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Feast or Famine?

Written by: Terri Russell

One of my earliest memories is of my mother making me sit at the dining room table until I had finished everything on my plate, even the brussels sprouts! Unfortunately, our dog wouldn’t eat them either! I was made to feel guilty that there were starving children in the world who didn’t have access to the same amount of food that I had.

Fast forward 50 years and I still eat everything on my plate, even if I feel full halfway through. I even feel distressed if my family don’t eat all their food and I am tempted to finish their leftovers.

This unhealthy relationship with food extends to many other misconceptions that I have (in brackets are the messages from my inner critic):

  • To lose weight or be healthy I have to restrict my calorie intake to the bare minimum (I eat too much)
  • “Thin” people eat less than I do. (I am a glutton)
  • “Thin” people are more active than I am (I am lazy)
  • “Thin” people have a healthier self-esteem (I am not good enough)

Over the years I tried every pill, potion, and diet on the market. I have spent thousands of rands losing weight, only to put it back on again.  I felt like a failure. If other people can lose weight, why can’t I?

My aha moment came when I watched a documentary about a rehabilitation centre that successfully treated weight loss as an addiction by using the twelve-step programme. Full of hope I did my research and found the contact details for Overeaters Anonymous (OA) in South Africa.

I joined the daily meetings and found myself a sponsor that I spoke to at least twice a week. I bought all the books, including the Alcoholics Anonymous “bible”. I felt as if I had finally found my tribe, a group of people who truly understood me and my struggle with food.

Did it work? Yes and no. I started to improve my relationship with food and I lost weight. I discovered that there were certain foods (like sweets and chocolate) that triggered my addiction and I abstained from eating them. Together with my sponsor I began working the 12-step programme and I understood the need to believe in a higher power.

Then I got overconfident and thought that I didn’t need the help of OA any longer. The result was I fell off the wagon and started overeating again.

Will I go back to OA? Yes definitely. I realise now that I can’t beat this addiction on my own. Only once I have done the work will I reap the reward of a healthier and happier me. I have a long road ahead of me but I believe that, like many other people, that I can and will beat my addiction.

Eating disorders are defined as any abnormal eating that is detrimental to the body.  They include: obesity, bulimia and anorexia. Eating disorders do not discriminate. They are complex mental health disorders that can affect anyone, regardless of age, sex, or race. If you or anyone you love is battling with an eating disorder please reach out for help:

  • LifeLine Pretoria Appointments: 012 804 1853
  • LifeLine Pretoria Crisis Line: 012 804 3619
  • LifeLine National 24-hour Line: 0861 322 322
  • OA South Africa: www.overeatersanonymous.org.za

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