Compulsive Eating Is a Disease

And a Solution Is Free, Right Here in Santa Barbara

Compulsive eating is a disease, not a matter of character, and I have it. When I consume certain ingredients, they have the effect of creating a craving, and I want more and more. I have no idea when I will stop eating. For me, these trigger ingredients are white flour, sugar, dairy, high-fat foods, and nuts. For many people, the trigger is simply sugar and white flour, because it varies from person to person. In the case of one person whom I sponsor, it is only white flour. Sugar does not trigger her. She doesn’t like sugar.

If we avoid our trigger ingredients completely, we do not trigger this allergy of the body. But for those of us who are real compulsive eaters, something in our heads sends us to these foods, over and over and over again. For a real compulsive eater, it is human emotions, and not only when we are feeling resentments and fears, but even when things are going well for us. Food is the drug that brings us ease and comfort after taking a few bites, just as for an alcoholic, ease and comfort comes “at once after taking just a few drinks.” [AA’s Big Book]

We know that obesity is an epidemic. Most of us who do not have a normal-size body try everything we can think of to lose the excess weight. We lose a little, sometimes a lot, and put it back on, over and over and over again. We wonder, what is wrong with us? Why can we not exercise the willpower to lose the excess weight? We know the excess pounds not only affect our appearance but also lead to deadly diseases. Most of us have used willpower to succeed in careers and in other endeavors, but when it comes to controlling our eating, we cannot get anywhere. In fact, over the years we gain more and more weight.

When I retired from 37 years of teaching, I was desperate to lose the excess weight I had put on since I stopped jogging in my mid thirties. Over the years, I had become a lifetime member of Weight Watchers three times. I had tried every conceivable diet. Now I tried Weight Watchers again. It worked for others, why not for me? I did not know why, but it did not work for me.

Then I tried behavior modification therapy based on controlling my heart beat. Lost a little, put it back on. I tried standard therapy — my daughter was getting married. I wanted to look good for the wedding and have her be proud of me. I lost a good part of my excess weight, but I started putting it right back on during the wedding weekend. I shared my frustration with people I knew, and finally, hearing me so exasperated, someone asked if I had ever tried Overeaters Anonymous? It had never occurred to me that a 12-step program might help me.

My view at the time, that alcoholics were people of poor character made me question whether a program to help alcoholics would help me. But I started attending meetings and eventually found a sponsor who took me through the 12 steps of the book Alcoholics Anonymous, lovingly called the Big Book by many who have recovered.

OA is not a religious program, but it is a spiritual program. It works exactly the same way that AA works. The 12 steps brought serenity to my life. I took off my excess weight and have kept it off for four years. I am no longer fighting with the food, but I have to work the steps and stay spiritually fit. I look great and feel fabulous. I urge anyone who is suffering from this cunning and baffling disease to come to an OA meeting. I would love to meet you and work with you. Like AA, OA is free. Find a meeting at

Today, Elaine S. is living on the Mesa and trudging the road of happy destiny. You can contact her at


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