I always offer my interview subjects the option to be anonymous. No one has ever taken me up on the offer until now, to talk about joining to Overeaters Anonymous.
Jessica* wasn’t ready to share her identity with the world, but she did recently take the first brave step of going to an OA meeting. She’s been going for about a month and a half now, 3-4 times a week. Jessica tells us what got her to that point and what she’s learned so far. Thank you, Jessica, for your willingness to share with the rest of us. Wishing you luck and strength in your journey!
Caitlin: So, how did you make the decision to join Overeaters Anonymous.
Jessica: It’s a long time coming. I’ve been trying to diet for the last 5-7 years. It would work for like 30 days, and then I’d be like, “Oh great, I lost ten pounds. Now I’m going to eat everything in sight.” Or like, if I’m studying, I eat. Eating is such a social thing and I’m such a social person, so it’s like, you have it in happy times, and when you’re with people you love. And then when I was sad, or by myself, I would think food would remind of happy times and fill what I need. It would fill a void.
I saw my family this summer and I would talk with them about where I was in my life. I wasn’t very happy. I was looking for something to make me happy. Whether it was a different job, or to change my relationship, or whatever it was, I was looking for something to make me happy and it wasn’t.
I think I was more miserable than I thought I was. Your immediate family has a way to cut you down a little more, but like, in a good way. They call you out on your shit.
Caitlin: Like hearing the lies you’re telling yourself?
Jessica: Exactly. And, some vocal people in my family have no problem doing that. There are a lot of people in my family who are in some kind of addiction program and they’re like, “Well, you know, I know some people who are in OA, and they’re normal people.” They thought I should give it a try and even if I didn’t like it, I would know what I was saying no to.
So, I went to a couple meetings and it was an eye-opener. I identified with what people were saying. And I was surprised that there are people from all walks of life there. There are executives, stay-at-home moms, people who are super fit, to people who are really obese. There’s definitely a huge range, which made me feel a lot more comfortable.
Caitlin: What was it like walking into your first meeting?
Jessica: Scary! I went to one in my neighborhood and it was nothing like what I thought it would be. It was all like Stepford Wives and put together soccer moms. That shocked me. But, what’s nice about it is that helping newcomers is part of everyone’s recovery. So they are quick to welcome you and you start recognizing people. So, they know you and ask how your week was, and that kind of thing. You can be as involved as you want.
Everyone has the same issue. You’re walking into a room where everyone has the same biggest insecurity as you. So, it really levels the playing field, you know? It’s comforting.
Caitlin: So, what does abstinence mean in OA?
Jessica: So, I’m definitely still new and learning, but abstinence is different for everyone. You basically want to be abstinent from falling off a meal plan, or whatever your rules are. So, some people will only eat three meals a day and not snack. There are a lot of anorexics and bulimics in the program, so they’ll need to stay away from bingeing and purging. It evolves and changes.
It makes it a lot harder, I think, because food is everywhere and you can’t not eat. For alcoholics, you can stop drinking.
For me, if I eat one chip, I’ll eat the whole bag. I don’t understand how anyone eats one chip and then forgets about it. That’s just not possible for me. So, that’s on my list. Trigger foods.
Caitlin: So have you defined your rules?
Jessica: So, I don’t have hard fast rules yet. This past week was not a good week for me. I’ve been super stressed with school and stuff and I’ve thrown whatever rules I’ve had out the window.
But, that’s what’s nice with OA. So, before, if I was on Weight Watchers or something and I ate something bad, I would have said, “Oh, I fucked it up, oh well.” And I’d never go back because I’d be embarrassed. But, with OA, you create relationships with people and they completely understand. There are people who have been abstinent for 20 years, but it’s still a fight.
Caitlin: So you know how people often substitute one addiction for another? I wonder if people with a food addiction just substitute one food for another. Like, you said you cannot eat chips. Do you just replace something else with chips? I think that would be so hard to navigate.
Jessica: It’s interesting. A lot of people who are in the program are in many different programs. So they’ll be in AA, and others, and I think for a little while I was very, very judgemental. I just didn’t understand addicts. I was like, “Well, just don’t drink. Or just don’t do drugs if it’s messing your life up so much.” I was never introspective enough to realize that I have that same addictive personality, it just manifests itself differently in me.
Even in the last month and a half that I’ve been in OA, my anxiety is ten times worse than usual. Just because I have to feel my feelings instead of eat. I can’t go buy a bag of chips when I feel upset. I have to deal with my feelings. And I never realized it, but my feelings are really strong. I had to stop self-medicating with food.
Caitlin: In what ways do you feel like overeating was messing up your life?
Jessica: Being overweight is really hard. It’s the fastest thing for people to judge you on. For me, it’s my biggest insecurity. I won’t apply to jobs because I think they only want skinny, pretty girls. Or anytime I don’t get a job, I wonder if it’s because I’m overweight. And the career I want, is fairly image based. It’s a sad fact, but there’s so much judgement against overweight people. You’re seen as sort of slobbish, and not put together. Whether that’s true or not, you have to play the game to get ahead. And, personally, I haven’t had any health issues, but I can see my weight going up over the years and if I don’t stop it now, in ten years I might be 100 pounds more overweight. I’d rather nip it in the bud now.
Caitlin: I’m wondering how this has impacted your relationship. I think admitting that you have a problem with overeating takes a lot of guts.
Jessica: (My partner) is amazing. He knows what my goals are and tries to keep me on track. When I told him I was joining OA, he didn’t really get it, but he’s super supportive.
Overeating has definitely impacted relationships in the past. Whether it was my own insecurities or there was actual judgement, it definitely eroded the relationship.
Caitlin: I’d love to follow up with you in the coming months, but I’m curious, what’s your goal?
Jessica: Just to go to meetings right now. I’ve heard people are very hard on themselves in the beginning. And I wanted to be perfect at it when I started. But, then it wouldn’t work and I’d fall apart and go on a binge. So, my goal is to just keep going and build relationships and hopefully find a sponsor.
*name changed to protect identity