The Deadly Disease No One wants to Discuss – Compulsive Eating


August 16, 2021

The Deadly Disease No One wants to Discuss – Compulsive Eating

To sustain life, every living thing must eat – and, typically, human beings must eat several times a day from a wide variety of food groups. And yet, each of us will come to develop a relationship with food that can either lead to a happy and balanced way of being, or it can result in tremendous pain, suffering, and even death. This is something that few with the problem ever care to admit, and even fewer still that would ever care to discuss it. What I am referring to is the deadly (and seldom discussed) disease of compulsive eating.

Shh - few ever talk about compulsive eating

Sadly, at age 57, I found myself deep in the food, and deeply depressed (as well as morbidly obese). This was a direct consequence of my own food obsession. Beginning at age 9 (after a painful incident of sexual abuse) I began to gain weight from my need to seek food for comfort. That was when I was placed, by my Mom, on my first of a series of endless diets. Back in high school, I was so desperate to lose weight that I practically starved myself to the point of my bones sticking out (and my hair falling out). Then, while at college, in an attempt to manage my weight, I began binging and purging (nearly destroying my vocal cords). And then, much later in life, I came to eat myself up to a BMI of 40 with excess pounds that were practically killing me (and causing all manner of serious health problems that were going to lead, according to my physician, to my premature death).

For some, food is nothing more than an essential fuel for the body, intermixed with varying degrees of enjoyment or displeasure, based on respective taste buds and food-related experiences, upbringing, and society at large. For others – people like me (who suffer with compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors) – the relationship with food can be a complex and explosive field of emotional land mines, interspersed with frantically sought-after ease, comfort, and (over) indulgence, followed by deep remorse, guilt, shame, and burgeoning weight (along with never-ending health issues).

The negative, even damaging, associations with food are too numerous to mention here. Few want to talk about it. And yet, throughout this lengthening pandemic, eating disorders are becoming ever more prevalent and ever more serious all around the globe.

Some of the most challenging food issues – anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder (BED), obesity, and night eating syndrome (NES) – are fast becoming ever more concerning mental health problems, signifying a person’s unhealthy relationship with food.

The root cause of eating disorders is varied, multi-layered, and complex – and well beyond the scope of this author and this blog. However, it can include the effects of another mental illness (such as major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety, PTSD, etc.), genetics, media, negative body image, and the impact of trauma, especially for those of us who have experienced severe trauma in their early childhood (and for me, I was very young when I first experienced a mixture of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse that gave rise to my issues with food, along with a deep loathing of my poor body).

I want to make clear that Overeaters Anonymous, does not concern itself with the medical aspects of obesity, anorexia, bulimia, etc., but rather with the compulsive nature of overeating and other eating disorders. This is what I hope to speak to within this blog.

So, what is an eating disorder?

Borrowing from the web, an eating disorder is described as: an illness that affect a person’s relationship with food and body image. Those of us with eating disorders typically think excessively about (or hyper focus upon) food, our body weight and/or shape, and how to control food (through under-eating, restricting, dieting, overeating, excessive exercise, purging, laxative abuse, diuretics, and any other manner of obsessive/compulsive food behaviors).

Within OA, you will meet a diverse group of people with various eating disorders, including, though not limited to the following:

  • Anorexia nervosa (characterized by weight loss or low weight maintenance via extreme dieting, starvation, or excessive exercise).
  • Binge eating disorder (frequent consumption of an unusually large amount of food at a single sitting).
  • Bulimia nervosa (can include vomiting/purging, laxative abuse, excessive or compulsive exercising, or fasting to avoid weight gain after binge eating).
  • Night Eating Syndrome (not the same as BED, although often comprised of binge eaters, although the amount of food consumed in the evening/night is not necessarily very large nor is a loss of control over food intake required).
  • Obesity (abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health – BMI is typically 25 or more).

Tragically, eating disorders are among the deadliest mental illnesses, second only to opioid overdose! Of eating disorders, anorexia is the most deadly. One study found that people with anorexia are 56 times more likely to commit suicide than people without an eating disorder. It is my hope, that along with the help of a great psychotherapist and/or psychiatrist, that any anorexic (or other disordered eater) might find their way into the Twelve Step program of Overeaters Anonymous to find the additional help and support we all need to make it through this deadly disease!

According to the CDC, obesity is a common, serious, and costly disease. Here are some statistics straight from the CDC website:

  • The US obesity prevalence was 42.4% in 2017 – 2018.
  • From 1999 –2000 through 2017 –2018, US obesity prevalence increased from 30.5% to 42.4%. During the same time, the prevalence of severe obesity increased from 4.7% to 9.2%.
  • Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. These are among the leading causes of preventable, premature death.

And what can OA do about all these despairing facts? For this compulsive eater (who has starved, restricted, dieted, purged, binged, eaten raw food, burnt food, spoiled food, stolen food, and MORE), OA has saved my life, and changed it for the better! In my closet were clothes ranging from size 6 to 26 – and depending upon my feelings and emotions on any given day – I would never know what I might do with food, or what size clothing I might need as a consequence (hence, the huge variety of sizes, some clothes with tags still on because I blew through that weight too quickly during an especially bad period of food obsession!)

That was my life, only a little more than 4 years ago. Today, my closet has only clothes that fit, and for that I am HUGELY grateful. Now, thanks to this program, I am able to maintain a more than 90-pound weight release, I’ve learned to start loving myself (and my precious body), and I have a life of joy, peacefulness, and contentment. Thank you, OA!

How did I do it? First, I had to hit a bottom and surrender that I was out of control with food! Next, I had to become willing to take direction (and right action) to stop eating the foods that only served to trigger my addictive behavior (and for me, these were many, including anything sugary, doughy, chocolatey, carbonated, or processed – what I have come to refer to as my alcoholic foods). It is from these unhealthy foods that I am now abstinent.

Once I surrendered – admitted to myself that I was utterly powerless over food and that, as a consequence, my life had become unmanageable to the point of unbearable (Step One) – I could see that I was going to die if I didn’t stop what I was doing, which was fixing with food! Only then, did I become willing to take guidance from a sponsor (and I knew I was highly motivated because I had to ask 7 people before I found the one open and willing woman to sponsor me, and she is my sponsor today).

With the help of my sponsor, I began to work (and rework) the Twelve Steps in earnest, and to practice their principles in all my affairs. I worked the steps with a fervor that was strong enough for me to put the food down, to pick up the literature, to go to 4-5 meetings a week, and to “seek” the God/Higher Power of my own understanding (and for me, that God turned out to be “LOVE” – the kind that provided a Good Orderly Direction for my life!)

If you are suffering, struggling, miserable, and ready to take action in working towards a real solution, then isn’t it time you gave OA a chance? Today, I get to eat 3 (weighed and measured, because I have “portion distortion”) wholesome, healthy, and satisfying abstinent meals – something that I could never have imagined possible – thanks to Overeaters Anonymous. Why not give OA a try? You just might find what so many of us have – a warm welcome and a real solution that works!

By Francine B., a grateful, recovered compulsive eater and bulimic, San Jose, CA

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and to sharing your story of experience, strength and hope with others on this amazing journey of OA recovery from compulsive eating through the Twelve Steps.