"In the afternoon, I would buy a loaf of bread and a stick of butter or some fried chicken and I would go to a local park and eat it so that my wife wouldn't know," said Frank, 63, who lives in a southern suburb. "I ate right by a Dumpster so I could throw away the evidence, then I would go home and say, 'Let's go out for a pizza because I'm hungry.' Then we would argue over the size of the pizza to order and I would insist on a large one and then I would not only eat my half but half of her half." Frank said he has dropped 58 pounds since joining OA/HOW and feels "free from the compulsion to overeat." He he has not overeaten in two years.
Katie, 22, a college student, said she struggled with her weight since puberty. "I started eating chocolate and chips and discovered couch potato-ism," she said. "The worst part of it for me was I felt isolated. The feeling of always being overfull. . . . I would wait until late at night, when my parents were in bed, and then I would snack." By last August, her weight had climbed to 225 pounds when she showed up at her first OA/HOW meeting. "I thought I would find a lot of fat people there, and really sad-looking people." She said that what she found was mainly happy, friendly, thin individuals. "Part of me didn't want to go back," she said. "Part of me knew that I should do this because it worked." She has kept coming back and said she has lost 50 pounds and no longer has sugar cravings.
Susan, 52, of Minneapolis, said she was a secret junk food eater. "I'd hidden it in the basement, garage, underwear drawer, jacket pockets, suitcases." Since joining OA/HOW in 2002, she has dropped 100 pounds and is stabilized at a weight of 139. "I saw hope in the rooms of the meeting, people who were successfully into recovery and I wanted that. . . . I became teachable, and have remained teachable one day at a time by the grace of God."
"I don't think there was ever a day in the last three or four years when I wasn't bingeing," said Katy, 41, of Minneapolis, who says she used food as her primary mechanism for dealing with her problems. "I was a purger. I got good at knowing what foods to throw up. I was still gaining weight. I came to HOW because my life was completely out of control." She has lost 90 pounds so far, down from 259, and said "my head is a lot better. . . . I am no longer an emotional powder keg."
Jim, of Burnsville, has lost 161 pounds in the OA/HOW program and has maintained his weight for two months. "I am very meticulous about weighing and measuring everything," he said. At his heaviest, Jim weighed 352 pounds and recalls sitting down in a lawn chair and breaking it. Support from OA/HOW, friends and family members has been critical, he says.
Carolyn, 57, of a western suburb, lost 101 pounds working the OA/HOW program for more than 2 1/2 years. "I used to measure my food by how much I could get into my stomach," she said. And she ate "until I was numb." Since losing weight, she no longer has to take blood pressure medications. "This program has given me back my life," she said, "and the opportunity to watch my grandchildren grow up."
Cindy, 49, Minnetonka, has lost 102 pounds in OA/HOW, and is 153 pounds down from her top weight. She has maintained her weight loss for 14 months. She once weighed 311 pounds, so heavy she couldn't go to the theater because she could not fit in the seat. She was diagnosed with diabetes and her eyesight was deteriorating. She said she finally went to a meeting after she concluded that overeating was going to kill her. By the time she had been in OA/HOW for 11 months, her doctors had taken her off two oral medications and insulin. She says she feels like she has been reborn.
Brenda, 43, has lost 133 pounds in OA/HOW and is down 163 pounds from her top weight. She says she still has more to lose. "I would go to a drive-through restaurant and order what three people would eat." She has been in the program a year. "Life is not an effort anymore," she said. "When I went to my yearly physical, my doctor couldn't believe that I had lost so much weight."
Shelley, 46, of St. Paul, has lost 108 pounds in OA/HOW, which she's kept off for 14 months. "I was really a binge eater." She said that once her husband left for work and children had gone to school each day, she'd go to a grocery store and buy chocolate-covered peanuts, a half-gallon of chocolate ice cream, a bag of Cheetos, and a bottle of Diet Coke. At least once a day, she'd go to a fast-food restaurant and get a super-size meal. She said that once she started calling a sponsor and telling her what she was going to eat each day, "the battle with food was taken away. I didn't have to make the decisions anymore. The obsession was really lifted."
Cynthia, 46, of a western Twin Cities suburb, has lost 100 pounds, which she has maintained for six months. "From the minute I woke up, all I could think about was what I was going to eat." She said she began with a healthy breakfast, hoping for a reasonable eating day, but by afternoon, she was eating fast food and junk food and in remorse for her eating behavior. She said the program is "the most important thing in my life. Today my compulsion has been to eat healthy, to take care of myself so I can help others."
Stacie, 46, who now weighs 135 pounds, lives in a southwestern suburb. She's maintained an 105 pound weight loss for 10 months. She lost 45 pounds in Overeaters Anonymous and the other 60 pounds in Overeaters Anonymous/HOW. Before joining the program, "I had practically quit living," she said. "I didn't want to leave my house. I was embarrassed, ashamed." These days, she says, she's no longer compulsive about food. "I am living life again," she said.