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Overeaters Anonymous celebrates 48th anniversary

DETROIT LAKES -- Every year, when New Year's Day comes around, people start making resolutions to start fresh, get healthy, get fit, eat better, and ultimately, to lose weight.

And yet, obesity rates continue to soar, as that January zeal to get in shape gives way to old, ingrained habits. Why is it so difficult for some people to stick to a diet, while others seem to have no difficulty at all?

According to Overeaters Anonymous -- which is celebrating its 48th year of existence nationwide -- it's because obesity (as well as its apparent polar opposite, anorexia) is really a symptom of a physical, emotional and spiritual disease known as compulsive eating.

Overeaters Anonymous -- or OA as it is commonly known -- has a similar premise to its sister organization, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). And much like AA, OA also holds the anonymity of its participants as an important element of its success.

Which is why, according to one local participant -- who asked to be referred to only as "Susie," for the purpose of maintaining that anonymity -- OA often doesn't get the recognition that other weight loss or weight control organizations do.

"It's been in existence in Detroit Lakes for over 20 years," she said. Susie herself has been a member for 18 of those years.

"Anonymity is part of the traditions (of OA)," she added. "We're patterned after AA -- we even use the same book, and study the same 12 steps of recovery."

Susie said that before she became a member of OA, there really wasn't a time when food wasn't a focus in her life.

"I don't remember ever eating a normal portion of food," she said. "I always had to have lots more -- as much as I could get my hands on."

If she was invited to a party, Susie added, she was more interested in what would be on the menu than in what they would be doing, or who would be attending.

"I've been on many, many diets," she said. "I was always a really good dieter. But even when I wasn't eating, I was always obsessed -- I spent all my time thinking about what I could and couldn't have (to eat)."

When she went off the diet, and the weight crept back on, "I'd beat myself up about it," Susie said. "I always knew something was wrong with me -- I just thought I had a lack of willpower.

"I was pretty much obsessed with diets and scales -- how much I weighed ruled my life. If the scale had the right number, I was OK -- if it didn't, I was a bad person."

That obsession with food and weight began in childhood, she added. "When I was 15 years old, I weighed 216 pounds. I was a junior in high school when I went on my first diet.

"I thought I had such control... but as soon as I went off the diet, back came the weight."

Then one day, a friend told Susie about OA.

"Eighteen years ago I went to my first (OA) meeting in Detroit Lakes, and I've never stopped going," she said. "I knew I was home. I had thought I was the only person who would have secret thoughts about food all the time."

But in OA, Susie learned her weight wasn't the problem -- it was a symptom of something that went much deeper.

"We believe we have a disease," she said. "It's a three-fold disease -- physical, emotional and spiritual. Your mind says, 'this time it will be different,' but your body says you can't stop (eating)."

"By working the steps, that obsession with food has been lifted, removed -- but I had to have the support of other people."

OA holds weekly meetings, every Monday at 7:15 p.m. in the boardroom at Emmanuel Community Nursing Home. To accommodate those who can't attend evening meetings, an additional weekly gathering has been added. The new group meets at 12:10 p.m. every Wednesday in the Emmanuel boardroom.

There are no dues or fees for membership; the organization is self-supporting through member contributions and literature sales. For more information, please contact Lois at 218-983-3339 or Lori at 218-346-7978.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454