'I'd throw out the bin so he wouldn't see what I'd eaten' - Irish mum tells of her crippling battle with overeating
Less than two years ago, Olivia* walked into her first meeting of Overeaters Anonymous (OA).
She was at crisis point. She’d just eaten boxes of Christmas junk food in the space of a few days. She’d told herself she’d “keep them for Easter”. But she ate them all on her own, in hiding.
This was the tipping point of a long weight battle that brought her to her first OA meeting. OA runs a 12-step program similar in style to that of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Here, Olivia tells her story:
“They say the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expect different results.”
“I was a pretty classic overeater. From my teenage years, I began to feel fat and conscious about my weight. Right up until the age of 51, I was in a constant cycle of diet and bingeing.”
“I even went to a hypnotist in London because I thought that would fix me. I thought there was a solution out there and I just needed to find it.”
“I would really successfully diet for a period of time, and I would succeed – the highest size I was at was size 18 or 20, and when I was dieting, I once got down to a comfortable 16 or maybe I could squeeze into a 14. I thought I’d be grand and I’d start eating again.”
“When I was dieting I was obsessive about it, and then when I eating I was obsessive about that as well. Once I started eating I couldn’t stop, and I couldn’t understand how my friends would diet and lose weight and then keep it off. You hear a lot about dieters who can’t keep the weight off so I think compulsive overeating is more common than we think.”
“Looking back on it now, it wasn’t only my obsession with food and eating, it was also an obsession with how I looked; what people thought about me. Every outing or event I had was curtailed by how I felt about myself. I wouldn’t want to get into a photo, and when I did, I’d be thinking those other mothers are probably thinking ‘the fat cow’.”
“The crux for me came when I moved back home. I lived in another country for most of my adult life and I wasn’t in a happy marriage. I always thought ‘if he wasn’t such a b*****d’, ‘if I wasn’t living here’… But I only came back to Ireland a few years ago, and I realised 'I’m in a new relationship, I’ve bought a lovely house, I’ve moved home, but still my weight is the same'.”
“I was in a fantastic, open relationship with a person that I could talk about anything, but I could talk about anything except the food.”
“If we were eating out I’d have normal-sized dinner plates and then afterwards at home, I’d eat on my own, trying to hide the wrappers, throwing the bin out quicker so that he wouldn’t see what I’d eaten.”
“I didn’t realise what I was doing was bingeing and compulsive eating. The actual moment for me was at Christmas the year before last. My sons came over to visit. I bought in a load of goodies, and the kids all went back home, and I was left with a huge amount of food and I couldn’t stop eating it. I’d tell myself 'I’m not eating that', 'I’m leaving it in the cupboard for Easter when they come over again', and I couldn’t stop, and when it came to the last box [of sweets], I thought I’m really in trouble here.”
“I went to my first meeting that night and I haven’t looked back since.”
“With food addiction…it’s different, because obviously you can’t give up food because you need food. But I learned that there are certain foods that are trigger foods for me. OA is not a diet club, you don’t get weighed. It’s about trying to have a healthy relationship with food.”
“It’s a miracle that I don’t obsess about my weight anymore. People say it’s not about the weight; it’s about your head and where you are with your relationship with other people. But the aim is about your recovery and to get you to a healthy weight.
“I’m down to a comfortable size 12 that I never thought I’d be in in my life.”
“I have a food plan that’s easy to follow and that’s it. I can go into a clothes shop now and buy clothes which I never dreamed of.”
“It’s all about having a relationship with a higher power. It’s not about god, it’s a spiritual programme, and if you develop a relationship with a higher power, that relationship replaces what you were filling food with.”
“A lot of people might think it’s a religious thing. It’s not, you have a spiritual life that replaces the addiction.”
“It involves me being conscious that I have a higher power. I meditate and it’s about living an honest life and being honest with myself. Any sort of addiction requires that there’s denial there, and the opposite of denial is to be honest with myself and everyone and to live an honest life. To be present and have self-esteem and self-awareness: I’m the same as everyone else; I’m no better or worse than anyone else.”
“I talked to my partner after I came back from the first meeting.”
“I know a lot of people would say their addiction came from a trauma or an experience in childhood. I believe I have a disease and there are certain substances that my body can’t cope with and it triggers that I want more.”
“For me, I wouldn’t say it’s sugar of all types. I still take a small bit of sugar in my coffee or tea. For me it’s salty snacks, biscuits, chocolates, and white bread was a huge trigger for me. I haven’t had any of those substances for the past 20 months.”
“Some people come in expecting it to be another diet club and when they hear talk of a spiritual programme they don’t stick around.”
“For me, I knew they didn’t work for me and I needed to try something else.”
“The other thing is that you’re going into a group who understands and have been through the same thing.”
“I’m getting married next June. The thought did come to my mind that if I was going to be shopping for a size 20 wedding dress, I probably wouldn’t be getting married.”
“It’s about feeling good in my own skin and not trying to hide things. Even with my sisters, my sons, there’s more of a depth to the relationships now. I’m not trying to hide myself anymore.”
“I think a lot of people think [my renewed confidence is] all about the weight – ‘she’s so happy because she’s a healthy weight’. But I’m comfortable because I’ve found simple steps.”
“I was so ashamed for having to go to OA, and I was very, very nervous, but it has changed my life. Even if just one person was to get what I got, it’d be our job done.”
Olivia goes to three Overeaters Anonymous meetings week. She has a sponsor, and she also has two “sponsees”.
OA are holding public information meeting in Dublin tomorrow, October 11th, in Ely House, Ely Place Dublin 2, at 7pm.
*Oliva is a pseudonym