x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Overeaters Anonymous holds several meetings each week in Abu Dhabi and Dubai and a spokeswoman says a common misconception is that its members are all overweight.

Group support for addictions to food

Overeaters Anonymous has aided sufferers of lesser-known disorders for seven years in UAE

DUBAI // They come from all walks of life – air hostesses, home makers and business executives.

But they have one thing in common: all are compulsive overeaters.

For more than seven years, Overeaters Anonymous (OA) has had a presence in the UAE, with several meetings each week in Abu Dhabi and Dubai to help women and men recover from eating addictions and obsessions with food.

A common misconception is that its members, who did not want to disclose their identities, are all overweight.

“In OA you’ll find members who are extremely overweight, even morbidly obese, moderately overweight, average weight or underweight,” said an OA Dubai spokeswoman.

Dubai air hostess “Mary” is a case in point. To many, she has a glamorous, well-paid job that allows her to travel the world.

But the Lebanese expatriate, aged in her 30s, struggled to cope with a lack of consistent schedule and exposure to too much food.

“There is more food on a plane than passengers need or want,” Mary said. “I could eat and eat and eat, and no one was the wiser. But the pain of staying a size two was overwhelming.”

That led to bulimia.

“The expectation to always have on make-up and be dressed nice and the smile – always the smile,” Mary said. “I was a fraud. I vomited. I could not stop the eating but I could stop the weight gain.”

Her struggle with the binge eating and remorse rings true with many OA members.

“Ellen” would switch off the lights at home and binge on food in the darkness.

Now in her 60s, she cannot pinpoint what triggered her unhealthy relationship with food, but by her 30s it became her constant companion.

“I found my comfort, my friend, my salvation,” she said.

Ellen recognises several markers that led her to seek help, including crashing her car while eating cottage cheese with her fingers after shopping.

Another warning was visiting fast food joints at meal times to double up on food in secret.

Ellen finally admitted she needed help and went to her first OA meeting. She has never looked back.

Compulsive overeating is different to overindulging and there are many warning signs, such as hiding or lying about food, eating in secret and clearing gaps in the day to sit alone and eat.

Triggers that can cause people to have a problem with food vary from low self esteem to depression.

The first OA meeting was held in 1960 in California. It now has a presence in more than 75 countries, with 6,500 meetings taking place worldwide every week.

Meetings, which are free and typically have about nine members attending, are based on a 12-step programme, an addiction recovery method associated with Alcoholics Anonymous.

The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop eating compulsively.

“Abstinence is refraining from compulsive eating,” the spokeswoman said. “So one eats planned meals, no spontaneous eating and refraining from binge foods.”

Many people are unaware of OA’s existence, let alone that it has branches the UAE, she said.

“There is not a great awareness and even if they are aware, people usually want an easier way to lose weight, such as new pills, a new trainer or a new diet.

“But members who recover find yo-yo dieting a thing of the past.”

Those struggling with a food obsession should try an OA meeting, the spokeswoman said.

“You will find that you are not alone – that there is a way out.”

Mary found OA six years ago and has since managed to control her addiction.

“I have not vomited since. I follow a simple food plan, three meals a day. I bring my own food on to the flight. And now my smile is real.”

To seek help phone 050 249 4650 or visit www.oainuae.com.

jbell@thenational.ae

If you are worried that you might be overeating, ask yourself these questions:

Do I eat when I’m not hungry, or not eat when my body needs nourishment?

Do I go on eating binges for no apparent reason, sometimes eating until I’m stuffed or feel sick?

Do I have feelings of guilt, shame or embarrassment about my weight or the way I eat?

Do I eat sensibly in front of others then make up for it when I am alone?

Is my eating affecting my health or the way I live my life?

When my emotions are intense – whether positive or negative – do I find myself reaching for food?

Do my eating behaviours make me or others unhappy?

Have I ever used laxatives, vomiting, diuretics, excessive exercise, diet pills, shots or other medical interventions (including surgery) to try to control my weight?

Do I fast or severely restrict my food intake to control my weight?

Do I fantasise about how much better life would be if I were a different size or weight?

Do I need to chew or have something in my mouth all the time: food, gum, mints, sweets or beverages?

Have I ever eaten food that is burned, frozen or spoiled; from containers in the grocery store; or out of the rubbish?

Is there food I can’t stop eating after having the first bite?

Have I lost weight with a diet or “period of control” only to be followed by bouts of uncontrolled eating and/or weight gain?

Do I spend too much time thinking about food, arguing with myself about whether or what to eat, planning the next diet or exercise cure, or counting calories?

Have you answered “yes” to several of these questions?

If so, it is possible that you have, or are well on your way to having, a compulsive-eating or overeating problem.

* Supplied by Overeaters Anonymous