Can the 12-step model offer hope to the millions of people who are overweight?
In my early teens I went on my first diet which triggered 16 years of yo-yo dieting and resulted in a lifelong battle to lose weight.
Over 25 years ago in my early thirties I was still struggling to lose weight but by then I couldn’t even do one day of a diet. By the time I had finished breakfast I was looking for something else to eat – even though I had all good intentions to stick to the diet this time. My thought process was simple I was not going to overeat as I so desperately wanted to lose weight. But as the meal was coming to an end I felt dissatisfied and restless and was looking for something sweet to fill the hole, to achieve instant gratification, to escape my anxious state, to cope with boredom, to block out painful memories, to alter how I felt, to procrastinate, to avoid dealing with chores…..to simply remove myself and create a numb state that felt strangely comfortable and familiar. This I, of course, did not recognise at the time it was just an automatic behaviour that had grown and got worse over time. What I did recognise, however, is how it left me feeling – full of guilt and shame, unhappy, angry, let down … I hated myself and beat myself up for being a failure once again.
On the outside, all looked normal and I hid behind my respectable lifestyle. I wore a mask and got on with being a mum, wife, friend, volunteer but I had two personas. Once again, I could not recognise any of this at the time. All I recognised was that I was unable to maintain weight loss and even worse I always put on more weight after each diet, until as I described above I couldn’t even stick one day to a diet. Not only did I not stick to a diet but I binged and could not stop until I was in physical pain. I used diet pills, abused laxatives and exercised excessively to try and stop myself from putting on too much weight. That was my life, a cycle of yo-yo dieting, excessive exercise, slimming pills and binge eating.
The Rock Bottom
I had two beautiful babies, a golden retriever, a husband who loved me and provided security, kind parents, good friends, lovely home, wonderful holidays………. But inside I was not happy or content. I disliked myself especially my body and I strived to be like the “beautiful people” (whoever they are!?) I compared myself to everybody’s outsides and lifestyles. I felt empty, lonely and disconnected BUT no one knew because I was a brilliant actor and turned up for life on time and appeared organised and efficient. Inside I was disorganised, chaotic and panicky. Like the ducks gliding elegantly across the pond with their feet madly paddling in order to move smoothly on the surface.
How could I feel lonely with friends and family surrounding me? I felt lonely because I felt disconnected. I had no great childhood trauma. I had a father who worked extremely hard (if there were 8 days in a week he would be out there working) and I had a beautiful mother who cared and loved me but also suffered from yo-yo dieting and obsession with food restriction (which I can now see). So perhaps no great attachment with them so I turned to food and all the extreme behaviours I described to try and feel connected with something.
No one knew for over 16 years this is how I lived. Day in day out a cycle that I couldn’t break out of but somehow gave me something until it didn’t anymore
One Christmas we were yet on another wonderful holiday in Jamaica on a stunning beach in a 5 star hotel (with all the “beautiful people”) and I felt like an outsider, I didn’t want to be there and I struggled to be sociable, BUT I put on the mask and turned up for life.
However, I spoke to myself very harshly: ‘pull yourself together’ ‘what have you got to be so unhappy about?’ ‘look at where you are, how lucky are you?’ ‘what is your problem?’ ‘why are you so ungrateful?’ This language made me feel even worse and such a failure and just catapulted me into my addictive behaviours even more. I hated myself, I didn’t know what to do and today I recognise that as my Rock Bottom.
I came home to a dark and rainy January in England and was beside myself to lose weight and find the miracle cure. I opened the (then!) Yellow Pages Directory (no Google!) and looked for yet another slimming club/diet cure etc and was looking at the Community Pages at the front of the directory and came across The Samaritans, Alcoholics Anonymous and something called Overeaters Anonymous. I had no understanding of addiction/eating disorders etc but something drew me to call the contact number for Overeaters Anonymous. The lady on the end of the line didn’t tell me anything about the meeting or what the 12 step programme was about, she simply told me her story and her struggles and I thought she had been following me all my life. There were too many similarities and I was stunned by her honesty and the fact that I had met someone who I felt CONNECTED to.
The 12 Step Meeting of Overeaters Anonymous
I went to my first meeting over 25 years ago and I found peace and a common bond with people who understood me and I could totally and utterly relate and identify with. They supported me and were kind to me and in turn I believe I gave back to them by accepting them into my life and allowing them to help me with the programme. A wonderful saying in life is “what we give out we will get back” what these people gave out were non-judgemental acceptance and I did not feel alone anymore. I learnt a new way of leading my life. I learnt tools to deal with my cravings. I learnt so much about me that I was then able to make changes to enhance my life. I ate 3 meals a day with life in between and I have never looked back.
Today my life is totally different. I am no longer obsessed with dieting and no longer binge. I have freedom from obsessive thoughts around overeating and I respect myself and my body. My weight is almost stable!
The End (aka The Continuing Journey)
I know that I am inclined to use food as a comforter and crutch and that is something that will always be my default setting but knowing this has set me free. I know that I must take care of myself for the rest of my life the same as an alcoholic who needs to take care of themselves. So, I am in recovery and am happy to give back with the work I do and help others with the same condition. A condition I believe I was probably born with – a biopsychosociospiritual disease which has to be arrested, One Day At A Time, together connected with others in the same situation.
…..to be continued……..