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Jacki's Story: Set Free From 25 Years of the Diet/Binge Prison!

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Hi! My name is Jacki, and I have been applying the OO approach to my life for about 5 years now, and I feel like it's given my life back to me! I feel like I'd been in prison for 25 years (I fought the compulsive eating problem for 25 years!) and have finally been set free to go out and enjoy my life now! This may sound quite exaggerated, but it's really exactly how I feel! Never before have I felt so calm around food! I'm even forgetting about foods that are in my house—that's a first! It feels so great to be a part of the "real" world now—to have regular Coke in my refrigerator to offer company; to be able to bake birthday cakes for people instead of avoiding baking due to fear; to be able to go to weddings and have a piece of cake and be "satisfied" (a word I never knew before!)—just to live free in a world of food and not have to constantly restrain myself and feel different and deprived!!

My food problem started when I was about 5 years old. My parents forced me to eat when I wasn't hungry and got mad if I wouldn't finish everything on my plate. I've got a picture of me asleep at my little table when I was 5—I'd fallen asleep because I was told I couldn't get up until I'd finished everything in the "TV dinner" I was eating and I refused to eat the "yucky" carrots/peas section! So I guess I got the message that I was to ignore what pleased or displeased me, ignore my "full" signal and eat anyway—that eating made my parents happy. When I was around 6, I started getting a little tummy on me—the kind all kids get right before a growth spurt. However, my parents (who were always on a diet and worried about their weight) were afraid I'd get "fat," so they put me on the "Stillman Diet" that they were always on. It was like a family rule—we all had to be on a diet together. Now, my parents were happy when I didn't eat!! How confusing this must have been to a child of 6!

You probably can guess what happened from then on! The diet/binge cycle had begun, along with my sneaking food to my room, getting caught with it, feeling ashamed, eating before my parents got home from work, feeling guilty, etc. I remember when I was just 7 years old(!) I would call Daddy every morning at work to tell him how much I weighed that day; and I got praised if I'd lost weight and "fussed" at if I'd gained—7 years old!! However, interestingly my 3 younger siblings were never put on diets—only me—and I believe that because they were left alone about this subject is the reason they never had eating problems. (However, one sister later started dieting on her own and also developed a problem.)

I went on several weight-loss programs throughout my childhood, teens, and early twenties, and lost up to 67 pounds about 3 times, along with smaller losses of 20-40 pounds several times—so there was no problem with will power, as everyone always assumes large people just need to muster up in order to lose weight! (Personally, I'd like to see any of THEM go on such strict diets!) But by the time I was 27 years old, my eating problem had progressed to the point where I weighed 250 pounds (I'm 5'4"). My life had gotten so wrapped up in food that it consisted of: waking up in the morning, getting dressed, going to a fast-food place and getting some kind of breakfast (usually a sausage biscuit and hash browns and maybe a milkshake), driving to the parking lot of the building where I worked and sitting in my car to eat my food. Then I'd go into the cafeteria and buy a 2nd complete breakfast (my favorite was a bacon and egg sandwich and grits)—that's the breakfast I let people see me eat. Then around 10:00 a.m. I'd go to the vending machines and stock up on candy bars, M&M's, etc. I'd go to the restroom and eat all but 1 item—then I'd let everyone see just the 1 item. I'd eat a "regular" lunch and then around 3:00 I'd repeat the vending machine routine. After work, I'd hit 2 or 3 places (usually a couple of fast-food places—maybe hamburgers and tacos—and also a convenience store for candy bars, ice cream, canned Cokes, chips, etc.). I'd go home and spend the evening eating and watching TV. My Friday and Saturday night dates consisted of food, "Dallas" and "Falcon Crest" and the "Soaps" I'd taped during the week. What a sorry life! Food was in charge of my life—not me. Just writing this really makes me feel sad to remember just how strong a hold food once had on me—and how much of my life was wasted.

I finally ending up finding out about "Overeaters Anonymous" (similar to "Alcoholics Anonymous") at the age of 27. I felt like I was finally "home!" It was great to be around others like me—who really understood my relationship with food. The sheer "high" of this helped me to stop compulsively overeating for several months. But then the "honeymoon" was over! I had a 4-year struggle with working the 12 Steps, making phone calls, sponsoring people, being sponsored, writing, reading, going to up to 3 meetings a week. Sometimes the compulsion seemed to go away for a while—up to about 5 months once—but it always came back. I still felt deprived and had to "white knuckle" to stay "abstinent." Food was still controlling my life. I resented the fact that I was "different," that I was like an alcoholic around food. I was told to never eat my "binge" foods (i.e., my "favorites"). I was so terrified that if I took one bite of a binge food I'd be out of control again. In fact, this is exactly what happened—several times. I'd binge and then be out of control for several weeks or even months before I could muster up the discipline to let go of the food again and get "abstinent." Now I understand this was because I was so deprived it was causing me to binge every chance I got! And this was a perfectly NORMAL response to deprivation! Yet, I was made to feel something was wrong with me…

Anyway, through OA I did lose 83 pounds in about a 2-year period. But then I came down with what I thought was "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome" (we eventually learned it was actually "Environmental Illness" or "Multiple Chemical Sensitivity"—and years later that it was in fact Lyme Disease!). This illness took all my energy from me and left me virtually bedridden. I was so upset and rebellious—I'd finally gotten under 200 pounds for the first time in my adult life, and I was loving life, buying clothes in the "normal" section, down to 167 pounds—and then had my new life robbed from me by a chronic illness. Then to top it all off my Mother passed away suddenly and left me and my younger siblings without any parents or grandparents (my Father had passed away in 1979.) So during the next year I gained ALL my weight back and went even further—up to 260. I felt hopeless, like I just HAD to work my program harder (meaning the constant working of the 12 Steps, meetings, phone calls, etc.)— but now I was too sick to get to meetings, and I was so tired of fighting off food—so tired of the struggle. Also, I had to quit my wonderful job that I loved so much—it was just an awful time for me.

I struggled until November of 1992 when I saw Geneen Roth on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." Something about her caught my attention. She seemed to smile as if to say "I've got a secret!!" I LIKED what she said about letting myself eat all I wanted and to stop depriving myself. I was SO READY to hear that! Her whole approach is that "for every diet, there's an equal and opposite binge"—in other words: dieting causes binging!! Instead of causing weight-loss, dieting causes weight-gain!! This idea was so crazy-sounding, but I knew in my heart it was true!! For every time I had dieted, I binged even harder when I finally got sick of being deprived and broke out of the diet and ended up gaining even more weight than I'd lost! This happened every time! I thought it was just me—that I was failing at weight-loss—when, in reality, I was just using the wrong "medicine." Dieting has a 98% failure rate—if a medical procedure had that kind of failure rate, it would be snatched off the market! But for some reason, people still think dieting is the answer for weight problems. By the way, when I say "dieting," I mean any form of restrictions whatsoever! Nowadays, they call it "eating healthy," eating "fat-free," a "lifestyle change," "being careful," "stopping the insanity"(!), etc. But it ALL amounts to deprivation and eventually weight-gain!

I really wanted some instructions on how to "Break Free" myself, so I bought Geneen's book, Breaking Free From Compulsive Eating. It was sort of scary to me, because the idea was so revolutionary: it meant totally "bucking the system" and letting go of trying to lose weight. I was so programmed to believe that I could never eat my favorite foods again—and this approach was telling me I needed to do just that! By this time, however, I was so sick of dieting and deprivation that I was willing to keep an open mind. My fear of giving this a try was overcome by the fear of living like I was for the rest of my life. I was sick of being controlled by food and weight obsession.

I had to tell my husband what was going on—he saw me going after cookies in the grocery store and panicked! He thought I was "slipping" from my OA program again. When I shared this new philosophy with him, he thought it made a lot of sense! So I'm really thankful to have his total support in this. During the holidays that year I just let myself eat whatever and whenever I wanted with my total permission and no guilt. It was amazing! I did eat a lot, but I WASN'T BINGING!! I had no desire whatsoever to binge. The compulsion was lifted instantly—instead of after weeks and months of struggle like in OA.

Then in February of 1993, I happened to catch someone from another anti-diet group called "Overcoming Overeating" on the "Vicki Lawrence" show. She seemed so calm about food and so sure that this approach would free people from compulsive eating, that I ordered a copy of the book from my local book store! When I got it, I was so excited to see that it even further explained the same approach I'd been trying! Geneen's books sort of "whetted" my appetite, so to speak, but it was Overcoming Overeating (by Jane Hirschmann and Carol Munter) that gave me clear-cut instructions on how to overcome my addiction to food! Their theory is to "eat your way out of your eating problem!!" Also, the ultimate goal is to reconnect physical hunger with eating. In other words, you learn how to tell when your body is hungry and eat exactly what you want and then to stop eating when your body is full. I now believe in this approach 200%!! My food addiction has been totally taken away!! (Yes, really!) I never would have believed this was possible if it hadn't happened to me!

The first time I was able to go to a birthday party and eat cake like everyone else and not feel guilty was amazing! I was totally satisfied after just one piece of cake; whereas before, I'd deprive myself of it and then as soon as I was alone I'd buy a whole cake and eat it myself! Also, to my amazement, I've discovered that food actually goes stale!! I could go on and on about my experiences, but really the main thing I wanted to share with you is just how FREE I feel! My life has been given back to me! I feel like I was in prison for 25 years, then Jane and Carol just walked up to my prison door and unlocked it and said, "You're free—go out and enjoy your life now!"

What's so amazing is that this has freed my husband as well! He no longer has to "hide" food from me. He was so amazed when I baked my first chocolate cake in over 5 years, had a piece each day for a few days and then forgot it was on the counter!!! He said, "This is a miracle!!" But I've relaxed around food now—I know I can have chocolate cake (or whatever) any time I want it, so I don't have to go crazy with it right now! Also, Valentine's Day of 1993 was the first time since I was a child that I got a box of chocolates for a Valentine! My husband gave them to me and said it was really neat to be able to buy me whatever he wanted to instead of a substitution! He gave them to me in the morning and I had 3 pieces. Then something truly amazing happened: I forgot I had them!! And they were sitting right beside my chair!! Before, the box would've been empty within an hour!

My husband and I talked about the differences between this program and OA (which I'd thought was the "answer" before this!). I realized that OA worked to a point—but only after you fought and struggled and worked the steps and made phone calls and went to meetings and basically gave your whole life to the OA program. It was a constant struggle and effort to stay away from overeating that got harder and harder as time went by. This program gave me an INSTANT release from the struggle! There was no fighting, no working hard at it, no struggling—and it get's easier as time goes by! My husband made a comment that I thought was so neat: "Eating" is what I'd struggled to avoid for 25 years of my life; and ironically, "eating" is what finally set me free!!

Right at first, the tendency is to eat quite a bit, since you're getting rid of all the deprivation for however long you've been restricting your eating. I spent about 6 months in the "legalizing" phase, then I started to naturally gravitate towards demand feeding. I don't really like feeling "too full" any more and I'm finding I actually enjoy eating when I'm hungry more than when I'm not. But if I'd have told myself when I first started this that I HAD to wait till I was hungry and only eat till I was full, I think I would have rebelled again—it would've just felt like a "demand-feeding diet!" By being gentle with myself and loving myself through the process, I believed that eventually I would be able to do that type of eating because I WANTED to more often—and that's exactly what happened! I ate past full most of the time at first, but it gradually started to change. It feels so good to nurture my hunger now, instead of fighting against it. I think this is how God created us to eat in the first place! I'm just going through a "healing process" to return to that natural state.

I gained about 23 pounds during the first 6 months of allowing myself to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. When I thought about this, I realized that the year before (after breaking out of the restraints of OA), I'd gained 65 pounds in 4 months!! So I guess gaining 23 pounds is a lot better! Also, I realized that I would have gained it anyway—probably even more—because I was still rebounding from all the deprivation I'd felt in OA. It was a little scary to be gaining weight—but every time I started feeling anxious about this and thinking that I needed to do something about my weight, I'd stop myself and say, do what?!! Go on another diet and gain even more weight?!! That wasn't an option anymore! I had to just keep going forward with this approach and whatever happened with my weight would happen! What did happen was that in the next year I lost 24 pounds, lowered my cholesterol from 241 down to 214, had a great A1C (diabetic test) (5.4) and totally amazed my doctor! I told him about the OO approach, and pointed out how ironic it was that the year I quit dieting I lost weight and had all these great results! He said, "Well, whatever you're doing, just keep doing it!!"

Even after being diagnosed with Type II diabetes in March of 1994, I still use this approach—I eat whatever I want (including sweets) and have excellent blood sugar control. I know in my heart that if I were to restrict my eating and focus on weight-loss again, I'd end up binging again and gaining more weight. I have to stick with the freedom I've found. I really don't even care anymore if I ever reach the goal weight of 135-145 that I've always had. Maybe I'll gradually lose some weight; maybe I won't! Regardless, I've made myself a promise to never deprive myself again—ever!! The benefits I've received from the OO program far outweigh any weight loss I've had in the past, and I'm happier with myself and with life now more than ever! I hope more and more dieters and compulsive overeaters will be set free by this approach—I know I'm sharing it every time I get the chance! Maybe by the 22nd Century, "dieting" will be a thing of the past…

Jacki B.

(NOTE: If you'd like to learn more about Jacki's Environmental Illness and how she's finally getting better, please see her personal web site!)
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