Editor’s note: This story respects the anonymity of Overeaters Anonymous. The real first names are used for two of the article’s individuals. The third name is fictitious; she is referred to as “Shirley.”
TWIN FALLS • Three mature women sat in an austere room, their sometimes emotional confessions clinging to them like snug sweaters. Though they appeared to be moderately trim, the woman were loyal members of the Twin Falls Meeting of Overeaters Anonymous.
They had just survived their most trying yearly challenge — the holidays, when all the world is a big, fat chocolate-chip cookie.
Pat, who has attended OA meetings for 42 years, seven in Twin Falls, focuses with laser-like intensity on her goals during the holidays.
“Ihave to remember what the consequences are during the holidays, which is weight gain,” she said. “I really try to get in touch with my higher power in the morning, but it’s hard. Istay away from sugar.”
When she began OA, Pat weighed 230 pounds. She now measures her weight loss not by scale, but by clothing. She has dropped from size 22 to 12 over the years, and it has significantly affected her physically and mentally.
“It’s not only a huge change in weight loss, but also what goes on in my head, my spirituality and my recovery,” she said.
Spirituality plays a huge role in OA recovery and helps propel Pat, Beverly and Shirley to attend the local organization’s Tuesday-morning weekly meetings. Seven members usually show up, but only three braved the frigid temperatures on Jan. 15 to meet at their usual location, Twin Falls First Baptist Church.
The Twin Falls Meeting of Overeaters Anonymous, which was established about 22 years ago, follows the guidelines of Alcoholics Anonymous and adheres to the 12 steps to recovery, which are central to both programs.
According to OA literature, the organization “is not just about weight loss, weight gain or maintenance, obesity or diets. The OA program offers physical, emotional and spiritual recovery for those who suffer from compulsive eating.”
Beverly, 78, has attended OA meetings for 20 years. The 5-foot-2-inch Twin Falls resident dropped from 220 pounds when she began OA to her current weight of 169. She fully embraces the OA recovery philosophy.
“We in OA share our strengths and experiences, and it’s a bonding experience,” she said. “We lose more fat from between our ears than on our body.”
That sort of fat, Beverly explained, includes resentment, fear, anger and self pity.
“Iwas eating to cover up my feelings because I was unhappy in my marriage,” she said. “I didn’t realize how miserable I was. It was 29 years of misery.”
And the holidays? OA deals with that, too, Beverly stressed.
“It’s no big deal, because I’m working the program,” she said. “Something always happens that shows me my higher power is working.”
So, too, for Shirley, who has dropped 60 pounds since joining OA 16 months ago. She currently weighs 170 pounds.
“I’m trying to cope with stress, fatigue, children at home and trying to hold my life together,” said the 60-year-old Gooding resident. “Not only have I lost the weight, but hopefully my ego has shrunk from the size of Iceland to what it is now.”
Shirley, who calls herself the “good” girl of her biological family, traces alcoholism through four generations of relatives.
“The potential was there for even me, the good girl, to develop a dependency for some kind of substance,” she said.
So she chose food.
And that’s how she came to OA.
“Before, I didn’t know what a healthy plan of eating was, and the program showed me what is sane and healthy,” Shirley said. “And the fellowship gave me the emotional support Ineeded to do without my food fix.”
Shirley refers to the “holiday triple crown” as the ultimate in adverse enticement.
“It’s Halloween candy, Thanksgiving dinner with family members and the month of Christmas,” she said. “The holidays are scary and stressful.”
For Pat, food used to disguise her stress, but not now.
“Food pushes your feelings down when they rise so we don’t have to feel anymore, but today I know that’s not the solution,” she said.
She didn’t know that at age 10, when she believes her compulsive eating binges began. She tearfully recalled that summer eating daily triple-decker ice cream cones, looking forward to them for months as her summer due. When she returned to school in the fall, classmates asked her how she had gotten so fat.
“This is a disease of isolation,” she said, referring to her unwanted solitude.
Exacerbating the adult challenges is that childhood trauma doesn’t just evaporate with time.
“To this day, when I go into a store, I automatically go to the 1X to 5X sizes in the stores even though Ican now wear normal clothes,” Pat said. “It’s all about my body image.”
It’s safe to say Pat spoke for all seven Twin Falls OA regulars when she concluded: “We come here to lose weight, and we stay for the sanity.”