Overeaters Anonymous - help is available
Growing up, Nelson was physically, emotionally and sexually abused. Unable to find comfort in his family, he said he turned to food.
As an adult, his maximum weight reached 461 pounds, and his failing health caused him to be admitted to the hospital three times.
"I almost died, I was in respiratory distress ... the rescuers had to carry me out in a tarp because I was so big," he said. "I felt physical and emotional torture."
That was more than four years ago and before he joined Overeaters Anonymous.
Nelson had to reach rock bottom before he sought help. He lost his job, he was unable to walk more than 30 feet at a time, and his life was slipping away.
"The last time I was hospitalized I was suicidal. But I realized I had two choices - to live or die," he said.
Ellen* said she felt the same desperation, and also hit rock bottom before seeking help with her overeating compulsion.
"I fought with food all my life," she said, adding that she also suffered from diabetes, manic depression and a genetic makeup that caused weight problems.
Addicted to certain foods she was literally eating herself to death.
"I would binge on food until I passed out on my couch," she said. "Literally, or figuratively, I lived in a coma on my couch for 50 years."
Ellen, a manic-depressive, said she overate to push away the feelings she didn't want to experience.
"Food worked so well, it made me numb. Just like heroin to a heroin addict," she said.
Ellen also became hospitalized because of the problems caused by the excess weight. After being released, she became bulimic because she said she couldn't diet anymore.
As a nurse she knew the dangers of her lifestyle, but as an addict she was unable to change her life alone.
saving their lives
After being hospitalized and dealing with thoughts of suicide, Nelson recognized he had an addiction and was powerless to resist food. In Overeaters Anonymous he said he found support and a faith in life that helped bring him down to a healthy, manageable weight.
"Alcoholics slay their dragon, I have to feed mine three times a day," he said about learning how to handle the addiction.
Overeaters Anonymous follows the same 12-step program as Alcoholics Anonymous. Sponsors are also part of the program. Meetings are held at locations throughout Western New York. The organization encourages anyone seeking help to attend six meetings to determine if the program is right for them.
There are a lot of stigmas that go along with the name Overeaters Anonymous. Ellen said when she first attended a meeting she saw thin and regular sized people, and she wondered why they were there.
"Anorexics, bulimics, morbidly obese individuals, all attend the meetings," she said. "It's for anyone who has a problem with food."
Also, many of the people who attend are at different stages of the program. Both Nelson and Ellen appear to be a "normal" weight but are still dealing with the addiction.
Ellen said people who think they may need help can sit in on a meeting and just observe.
They warn anyone interested in changing that it's not going to be easy.
"Letting go of the food is hard; it's like a drug addict letting go of a drug," she said.
Both said they felt extremely lucky to have found an ad for Overeaters Anonymous in a newspaper.
The meetings are informal, often held in churches and community rooms in a roundtable or living room setting.
Nelson described how following the 12 steps is simple to understand, but he added that the program is not easy.
Ellen explained that joining Overeaters Anonymous is about becoming abstinent, as defined by the individual. Members of the program have to choose to stay away from the vice that caused them to compulsively eat.
"You will start to feel the feelings that weren't felt when you were eating," she said about handling the changes in the program. "That's when the fellowship, the support, comes in."
'It's about the journey'
Both Nelson and Ellen said they have never in their lives felt as good as they do now.
"It has to be the most important thing in your life; the rest will fall into place," he said about seriously seeking help in Overeaters Anonymous.
Since joining, he has stuck to the same food plan for four years.
The days of sitting in front of a TV all day eating excessively large amounts of food are gone. Instead there are such accomplishments as the 65-mile bicycle race he recently completed.
"I made all my amends and dealt with my guilt," he said. "I had to take a moral inventory of myself."
Ellen fears she would have been blind from the diabetes, extremely sick, or dead if she hadn't sought help.
"I found an excellent sponsor ... I was lucky," she said.
Ellen added that she has found different reasons, that don't in- volve food, to get through life.
They both noted that Overeaters Anonymous is not a diet club. It's for people dealing with serious food and eating issues.
"You always need to be aware, always prepared," she said about dealing with compulsive eating.
Nelson and Ellen recognized that they will need to continue with the support of Overeaters Anonymous as they live their lives and complete their journeys.
Meetings are held at 10 a.m. Saturdays at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 6320 Main St., Williamsville and at 5:30 p.m. Sundays at the Newman Center, 6325 Main St., Williamsville.
Call 694-4848 for information on either meeting or visit www. oawny. com.