Straight Talk Advice

Oct 31, 2007

Obesity epidemic fueled by “compulsive overeating”

Dear Straight Talk: I appreciate your straight-forward response to “Megan’s dad” whose 19-year-old daughter is 50 pounds overweight. You are right that obesity is a disease, and while some may “accept” their weight, none are “happy” about it. But using rewards, as some on the teen panel suggested, won’t work. Diets, liposuction, having your stomach stapled, these won’t work either. Being overweight is caused by overeating and nothing will work, long-term, until a person faces the underlying issues of why he or she is overeating.

When I first saw things clearly, I was in a group with others who had problems with food. Being neither bulimic nor anorexic, the facilitator labeled me a “compulsive overeater.” I said, “I am not an overeater.” She replied, “You eat more than you need, you eat when you’re not hungry, you eat to point of discomfort, and you eat to stuff your feelings.”

I left there crying. She was right. I did all those things. I used food as a way to avoid my feelings and hide my stress. My husband and I had our drugs of choice: after work, we would be in the kitchen, he, drinking beer and I, eating. As with alcohol, when you eat to the point of being stuffed (meaning intoxicated) it’s difficult to be in touch with other feelings. This numbing effect is why you do it. Because overeating is an addiction, nothing really cures it other than programs like Overeaters Anonymous (OA) that follow the 12-steps to recovery. — Please tell your readers

Dear Please tell: Gladly. Overeaters Anonymous has a slogan: “It’s not what you’re eating, it’s what’s eating you.” The story of your awakening is powerful and I hope others see themselves in it. Getting past denial is the first step to recovery in any addiction.
According to the Center for Disease Control, from 1980 to 2004, obesity among adults doubled from 15 to 33 percent, while overweight among children tripled from six to 18 percent. In other words, if overeating was alcoholism, one out of three adults would be stumbling drunk (obese) and one out of five kids would be tipsy (overweight).

It is well known that hanging out with a drinker or smoker often leads to becoming one. New research shows that being around an overeater has the same effect. (Parents, if you need a compelling reason to quit, here it is.) Addictions clearly have a contagious quality.

Being overweight or obese has huge negative impact on one’s social, emotional, and physical health. Overeaters Anonymous’ 12-step program focuses on admitting you have a problem, taking moral inventory of your life, and healing the addiction at its roots. Meetings are free in every town. Visit or find “Overeaters Anonymous” in the business listings of your phone book.

I’d like my readers to take this test from OA. If you answer yes to three or more questions, you are very likely a compulsive overeater.
• Do you eat when you’re not hungry?
• Do you binge for no apparent reason?
• Do you plan binges ahead of time?
• Do you have feelings of guilt and remorse after overeating?
• Do you give too much time and thought to food?
• Do you look forward to times when you can eat alone?
• Do you eat less around others and make up for it later?
• Is your weight affecting your life?
• Have you tried dieting only to fall short?
• Do you assert that you can cut back on food “whenever you want?”
• Do you resent being told to “use willpower” to stop overeating?
• Do you crave eating at a certain time, other than mealtime?
• Do you eat to escape worries or trouble?
• Have you ever been treated for a food-related condition?
• Do your eating habits make you or others unhappy?


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