Last night on The Biggest Loser, former winner Erik Chopin showed up having regained all the weight he lost on the show. His battle with his weight loss and regain has been very public, but it's not at all unique. Kirstie Alley regained a large amount of weight after having lost it using Jenny Craig (supposedly) and exercise. Here's the problem: Anyone can lose weight, but compulsive overeaters can't keep it off without admitting they have a problem beyond the physical.
On Alley's new show Kirstie Alley's Big Life on A&E, she talks about how she eats and wants to eat all the time--whether she's hungry or not. This isn't a normal reaction to food, it's a compulsive one. Her so-called "chubby buddy" on the show (her handyman) is caught by hidden camera repeatedly binging on fast food when he thought no one was looking. That's not normal either, but I can relate to all of this.
Since the age of five I have been aware that my relationship to food was different than others'. I didn't want to eat a meal with you--I wanted to eat my meal and yours alone, in secret. I wanted to hide from the world, retreating into fear and anger and sadness with only chips, cakes and cheese there to console me.
I have found recovery from this addiction, but before I did I spent my time binging, taking laxatives, taking amphetamines to curb my appetite, going on every fad diet, gaining and losing hundreds of pounds, not eating for months at a time, gorging for months after that. I ate frozen, burnt and discarded food. I ate off other people's plates and ate other people's food. I did everything one can imagine they would never want to admit to doing with food. But now I'm open about it, because I'm confident my experience can be of use to others.
So back to The Biggest Loser. I am not in any way qualified to say whether or not these people are compulsive overeaters, I don't know them beyond what NBC presents, but I can say that it's hard to get to the weights these people start at without having a problem with food. And there's the rub: This show can peel hundreds of pounds off a person through extreme diet and extreme exercise (some contestants eat only 1,200 calories a day which borders on starvation) but it can't deal with the underlying emotional, physical and spiritual problems that cause addiction.
If we sent alcoholics to this ranch and they stopped drinking for six months because there was no booze and they were watched every minute of the day, would you think they were cured? Would you assume they could go back into the world and start a life free from addiction? Of course not. So of course these people gain the weight back.
Both alcoholics and compulsive overeaters suffer from addictions to non-addictive substances--the similarities are uncanny. That's why using the AA program but for food (OA) has given me a new life.
By going to Overeaters Anonymous meetings I found a sponsor to take me through the steps. I went from an angry, isolated, depressed person to a joyful and serene individual who prizes service above all else. The program asks you to believe in a higher power--but one of your own choosing. It can be God, nature, gravity or a lamp post. As long as you believe in it, you'll be ok. As Oswald Chambers once said, "It is not so much as prayer changes things, but prayer changes me and I change things" and that's how OA, AA, DA, GA, etc work. We take actions, we make inventories, we become honest, we pray and our lives change dramatically. It is not to say that things go perfectly, we live life on life's terms like everyone else, but we are vastly more equipped to handle the problems that come our way because we have the support of our fellows, the guidance of a sponsor, the love of a higher power and the immense gratitude that come with freedom from an addiction.
I would like to say that I do not in any way represent OA as a whole, or compulsive eaters as a group. I am one among many and can only offer my experience and thoughts. The reason I remain anonymous has nothing to do with shame, as I have come to terms with my disease, but rather with the 12-step traditions. We remain anonymous at the level of radio, TV and other media of communications. If you'd like to talk, feel free to email me here.