wouldn't get any jealousy or resentment from most of the people there, would be my guess.

Also. Counter-intuitive as it might seem, I've been told that they are not trying to lose weight. I mean, yeah, that's what's driven lots of them through the doors, but it seems that those who are successful in recovery are the ones who change their focus from their weight and move it to step work; do the work, the compulsive over-eating part takes care of itself.

The therapists you spoke with might not have any experience dealing with people who have addictions. Any mental health worker who tells a compulsive overeater to just work out, that hey, you're young, eat whatever you want -- this person has no idea what addictions are, and how they work, and how they don't work. Same as alcoholics who are still functioning great in their marriages or careers or whatever, that doesn't mean they aren't alcoholics. And eating disorders can be all over the map, people can look perfect -- which is what it's all about for anorexics and bulimics, right? -- they can look perfect and be deeply caught in the throes of something much, much larger than they are.

Very cool that you've caught this thing, that you're able to see what's happening to you, before this ED brought you to your knees with symptoms -- many don't see it, or won't. Denial. As other addictive patterns, EDs are progressive, and the sooner you address it the better chance you have of successful recovery.

Good luck.
posted by dancestoblue at 12:06 PM on September 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I went to OA for quite a while. At our group we had people "in recovery" (as the jargon goes) at various stages of body size, fat overeaters, and skinny people with bulimia. For some reason, one evening all the fat people were on one side of the table and the thin people on the other side and I said if we were a ship, we would have capsized. You won't (or at least, you shouldn't) get the stinkeye because the only criterion for membership is a sincere desire to stop overeating. You have that desire; you meet the criterion. The weight loss or lack of it is really quite beside the point.

I left because I didn't find a sense of belonging that I'd hoped to find with that particular group (in mefi-speak I'm a special snowflake; in 12-step speak I suffer from "terminal uniqueness"). There are lots of other groups in my city, but that one was close by and others weren't, and so on. I lost about 20 of the 80 pounds I needed to lose while I was part of the group and was able to maintain abstinence (at least, my definition of it) for that time. It was many years ago, I lost all vestiges of recovery, and I'm only very slowly treading that path again, but without OA.

Some people have quite a well-defined higher power that is tied to their religious beliefs. Others' is more nebulous, and for others, it's just the energy of the OA group.

It's certainly worth a try to see if you like the group. The advice is to come to a meeting 2 or 3 times, and I think that's sensible. If you just went to one meeting you might get the local pain-in-the-butt but not have the pleasure of meeting the awesome and erudite who's also a regular member but had a cold that week and didn't come to the meeting. The cost would be nothing more than a bit of your time and a dollar or two that most folks kick in for coffee, room rental, or other meeting expenses.

Good luck.
posted by angiep at 12:08 PM on September 1, 2010

OA was a bit of a revelation to me. I'm someone who doesn't think most adult women of normal intelligence and initiative can avoid picking up most of what they technically need to know in order to manage their weight and physical health, even if we want to- which is to say, most of the advice we're likely to find is a re-hashing of the same stuff we've been hearing since we were children. The difference with OA for me, primarily, is the variety of personal perspective, and the striking openness with which struggles and advice are exchanged. I have seldom found a similar atmosphere anywhere else. You would not even be slightly out of place in any of the meetings I've attended, which have included pretty much any combination of size and fitness level and diagnoses (or lack thereof) and background that you can imagine.

I'm not uncomfortable with references to religion, and so for the most part I barely notice the higher power mentions, which come out a bit in people's personal stories and a bit in the official OA literature which is read during meetings.

The only requirement for being a part of these groups (and you'll hear this frequently) is a desire to stop eating compulsively. One important thing in addition to this is to consider attending a few different groups, different locations and times, as much as your schedule allows. Even if you do find one that you think is most "you", each has its own strengths and benefits unique to the combination of members that attend at any given time.
posted by grar at 12:17 PM on September 1, 2010

Have you considered looking for organizations or therapists or support groups that cater to people with eating disorders? Eating disorders are not just about anorexia or bulimia, but also about "disordered eating" which is definitely your issue - your relationship with food feels out of your control and problematic. I think someone trained in helping people deal with those feelings would be really well equipped to help someone like you, and it would be really unlikely to have the whole "higher power" thing be an issue.
posted by Kololo at 1:39 PM on September 1, 2010

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