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Anonymous support for those who battle overeating

Date

Megan Doherty

"Natasha" is a member of Overeaters Anonymous promoting the international day of experiencing abstinence.

"Natasha" is a member of Overeaters Anonymous promoting the international day of experiencing abstinence. Photo: Jay Cronan

She is slim, confident, outgoing - and a member of Overeaters Anonymous in Canberra. Outward appearances count for little though.

Natasha (not her real name) says food has been an obsession since she was a child. She would hide lollies, chips and chocolate, and gorge on them. She waited for others to leave the house so she could eat way beyond feeling full, way past feeling sick. But she was not overweight because she was an active child.

Natasha could think of little else but getting and eating food. It was never one biscuit - it had to be the whole packet.

''It's the act of it. I'm not even hungry. It's just shoving the food in to fill some sort of hole inside, this emptiness inside. Food was a comfort for me,'' she said.

An insecure child with an alcoholic father, Natasha never felt comfortable with her appearance.

Now in her 50s and a health professional, she has been a member of Overeaters Anonymous for 24 years. It follows a similar 12-step program as Alcoholics Anonymous.

The organisation runs four meetings a week in Canberra. The program is described as spiritual because it is about filling a void in people's lives, but it is not religious.

Natasha stays with the group to keep on track but also to encourage others. She says: ''People go because of their relationship with food. Some are underweight, some are normal weight, some are overweight.

''One of the sayings is, 'You come for the vanity, stay for the sanity'. People might worry about their appearance but it's really about wanting to find peace and to not think about food 24 hours a day. And when you don't have that self-hatred, you have better relationships with people.''

Members were compulsive overeaters. Some ate frozen or burnt food or food from off the ground. Others would drive for kilometres in the middle of the night to find and eat food. As strange as one story could be, there was usually someone else with a similar tale to tell.

''Identification is the really powerful thing you get from OA,'' Natasha said.

Christmas is a critical time for overeating and in the lead-up to it members of Overeaters Anonymous worldwide have marked an International Day of Experiencing Abstinence (IDEA) on the third Saturday of November since 1992.

Natasha said if people could get through one day abstaining from overeating, it might encourage them to keep going. She said she was once overweight but had shed about 20 kilograms since joining OA. And she has not touched chocolate in 21 years. ''That was my bottom-line binge food, but I don't feel deprived. I'd much rather have the freedom of that clear head space.''

Natasha celebrated her birthday last week with a slice of gluten-free carrot cake and gave the rest away. ''It's my birthday and I'm going to have cake,'' she said with a laugh.

Canberra Overeaters Anonymous will host an International Day of Experiencing Abstinence event on Saturday at the Baptist Church hall in Currie Street, Kingston, from 3pm to 5pm. Visitors are welcome.

8 comments

  • Judging by the ever increasing girth of over half of our countries citizens. It would appear there is definetly a need of more of these orgs, rather than the multi million $ diet industry which doesn't seem to be reducing too many waistlines.
    I know people that gorge to fill that vacum, perhaps this approach is part of the answer.
    Australia is getting fatter by the minute and now becoming the norm. Young people have never witnessed a normal sized Australia.
    Overeaters Anonymous has a place in this crises.

    Commenter
    A country gal
    Date and time
    November 12, 2012, 11:27AM
    • Interesting article. I wonder about the role of dopamine in all of this. Dopamine is the body chemical involved in the reward mechanisms in the brain. Food is often used as for 'reward' purposes, often seen as 'emotional eating'.

      I think we can inherit genetic dispositions to problems with this process. The fact that this woman's father was an alcoholic lends credence to this theory.

      I don't want to lay all the blame on brain bio-chemistry. A lot of eating problems are culturally and socially based as well. And the body and soul are connected!

      And, if we believe in brain plasticity, we can change these behaviours by changing our personal , emotional an spiritual associations around eating and eating behaviour. I think that is what Overeaters Anonymous does with its 12 Step program, and what Aecoholics Anonymous does with the same program.

      It requires commitment and a little self-regulation with the help of the group. OA and AA are wonderful programs.

      Commenter
      Observer
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      November 12, 2012, 12:30PM
      • It all comes down to self control or lack thereof...only the individual can make changes to self damaging behaviour.
        Plenty of weak willed people making excuses and taking the easy way out for all sorts of things whether be eating high calorie, fatty junk food, smoking or drinking alcohol.

        A big thumbs up for people who have made lasting changes for the better....you'll feel better for it.

        Commenter
        dusty
        Date and time
        November 12, 2012, 1:34PM
        • Paragraph 2 says it all: forget all the bullshit about metabolism, etc; we're too bloody fat because we eat too much and don't do enough exercise. God only knows why it takes a 3 or 4 year university degree for nutritionists, etc, to work that out.

          Commenter
          Nicomachaen
          Location
          Kingston
          Date and time
          November 12, 2012, 2:31PM
          • I think it comes down to moderation with everything you put in your mouth, in France obesity is on the rise but not as bad as here, they really enjoy all the naughtie foods there the key is moderation and portion size instead of a whole cereal bowl of crisps just a couple in a smaller bowl. Washed down with a glass of red. People here tend to go ape over their junk food from the junk food aisles and buy bigger BIGGER BIGGER bags of everything.

            Commenter
            Pickled Herring
            Location
            Frankston
            Date and time
            November 12, 2012, 3:52PM
            • Thank you so much for this article. Natasha's words struck a chord - that's exactly how I feel. It can never be just one biscuit, or chip - it has to be all of them. I'm sick of thinking about food all the time, and how crazy it makes me feel. I looked up their site http://www.oa.org/membersgroups/find-a-meeting/ and found an OA group near me, and am going to my first meeting this week.
              Thank you.

              Commenter
              kate
              Date and time
              November 12, 2012, 4:18PM
              • Life's too easy these days, there is no threat of war to these shores and food is everywhere, it's a cult, even having several boring yet high-rating TV shows dedicated to its preparation and consumption. Unless that is addressed, no amount of overeating disorder groups is going to prevent us from becoming the fat laughingstock of the world. Every time you see someone tuck into a paper bag of fast food, just remember that that's your future Medicare levy increasing.

                Commenter
                Cathy Little
                Location
                Perth
                Date and time
                November 12, 2012, 4:19PM
                • As a member of AA and experiencing the expensive failures in the medical, rehabilitation industry, I agree 12 step programs offer a genuine and often successful outcome.
                  Mind you it is free. So no money for for specialists, rehabs and the insurance industry.
                  Must point out that professional supervised detox is essential in severe cases however after that phase AA is the only process I have found that works.
                  Recently referred to a specialist who wanted to put me in hospital @ $2000 a day detox, fill me up with masive doses of valium and charge $270 per 10 minute consultations. I was detoxed, I can stop but can`t stay stopped - that is where AA comes in.
                  Most health professionals are totally ignorant of the illness and sufferers waste years and thousands of dollars following their advice.

                  Commenter
                  hopefull
                  Date and time
                  November 12, 2012, 7:36PM
                  Comments are now closed
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