Comparing Weight Loss Drugs to OA’s Twelve Steps


March 5, 2024

Comparing Weight Loss Drugs to OA’s Twelve Steps

You’ve likely noticed the multitude of news headlines and social media posts regarding “easy” and “dramatic” weight loss resulting from “a simple weekly injection,” along with the promise of that injection being made available “in the near future” as a simple little pill.

Such a “magic pill” was once the ultimate dream for this compulsive eater! In fact, in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, I used to gobble up something called “Ayds” – a chewable (i.e. candy) that promised to “suppress my appetite,” but only ever increased it for more of those caramel and chocolate chews!

I also saw a doctor (at age 15) who gave me (of all things) shots of cow placenta – something called the “HCG Regime” – that promised rapid weight loss. I suspect it wasn’t those darn shots, but rather the 500 calorie diet (devoid of any fat) that ultimately led to the weight loss – right along with the loss of my long curly hair and my periods! In fact, I lapsed into a very scary time of routine starvation and restriction in high school that left me weak, unwell, and seriously in need of outside help!

With medical help, my dive into anorexic behaviors in high school did come to an end. And so, too, did my experience with being ridiculously skinny. All that weight that I had struggled to get off, and keep off, eventually crept back up. In fact, I regained right on past a healthy weight for my teenaged self and added another 12 pounds to my original starting weight! Definitely NOT worth the high financial cost, or the pain, of those crazy shots and the terrible starvation and harsh restricting behaviors I came to develop, but then abandoned, upon my return to binge eating. What an insane rollercoaster ride that proved to be!

The irony was that I never once ate because I was hungry. Hunger had NOTHING to do with it! I ate because I could NOT stop myself from eating (and eating, and eating) my sugary/doughy (trigger) foods when certain feelings hit me like a freight train! These were the foods I would always turn to whenever I was sad, lonely, angry, stressed, bored, anxious, or simply because I had imagined that someone didn’t like me or was feeling persecuted. It was a crazy, self-destructive compulsion I simply could NOT stop!

The truth was that sugary/doughy foods were my fix or “drug” of choice. I really (foolishly) used to think that eating those foods was “the solution” – my ONLY solution to mask, fix, or shove down certain feelings that I simply did NOT want to feel!

But that wasn’t actually true – the idea that compulsively eating those sugary or doughy foods would save me from feeling my feelings – although the delusion and denial persisted for many decades, and well into my adulthood.

Thanks to all the media hype, peer pressure, as well as family and physician insistence, I became very much conditioned to believe that diets, exercise, restricting, purging, and willpower were the right solutions to weight loss and maintenance. Unfortunately, all that “efforting,” yo-yo dieting, and obsessive exercise were really just ways to avoid facing my problems and feeling my feelings.

But I didn’t know this back then.

Back then, I truly wanted to believe that the next diet, exercise program, or whatever other crazy thing I was willing to try would prove to be my solution and save me from my crazy obsession with food.

And this is why I never stopped searching for the perfect diet, exercise plan, or any next hot thing that might curb my uncontrolled eating and allow me to behave like a lady and eat normally. The thing is, I am NOT a normal eater! Along the way, I crossed the line with my eating obsession and became a full-fledged food addict, grabbing for my particular food fixes and then expecting something to change about my weight and body shape. But it didn’t. I never liked my body size or shape, no matter what I tried!

Today, for better or worse, there exists a new class of drugs – initially targeted for use by diabetics – that when taken, offer the promise of “appetite control” and “weight loss.” If you pay any attention to all the hype,  you’ll come to find they don’t bother to reference the inevitable regain once you stop taking the injections. And that’s because this drug is intended to be taken for life! Those who have stopped it, including a very vocal social media influencer, suffered immediate (and considerable) regain!

Living in an obese body, and having tried every diet and exercise program imaginable without any sustainable success, who wouldn’t want to try such a magical medication? Certainly NOT this compulsive eater! I lived for that next “drop weight fast” scheme – and I tried just about every single one that was offered, much to the detriment of my mental and physical health as well as my financial security!

The thing is, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is!

An increasing number of scientists are now warning against the side effects of taking the drug (Ozempic/Wegovy) for weight loss. While such drugs can be effective for weight loss when taken, they come with plenty of scary risks and high costs.

Apparently, the mechanism behind the weight loss is something called Semaglutide. It works like a copy of a hormone called GLP-1, which your body naturally makes. GLP-1 controls appetite by slowing down the food leaving your stomach. The slower your food digests, the longer you feel full. At least that is the theory.

Well, for this old gal, I never stopped eating my sugary/doughy foods just because I was beginning to “feel full.” In fact, I regularly ate right through any feelings of “fullness!” And, eventually, if the fullness was too much, I would “purge” (by sticking my finger down my throat or abusing laxatives and diuretics) just to rid myself of all the excess I had consumed in one of my binges (something I did regularly when I wasn’t obsessively “restricting” or exercising like a madwoman in a desperate attempt to become thin)!

Given this was previously my personal reality – eating right on through “feelings of fullness” – regardless of the media hype, there is no “appetite control” drug that could ever have worked for a compulsive eater like me!

Taking a drug like Ozempic or Wegovy makes your body think it has more GLP-1. Glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) agonists are well-known for their effectiveness – not only with diabetes management, but also weight loss. This is because they stimulate the receptor for the hormone glucagon-like peptide 1, which increases insulin production and satiety (feelings of fullness). This can then make food portions ‘stretch’ for longer. The outcome of that (theoretically) is that weight can be dropped. But it can also be readily regained (and then some) once you stop taking the drug. Talk about your “catch-22” – a lifetime commitment to taking an expensive prescription medication that comes with some super scary (and painful) side effects – but if you stop taking it, you explode right back up again, gaining even more pounds than ever before!

What’s important to note, is that this prescription drug’s interference with natural hormone levels can lead to gastrointestinal issues that may include pain, nausea, and vomiting! UGH!

Prolonged use (which is necessary to avoid regain) has been linked to an increased risk of pancreatitis, a serious and painful condition! Chronic pancreatitis, a long-term inflammation of the pancreas, is linked with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer – a form of cancer that is particularly dangerous due to its late detection and dire outcomes!

The official sites for these drugs also warn against possible thyroid lumps and even thyroid cancer. Is the claim of potential weight loss worth such extreme health risks and high costs? Not for this compulsive eater who has found a worthwhile alternative solution: OA!

When I was trapped in a body more than 100 pounds overweight (and feeling like my life wasn’t worth much), I might have said “yes” to a magic medication – even with the possibility of digestive pain and possible death! But I’m one of the lucky ones. It was an enlightened therapist I had sought out for depression and anxiety (around my weight and body issues) that turned me onto the amazing program of Overeaters Anonymous!

Working the Twelve Steps did for me what a lifetime of yo-yo dieting, extreme exercises, and costly medical interventions could never accomplish. The ONLY requirement for membership was a desire to stop eating compulsively. Boy oh boy, did I want to stop that endless cycle of insanity! OA helped me become abstinent from my red-light (alcoholic) foods (such as sugar and flour), and enabled me to find the peace in a thing called food neutrality. Who would have ever thought I could walk past the bakery aisle in a store and not stop to pick up one, (or two, or ten) things I used to gobble down in a moment of compulsive eating? But this is now my reality!

By conceding to my innermost self that I am a compulsive eater and that my life had become unmanageable (and in my case, unbearable), I was able to take that first critical step. From there I was able to work the remaining 11 steps (in earnest) with a kind, loving, and supportive sponsor – one of the real gifts of recovery!

Having grown up with some toxic religious ideas that were forced upon me, I was especially happy to learn that that the Twelve Steps are a spiritual (not a religious) program. In OA, I could choose a Higher Power of my own understanding. For me, that power has been the power of love and an experience of complete acceptance by the wonderful people who are also walking this journey of recovery with me. This Twelve Step fellowship, as it is referred to, is truly something very special. I believe I have found my tribe!

Armed with my own concept of a Higher Power, I came to experience “food neutrality.” This meant I could accept (and rely upon) what was “my food,” and also peacefully avoid what was “not my food.” Now, my food is made up of whole, healthy, weighed and measured meals eaten 3 times a day, rather than heavily processed, sugars, starches, and unhealthy fats that are eaten all day long, and well into the night!

Much to my great surprise (and delight), the Twelve Steps of OA have enabled me to live a life of abstinence from my trigger foods. OA freed me from my food obsession and enabled me to focus on living a meaningful and purpose-led life. I made amends to those I had harmed with my eating insanity, humbly asked my HP to remove my character defects, and came to release more than 80 pounds – and have kept them off by working this amazing program of recovery!

This is a first for me: living in a body that doesn’t swing widely from one weight to another. It’s also a real MIRACLE, given I’ve been a compulsive eater since early childhood (when repeated abuses, trauma, and a lack of coping skills led me straight into the food to avoid the overwhelming mental and emotional pain and suffering)!

The great thing is that the “side effects” of the OA program are: dramatically improved health, greater mental clarity, peace of mind, and increased mobility. Along with these things, there are helpful tools, solutions, and freely available peer-support for dealing with all of life’s many challenges. THIS is a life worth living – and I didn’t need a costly prescription!

I’m not cured of the disease of compulsive eating, but I do get a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of my spiritual condition. Thankfully, I now have a design for living that really works, together with a new group of diverse friends whose love, support, and non-judgment afford me, as we recovered members like to say: a life beyond my wildest dreams!

If you’re struggling with food and want to stop eating compulsively, then instead of turning to high cost/high risk pharmaceuticals, why not give OA a chance? You’ve got nothing to lose but your misery!

– a thankful OA member, Fran N., Vacaville, CA