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An overeater's story – plus, San Diego weight-loss resources

Fat

"I figured, what the hell. I’ll eat until I weigh 300 pounds and then I’ll kill myself.”

An overeater's story

WHILE OTHER PEOPLE are chomping on potato chips in front of their TV sets, downing popcorn and soda pop at the movies, or heading out to the local ice cream stand for an after-dinner treat, several groups of San Diegans are meeting in churches, recreation centers, and living rooms hoping that somehow, some way, they’ll make it through the night without a chocolate milkshake. They have gathered together with the common bond of abnormality. Most of them are fat...not just pleasingly plump or chucklingly- chubby, but fat, with double and triple chins, bulbous arms and legs, potbellies, and distended rear ends. But that’s only part of their problem, only a symptom of their greater difficulty: they are addicted to food. They have no control over their eating habits. And, they all agree, they are sick.

"I thought that since health food was good for me I could eat as much of it as I wanted."

The meetings they are attending are those of Overeaters Anonymous, a national organization formed over 20 years ago to help what it calls “compulsive overeaters" in the same way Alcoholics Anonymous helps alcoholics. O.A. has gleaned most of its philosophy and working principles from A.A., in the belief that compulsive overeating is a disease much like alcoholism, one of the mind and body, not to be treated as a simple case of “a few too many snacks.”

According to O.A., not all fat people are compulsive overeaters (and not all compulsive overeaters are fat). The difference lies in the person’s approach to food. Many people are able to stick to diets, get a little more exercise. lose weight, and return to a relatively normal life. But for compulsive overeaters, it is much more complicated. Take Karen (her name and all others here have been changed to maintain their anonymity), for instance, who has been in O.A. for four years now. “I’ve lost 225 pounds in O.A.,” she says, “but I lost that much in other programs, many times, then gained it all back.” What went wrong? “I am a compulsive overeater. Losing weight is only working on the physical part of the program.”

You can’t dry out an alcoholic, put him back into the world of bars, liquor stores, and cocktail parties, and expect him not to drink. You can’t slenderize a compulsive overeater, put him back into the world of fast foods, grocery stores, and mouthwatering commercials and expect him not to eat. Normal people eat to live. Compulsive overeaters live to eat.

"I weighed over 400 pounds," Karen says “Mv doctor told me had only two months to live if I didn't lose weight." By then she had given up on traditional weight-loss programs, but someone told her about O.A. “O.A. saved my life."

O.A. is full of people who have been in Karen's situation, who turn to O.A. as a last-ditch effort to save their lives. For years they have been told by concerned families, friends, and physicians that they should try the grapefruit diet, the egg diet, the water fast, the drinking man’s diet, health food diets, low carbohydrate diets, reducing pills, water pills, exercise clubs, jogging, steam rooms, just about anything that would help them lose weight. “Just use a little will power." they've been urged. Or, less encouraging. “Don’t you have any respect in your body?" Having tried and failed, they cringe with their terrible secret that they hove no will power. Our society is hard on fat people, but it’s even harder on those with no will power (the American Dream: you can get whatever you want as long as you try hard enough). Lack of will power is a sin punishable by failure: and to fail, repeatedly, brings a sense of guilt, self-hatred, and worthlessness. It’s no wonder, then, that many compulsive overeaters have at some time in their lives attempted suicide. It beats having to hate oneself every day

Janet has been an O.A. member for four months. She had just been informed by her physician that she would be dead within ten years (she's 25) if she didn’t stop overeating. I knew 1 couldn’t stop, so I figured, what the hell. I’ll eat until I weigh 300 pounds and then I’ll kill myself.” A friend in A.A. introduced her to O.A. “I joined because I was desperate...! really didn't want to die.” Janet describes her life as a compulsive overeater:

“I come from a restaurant family. I learned to equate food with love. ‘Here, I love you, eat this.’ I learned to turn to food when I was uncomfortable.” She was a normal weight as a child, but in her late teens, when her parents began eating their way to a divorce, she began to hide in her room to eat, blocking out family problems with cake and candy. When she gained weight, she dieted; and when she lost weight, she ate and gained the weight, plus a few pounds more, back.

“I got married when I was 21. I was 15 pounds overweight.” She discovered that she and her husband had very few things in common. His job took him away from home for long periods of time, and while he was gone, she ate, constantly and uncontrollably. “Most women would be upset if their husbands called and told them they wouldn’t be home until 2 am. But for me it was great. A whole night of eating before me!

”I had a regular routine. I would go to the store and buy a large package of Oreos and a pint of whipping cream. I’d whip up the cream in a big bowl, with about a cup of sugar, the sweetest cream ever. I’d put the bowl under my left arm, always my left arm, and the Oreos under my right arm, and march into the bedroom, locking the door behind me. I’d prop myself up in bed with them, take an Oreo from the package, dip it in the cream, and eat it, until everything was gone. AllI had to do then was wash the bowl out and stuff the empty package in the bottom of the garbage. No clues left.”

She gained 35 pounds. Her husband couldn’t figure out what was going on, because she ate normally in front of him. She never told him about her secret binges. “By then, I was so far away from him.”

She became a great hider. She hid packages of food all over the house and in her car. “I would eat while I was driving the car, but if I had to stop at a light, I would stop eating. The person in the car next to mine might see me!”

Her binges resulted in hypoglycemic shock (high blood sugar). ”1 was dizzy. I saw spots in front of my eyes. I craved sweets more than ever. I vomited." It should have stopped there, but it didn’t. ”I was crazy. After I vomited I told myself, ‘Well, now I need a little food to settle my stomach,’ and I ate again.”

Eventually she fell into severe depression for weeks on end, the result not only of hypoglycemia (which is known to cause extreme mood shifts), but of the self-hatred she felt from not being able to control her eating. Finally she went to a physician who put her on “whites” (appetite-depressing amphetamines). She fasted on black coffee and lost weight. But when she eased herself off the whites (”l had enough sense to realize they weren’t any good for me"), she started binging again. “This time I started on purer sugar, white sugar. Compulsive overeating is a progressive disease. My tolerance for sugar had increased." She gained more weight and got a divorce. "All .that time I had been blaming the eating on things outside of myself. I thought my marriage had caused it.” For two months things went smoothly and she lost some weight. And then she started binging again, this time on starches. She would binge, throw up, binge, throw up, endlessly. She started eating in front of other people. “Up to then I had managed to control myself in front of others, but I couldn’t do that anymore. I couldn't wait till I got home to eat. It started out very innocently—lifesavers. But what sane person eats four rolls of lifesavers a day? Then a bag of corn chips. Then health food candy bars.” She laughs. “I was thinking so insanely. I thought that since health food was good for me I could eat as much of it as I wanted, without gaining weight. But six health food candy bars all at once? I convinced myself that since avocado sandwiches were good for me, two were even better.”

Janet is now as slim and petite as an Olympic gymnast, and she is married to John, the A.A. member who told her about O.A. You almost wish you had known her before the weight loss, but she says, “No, you don’t, I was a nasty bitch. Wasn’t I, John?" Her husband nods his head. They agree she has changed immeasurably since joining O.A.

Janet's story points out several common features that O.A. believes suggest a compulsive overeatcr: turning to food to escape from problems; eating normally in front Of others and abnormally when alone; planning binges; exhibiting a degree of paranoia by locking herself in her room while eating and hiding food packages (just as alcoholics hide bottles); losing weight, then regaining it plus more; blaming others for her problems but hating herself nonetheless; and feeling insane.

O.A.’s program is designed to work with all the problems, both physical and emotional. Of utmost importance are the meetings, whose only charge is a voluntary donation. There- are over 50 O.A. groups in San Diego County, with several meetings occurring daily. Members may attend as many meetings as they like, and some go to one every night of the week. It’s one way to escape for a while the environment that triggers compulsive overeating, and -for many, meetings are the only place they can go where they don’t feel self-conscious about their appearance or problem. The only requirement for membership is a desire to work on the problem. Other than that, says Janet, “You don’t have to do a goddamn thing.”

But many O.A. members are gung-ho about their program. This is quite apparent at their meetings, which often smack of revivals. Members volunteer to speak in front of the group, offering testimonials to OLAY’s effectiveness and meaning in their lives. The revival part turns up when they start talking about “higher power” and “God” — forces which helped them regain control over their lives. O.A. has been accused of being a religious organization, but members strongly deny it. Some go so far as to say “a higher power whom I choose to call God’’ to avoid offending the unreligious.

The source of this spiritualism is a simple but paradoxical O.A. concept compulsive overeaters have no will power, so to compensate, they give themselves over to the higher power, who instills in them a will of its (his) own. Janet explains her understanding of this: “I finally realized I have no control over my eating or my life, so I gave up. Once I did that, I discovered I could get whatever I needed.” Including the ability to control her overeating. “All my life 1 had been trying to exert my own will to get things I wanted, things I thought I needed. When I gave up, my higher will gave me everything I needed." It is the same concept over which philosophers have worn out many an armchair: free will versus determinism. But for O.A. members, especially newcomers, it is not a debate topic. It is a truth to be experienced by the individual member.

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The key to spirituality, however, is abstinence. Abstinence is strict adherence to three weighed and measured meals per day, with no between-meal eating. The physical consequences of abstinence are apparent: the member loses weight. The psychological consequences, no less important, are more subtle: freedom from guilt and self-hatred, freedom from constant obsession with food (the member plans his three meals at the day’s beginning, calls them in to a “food sponsor,” a member who has been abstaining for a longer period, and then can revise the plan only with another phone call, all of which relieves the member from making food choices impulsively), and the sudden, often frightening, realization that one can no longer escape problems through food.

The last consequence, quite naturally, is the downfall of many an abstainer. For example, a person who has been “dealing” with marital problems by overeating is not likely to suddenly be able to deal with the problems in a more effective way. To aid this, O. A. has a huge crisis phone network, including all members who wish to offer their services as emergency counselors. New members are urged to “make a phone call before that first bite.” O.A. members make no claims as professional counselors, but the homespun, common-sense advice they offer is highly held. The fact that one’s advisor is also a compulsive overeater, with problems of his own, seems to help break the ice. Said one member, “New members are often afraid to call someone else. But one time I got a call just as I was about to eat. That stopped me.”

O.A. members, because theirs is an anonymous organization (allowing people to bare their souls without fear of retaliation), go by their first names only. The phone calls often blur the distinction between the individual persons even further. “I called one woman every day for a week,” said one member. “She was really a big help. But you know what? I still don’t know who she was.” And it doesn’t seem to matter. In fact, part of O.A.’s philosophy holds that individual members should never be elevated above group concerns.

The complete O.A. philosophy is laid out in its literature, the same literature used by A. A. (“just change alcohol to food and alcoholic to compulsive overeater”): a book called “the big book” of A.A., containing case histories of alcoholics, "The Twelve Steps” (to spirituality) and “The Twelve Traditions" (organization philosophy and framework). Member are urged to buy the books, read and re-read them. “The solution to every problem I have is in the big book,” says one member. Members are also urged to do some writing of their own: their history of obesity, including weight gains and losses and feelings and thoughts during these periods, and “personal inventories,” their thoughts and feelings as they travel the pathway of abstinence to spirituality. Meetings, phone calls, contact with sponsors, reading and writing are all seen as tools to recovery. And what is recovery? For most, it is being able to “arrest” the disease of compulsive overeating. Some seem, able to return to “normal” eating habits, but the rest are quite sure they will never be normal eaters. It doesn’t particularly matter as long as there's O.A. O. A., however, is not a panacea to all problems. The urge toward compulsive overeating sometimes finds a new outlet in compulsive smoking or drinking. (Alcohol is discouraged if it becomes compulsive, or, as Janet says, “Alcohol releases my inhibitions, and I eat again.”) But to the compulsive overeater, control over the eating problem is of greatest importance.

Weight-loss resources in San Diego

A POPULAR MYTH has it that Southern Californians epitomize the ideal American body: slim, trim, healthy, with a perennial suntan and strong, sleek muscles from all that tennis, surfing, and dancing on the beach. It’s not quite true, for if it were, the plethora of weight loss programs catering to San Diegans would be starving for business: At least 59 such programs exist in San Diego County, including medical clinics, gyms, hypnotists, and practitioners of yoga.

This guide is for the person who wants to lose weight, get a little more exercise, or change his eating habits with outside assistance. It is wise to shop around before entering any specific program, because many of them, like other types of businesses, are quick to assure you that their product is the best and don’t bother to look elsewhere. To succeed in losing weight, however, it is important that you find the program best suited to your personality and needs.

This is only a sampling — 11 types — and a general one at that, but it is hoped that the reader may hereby be spared research of his or her own, or maybe even saved from social embarrassment (“Only $300? Uh, do you take food stamps?”). Like they say, an ounce of prevention will keep you from pounding the sidewalks, or something like that.

  • Weight Loss Medicai Clinic.
  • Clairemont (275-2303) and 11 other locations

In operation for the past three years, this program touts as its most important aspect the fact that it is a “totally medically-based program.” It is owned and operated by physicians, with supplementary staff of nurses and medical technicians. WLMC has a purely medical approach to weight loss. The new patient will be assigned to a physician, will undergo a physical examination, and a program will be set up to suit the individual’s weight loss goals.

The general program consists of daily injections of humanchorion-gonadotropin (HCG), a chemical obtained from the placentas of pregnant women. HCG allows a fetus to be nourished from the mother’s body when food is unavailable through the digestive system. Thus, it is believed that HCG acts to help the overweight person metabolize his own fat more quickly, also enabling him to decrease his food intake without great discomfort. Patients who refuse HCG receive appetite-depressing amphetamines. Patients simply come in to be weighed and injected, and unless they have something they want to discuss with the physician, they may leave immediately afterwards, to carry on the low-calorie diet on their own, or they may purchase fully prepared meals in pre-measured quantities from the clinic.

Following weight loss, the patient goes through a “maintenance program" in which fats are slowly reintroduced into his system, and he receives training in proper eating habits.

A spokeswoman for the program declined to quote prices, stating it was “medically unethical.” She did say, however, that rates are the same for all WLM Clinics, and former patients may return fora weigh-in and information free of charge. At an injection a day, this program is probably expensive, one for people with medical insurance.

  • Weight Watchers
  • 53rd and University Avenue (286-0120)

Weight Watchers helps people lose weight by teaching them better eating habits. Called the “Program of Eating” (rather than “diet"), it consists of well-balanced, nutritional meals in weighed and measured amounts. The program is the same for everyone but men, who may eat more, and young people, who are allowed more fruits and dairy products. There are various Weight Watchers brand foods available to the public in grocery stores.

Weight Watchers carries out its program through weekly meetings attended by people who want to lose weight and leaders who encourage and educate them in that process. There is a weigh-in every week, with a congratulatory announcement of losses (and nothing said of gains).

The charge for meetings is $8 the first time and $3 thereafter.

  • San Diego Natural Health Center
  • (274-2482)

The program states as its purpose: to achieve and maintain the detoxification of the body, which will restore its proper balance, reduce stress, prevent disease, and .help the person cope better with life in general. The program is operated by Dr. Luly, a chiropractor.

The principal methods used here are fasting and natural foods diets.

After x-rays and lab work to check for spinal and blood problems, a patient will be put on a raw fruit and vegetable fast for two weeks to begin detoxification, followed by a one-month juice fast. During this time he will go in for a weekly check-up and any necessary chiropractic adjustments. He will also receive an Iris Diagnosis (an examination through the iris of the eye by means of a flashlight and a magnifying glass, which is said to show what is going on in the rest of the body) and colonic irrigation (high-powered enema to cleanse the colon). Fasting is followed by a lifetime (hopefully) lactile vegetarian diet (including raw dairy products and unfertilized eggs).

This program produces quick weight loss in many individuals. The fasts are also supposed to cure anemia, hypoglycemia, and other diseases. But, maintains a spokeswoman for the program, weight loss is not its principal purpose; general health is.

This program is advised (by its owners) only for people with medical insurance. It is expensive. X-rays cost $65; lab work, $28; first visit. $27; Iris-Diagnosis, $25; nutritional consultation, $20; colonic irrigation, $18 first time, $12 thereafter if the person is following the program; and extra costs for each visit after the first.

  • Gloria Marshall Figure Salon
  • 60th and El Cajon Boulevard (465-0269) and 3 other locations

This program, for women only, guarantees weight loss to individuals who strictly adhere to it. It has two parts: nutrition and-exercise. Nutrition consists of a “computerized diet” which is designed for the individual’s weight loss goal. Exercise takes place on what is called “passive equipment" machines that bump, pull, twist, and. shake one’s body fat. They also have some active exercise equipment, but believe women attending their salons want to lose weight, not build muscles. There are no calisthenics, but there is work on posture as it relates to appearance.

Weight and measurements are taken at each session. When a woman has reached her desired weight, she leaves the program. Thus, there are no memberships. A spokeswoman for the program said it costs an average of $3.10 per session (two sessions per week), but it must be remembered that that figure includes those who have paid much less and those who have paid much more.

  • Jack LaLanne European Health Spa
  • 54th and El Cajon Boulevard
  • (583-7622) and 6 other locations

This program consists of a low-carbohydrate, high-vitamin diet and exercise. While members are advised on a diet, they are not required to strictly adhere to it, and exercise becomes the major weight loss technique. The spas are replete with passive equipment and active equipment like weight lifting machines, exercycles, and barbells; and calisthenics are conducted by attendants several times a day.

Newcomers will be weighed and measured; ideal weight and measurements will be decided; and exercise will begin, including standardized exercises for all and specific ones for people with certain “problem areas.” The larger spas have separate facilities for men and women, and the smaller ones have separate days.

This is not primarily a weight loss program (many men attend for body-building). Those who do succeed in losing weight are encouraged to continue exercising throughout life, to “increase energy, relieve nervous tension, promote better elimination, improve blood circulation," etc.

This is a membership-only program, although newcomers may attend one free session as a guest of a member. Membership to one spa allows the member free attendance at any Jack LaLanne-owned spa in the city or country (and there are many). Buying a membership here is much like buying an encyclopedia from a door-to-door salesman: the prices change in the course of negotiations, with savings for signing up immediately or taking long-term memberships. Prices range from $100 to several hundred dollars.

  • Clark's Gym
  • 4935 Cass, Pacific Beach (488-1956)

Although Mr. Clark, owner of this gym, is a firm believer in the benefits of exercise, he encourages a cutback in food intake in addition to exercise for losing weight. Mr. Clark designs exercise equipment and uses his gym as a “test site” for them before selling them to other gyms. He is very critical of passive equipment, stating that using them to try to lose weight is like “filling up your car’s gas tank and then simonizing its body...you won’t use up any gas.” He believes a person burns up calories only by exercises that make him breath hard, oxidizing fat in the body. He has two types of equipment: those designed to work with individual muscles, and those for coordinated muscle groups. Using both increases strength and general body balance.

Clark’s Gym is not a bodybuilding center, but a place where “people can get to feeling better so the rest of their lives can be more enjoyable.” There are separate days for men and women. A sauna bath and Swedish massage are also available.

Fees are $25 a month, which can be put toward a $145 yearly membership. There are no longterm contracts.

  • Western Institute
  • 7522 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard (292-4220)

Western Institute is primarily a psychological clinic, but it does offer a weight loss program, run by psychologist Audrey Phillips.

The program is based on principles of behavior modification. Dr. Phillips sees each prospective client first in an intake interview, during which she collects information on the weight problem as well as on things going on in the person’s life which might be causing the problem. If necessary, she offers counseling before the person enters the weight loss program.

The weight loss program is conducted in groups of six or less people, with the client and his family, or with the client individually. Dr. Phillips conducts the program with a co-leader who has lost weight through th& program. Eating habits are examined and more appropriate ones suggested; and exercise programs, consisting of sports the client enjoys, are set up. To make the program work, “reinforcement," or a reward, must be received for proper behaviors. Clients who eat correctly and do their exercises may work for tokens with which they can later buy an item they want (with their own money), or a clients family may be instructed to prai.se the person’s -behaviors. The ultimate aim is personal reinforcement, where the client praises himself in front of a mirror. Dr. Phillips sees this program as a lifestyle change rather than simply a way to lose weight.

The program is six weeks long, one session per week, and then' follow-ups every other week, then every month, then every two months, etc., until it tapers off to an end. Fees are $20 per one-hour session for groups, $40 for families and individuals.

  • Overeaters Anonymous
  • (475-4673), over 50 groups throughout San Diego

Fashioned on Alcoholics Anonymous principles. Overeaters Anonymous (O.A.) is composed of people who believe they are “compulsive overeaters” and have been unable, through other programs, to control their eating habits. The organization holds several meetings every day of the week during which its principles are discussed and testimonials to its effectiveness are offered by members.

O.A. believes that compulsive overeating is a disease, emotional and spiritual as well as physical. Through crisis phone lines (longtime members acting as counselors), sponsors who help people plan their meals and follow the program, group discussions, reading of the organization’s inspirational literature (the same literature used by A.A.), and keeping personal journals, members are helped with various problems simultaneously. The program’s most important feature is “abstinence,” a weighed and measured food plan for three meals per day. O.A. also believes that most compulsive overeaters will never be cured of the illness, but through long-term involvement in O.A.. they can lose weight, maintain the loss, and lead better lives jn general.

There is no fee for O.A. meetings, but voluntary (foliations are accepted.

  • Miss Vernetta's Dance Studio
  • 4112 Napier (276-5550)

This program, for women only, works primarily with exercise through non-stop aerobic dance. The principle behind his is that a person can lose inches without having to lose weight, simply by toning her muscles. During the summer, the studio offers a “weight reduction class,” in which participants are weighed and measured, and posture and nutritive diets are discussed. There is no specific diet program.

The weight reduction class costs $30, two hours per day, three days per week, for five weeks. Regular studio fees are $ 14 per month for one to one-and-a-half hours per week.

  • R. J. Gallegos, R.H.
  • (Registered Hypnotist with Hypnotist Examining Council)
  • (275-2220)
  • Diet Control through medical referrals

Mr. Gallegos believes that hypnosis as a weight loss technique can be effective for some but not all people. He states that if he sees a person who he believes won’t work well with hypnosis, he will not work with that person

For those who show potential for success through hypnosis. Mr. Gallegos works by the premise that “a person must change his self-image before he can effect a lasting change in his life." For example, an overweight person usually believes he must eat more, and he will therefore be dissatisfied with small portions of food. Mr. Gallegos might suggest, through hypnosis, that the person will be satisfied with a small amount of food and will like nutritional meals more. In cases of extreme obesity, especially when a person informs him he has greater difficulty stopping himself from eating certain “junk" foods, Mr. Gallegos may suggest that these foods are distasteful to the person.

Hypnosis is not an instantaneous weight loss technique, but it can effect a more permanent change, as the factors causing the weight problem are controlled.

Although Mr. Gallegos would not quote his fee, he stated that the average rates for hypnotists in San Diego are between $20 and $35 per session (one-half to one hour).

  • Valley Center Yoga
  • (444-6965)

The goal of this program is to return the body to normal functioning, which includes returning it to a normal weight, through a natural foods diet, occasional fasting, and hatha yoga.

The owner of this center stresses that permanent weight change can occur only through a change of lifestyle, a “change of consciousness,” rather than a diet. While the natural food helps to cleanse the body, hatha yoga postures, relaxation, concentration, and meditation help to clear the mind of problems that can cause overeating. This is a long-term program for people who want more than simple weight loss.The center offers a beginners' class for $25. including four hours of individual instruction and one-and-a-half hours of group instruction. Later a person will join a group of ten or less people, to meet one-and-a-half hours per week. Those interested are advised to call-well in advance to enroll.

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"I figured, what the hell. I’ll eat until I weigh 300 pounds and then I’ll kill myself.”

An overeater's story

WHILE OTHER PEOPLE are chomping on potato chips in front of their TV sets, downing popcorn and soda pop at the movies, or heading out to the local ice cream stand for an after-dinner treat, several groups of San Diegans are meeting in churches, recreation centers, and living rooms hoping that somehow, some way, they’ll make it through the night without a chocolate milkshake. They have gathered together with the common bond of abnormality. Most of them are fat...not just pleasingly plump or chucklingly- chubby, but fat, with double and triple chins, bulbous arms and legs, potbellies, and distended rear ends. But that’s only part of their problem, only a symptom of their greater difficulty: they are addicted to food. They have no control over their eating habits. And, they all agree, they are sick.

"I thought that since health food was good for me I could eat as much of it as I wanted."

The meetings they are attending are those of Overeaters Anonymous, a national organization formed over 20 years ago to help what it calls “compulsive overeaters" in the same way Alcoholics Anonymous helps alcoholics. O.A. has gleaned most of its philosophy and working principles from A.A., in the belief that compulsive overeating is a disease much like alcoholism, one of the mind and body, not to be treated as a simple case of “a few too many snacks.”

According to O.A., not all fat people are compulsive overeaters (and not all compulsive overeaters are fat). The difference lies in the person’s approach to food. Many people are able to stick to diets, get a little more exercise. lose weight, and return to a relatively normal life. But for compulsive overeaters, it is much more complicated. Take Karen (her name and all others here have been changed to maintain their anonymity), for instance, who has been in O.A. for four years now. “I’ve lost 225 pounds in O.A.,” she says, “but I lost that much in other programs, many times, then gained it all back.” What went wrong? “I am a compulsive overeater. Losing weight is only working on the physical part of the program.”

You can’t dry out an alcoholic, put him back into the world of bars, liquor stores, and cocktail parties, and expect him not to drink. You can’t slenderize a compulsive overeater, put him back into the world of fast foods, grocery stores, and mouthwatering commercials and expect him not to eat. Normal people eat to live. Compulsive overeaters live to eat.

"I weighed over 400 pounds," Karen says “Mv doctor told me had only two months to live if I didn't lose weight." By then she had given up on traditional weight-loss programs, but someone told her about O.A. “O.A. saved my life."

O.A. is full of people who have been in Karen's situation, who turn to O.A. as a last-ditch effort to save their lives. For years they have been told by concerned families, friends, and physicians that they should try the grapefruit diet, the egg diet, the water fast, the drinking man’s diet, health food diets, low carbohydrate diets, reducing pills, water pills, exercise clubs, jogging, steam rooms, just about anything that would help them lose weight. “Just use a little will power." they've been urged. Or, less encouraging. “Don’t you have any respect in your body?" Having tried and failed, they cringe with their terrible secret that they hove no will power. Our society is hard on fat people, but it’s even harder on those with no will power (the American Dream: you can get whatever you want as long as you try hard enough). Lack of will power is a sin punishable by failure: and to fail, repeatedly, brings a sense of guilt, self-hatred, and worthlessness. It’s no wonder, then, that many compulsive overeaters have at some time in their lives attempted suicide. It beats having to hate oneself every day

Janet has been an O.A. member for four months. She had just been informed by her physician that she would be dead within ten years (she's 25) if she didn’t stop overeating. I knew 1 couldn’t stop, so I figured, what the hell. I’ll eat until I weigh 300 pounds and then I’ll kill myself.” A friend in A.A. introduced her to O.A. “I joined because I was desperate...! really didn't want to die.” Janet describes her life as a compulsive overeater:

“I come from a restaurant family. I learned to equate food with love. ‘Here, I love you, eat this.’ I learned to turn to food when I was uncomfortable.” She was a normal weight as a child, but in her late teens, when her parents began eating their way to a divorce, she began to hide in her room to eat, blocking out family problems with cake and candy. When she gained weight, she dieted; and when she lost weight, she ate and gained the weight, plus a few pounds more, back.

“I got married when I was 21. I was 15 pounds overweight.” She discovered that she and her husband had very few things in common. His job took him away from home for long periods of time, and while he was gone, she ate, constantly and uncontrollably. “Most women would be upset if their husbands called and told them they wouldn’t be home until 2 am. But for me it was great. A whole night of eating before me!

”I had a regular routine. I would go to the store and buy a large package of Oreos and a pint of whipping cream. I’d whip up the cream in a big bowl, with about a cup of sugar, the sweetest cream ever. I’d put the bowl under my left arm, always my left arm, and the Oreos under my right arm, and march into the bedroom, locking the door behind me. I’d prop myself up in bed with them, take an Oreo from the package, dip it in the cream, and eat it, until everything was gone. AllI had to do then was wash the bowl out and stuff the empty package in the bottom of the garbage. No clues left.”

She gained 35 pounds. Her husband couldn’t figure out what was going on, because she ate normally in front of him. She never told him about her secret binges. “By then, I was so far away from him.”

She became a great hider. She hid packages of food all over the house and in her car. “I would eat while I was driving the car, but if I had to stop at a light, I would stop eating. The person in the car next to mine might see me!”

Her binges resulted in hypoglycemic shock (high blood sugar). ”1 was dizzy. I saw spots in front of my eyes. I craved sweets more than ever. I vomited." It should have stopped there, but it didn’t. ”I was crazy. After I vomited I told myself, ‘Well, now I need a little food to settle my stomach,’ and I ate again.”

Eventually she fell into severe depression for weeks on end, the result not only of hypoglycemia (which is known to cause extreme mood shifts), but of the self-hatred she felt from not being able to control her eating. Finally she went to a physician who put her on “whites” (appetite-depressing amphetamines). She fasted on black coffee and lost weight. But when she eased herself off the whites (”l had enough sense to realize they weren’t any good for me"), she started binging again. “This time I started on purer sugar, white sugar. Compulsive overeating is a progressive disease. My tolerance for sugar had increased." She gained more weight and got a divorce. "All .that time I had been blaming the eating on things outside of myself. I thought my marriage had caused it.” For two months things went smoothly and she lost some weight. And then she started binging again, this time on starches. She would binge, throw up, binge, throw up, endlessly. She started eating in front of other people. “Up to then I had managed to control myself in front of others, but I couldn’t do that anymore. I couldn't wait till I got home to eat. It started out very innocently—lifesavers. But what sane person eats four rolls of lifesavers a day? Then a bag of corn chips. Then health food candy bars.” She laughs. “I was thinking so insanely. I thought that since health food was good for me I could eat as much of it as I wanted, without gaining weight. But six health food candy bars all at once? I convinced myself that since avocado sandwiches were good for me, two were even better.”

Janet is now as slim and petite as an Olympic gymnast, and she is married to John, the A.A. member who told her about O.A. You almost wish you had known her before the weight loss, but she says, “No, you don’t, I was a nasty bitch. Wasn’t I, John?" Her husband nods his head. They agree she has changed immeasurably since joining O.A.

Janet's story points out several common features that O.A. believes suggest a compulsive overeatcr: turning to food to escape from problems; eating normally in front Of others and abnormally when alone; planning binges; exhibiting a degree of paranoia by locking herself in her room while eating and hiding food packages (just as alcoholics hide bottles); losing weight, then regaining it plus more; blaming others for her problems but hating herself nonetheless; and feeling insane.

O.A.’s program is designed to work with all the problems, both physical and emotional. Of utmost importance are the meetings, whose only charge is a voluntary donation. There- are over 50 O.A. groups in San Diego County, with several meetings occurring daily. Members may attend as many meetings as they like, and some go to one every night of the week. It’s one way to escape for a while the environment that triggers compulsive overeating, and -for many, meetings are the only place they can go where they don’t feel self-conscious about their appearance or problem. The only requirement for membership is a desire to work on the problem. Other than that, says Janet, “You don’t have to do a goddamn thing.”

But many O.A. members are gung-ho about their program. This is quite apparent at their meetings, which often smack of revivals. Members volunteer to speak in front of the group, offering testimonials to OLAY’s effectiveness and meaning in their lives. The revival part turns up when they start talking about “higher power” and “God” — forces which helped them regain control over their lives. O.A. has been accused of being a religious organization, but members strongly deny it. Some go so far as to say “a higher power whom I choose to call God’’ to avoid offending the unreligious.

The source of this spiritualism is a simple but paradoxical O.A. concept compulsive overeaters have no will power, so to compensate, they give themselves over to the higher power, who instills in them a will of its (his) own. Janet explains her understanding of this: “I finally realized I have no control over my eating or my life, so I gave up. Once I did that, I discovered I could get whatever I needed.” Including the ability to control her overeating. “All my life 1 had been trying to exert my own will to get things I wanted, things I thought I needed. When I gave up, my higher will gave me everything I needed." It is the same concept over which philosophers have worn out many an armchair: free will versus determinism. But for O.A. members, especially newcomers, it is not a debate topic. It is a truth to be experienced by the individual member.

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The key to spirituality, however, is abstinence. Abstinence is strict adherence to three weighed and measured meals per day, with no between-meal eating. The physical consequences of abstinence are apparent: the member loses weight. The psychological consequences, no less important, are more subtle: freedom from guilt and self-hatred, freedom from constant obsession with food (the member plans his three meals at the day’s beginning, calls them in to a “food sponsor,” a member who has been abstaining for a longer period, and then can revise the plan only with another phone call, all of which relieves the member from making food choices impulsively), and the sudden, often frightening, realization that one can no longer escape problems through food.

The last consequence, quite naturally, is the downfall of many an abstainer. For example, a person who has been “dealing” with marital problems by overeating is not likely to suddenly be able to deal with the problems in a more effective way. To aid this, O. A. has a huge crisis phone network, including all members who wish to offer their services as emergency counselors. New members are urged to “make a phone call before that first bite.” O.A. members make no claims as professional counselors, but the homespun, common-sense advice they offer is highly held. The fact that one’s advisor is also a compulsive overeater, with problems of his own, seems to help break the ice. Said one member, “New members are often afraid to call someone else. But one time I got a call just as I was about to eat. That stopped me.”

O.A. members, because theirs is an anonymous organization (allowing people to bare their souls without fear of retaliation), go by their first names only. The phone calls often blur the distinction between the individual persons even further. “I called one woman every day for a week,” said one member. “She was really a big help. But you know what? I still don’t know who she was.” And it doesn’t seem to matter. In fact, part of O.A.’s philosophy holds that individual members should never be elevated above group concerns.

The complete O.A. philosophy is laid out in its literature, the same literature used by A. A. (“just change alcohol to food and alcoholic to compulsive overeater”): a book called “the big book” of A.A., containing case histories of alcoholics, "The Twelve Steps” (to spirituality) and “The Twelve Traditions" (organization philosophy and framework). Member are urged to buy the books, read and re-read them. “The solution to every problem I have is in the big book,” says one member. Members are also urged to do some writing of their own: their history of obesity, including weight gains and losses and feelings and thoughts during these periods, and “personal inventories,” their thoughts and feelings as they travel the pathway of abstinence to spirituality. Meetings, phone calls, contact with sponsors, reading and writing are all seen as tools to recovery. And what is recovery? For most, it is being able to “arrest” the disease of compulsive overeating. Some seem, able to return to “normal” eating habits, but the rest are quite sure they will never be normal eaters. It doesn’t particularly matter as long as there's O.A. O. A., however, is not a panacea to all problems. The urge toward compulsive overeating sometimes finds a new outlet in compulsive smoking or drinking. (Alcohol is discouraged if it becomes compulsive, or, as Janet says, “Alcohol releases my inhibitions, and I eat again.”) But to the compulsive overeater, control over the eating problem is of greatest importance.

Weight-loss resources in San Diego

A POPULAR MYTH has it that Southern Californians epitomize the ideal American body: slim, trim, healthy, with a perennial suntan and strong, sleek muscles from all that tennis, surfing, and dancing on the beach. It’s not quite true, for if it were, the plethora of weight loss programs catering to San Diegans would be starving for business: At least 59 such programs exist in San Diego County, including medical clinics, gyms, hypnotists, and practitioners of yoga.

This guide is for the person who wants to lose weight, get a little more exercise, or change his eating habits with outside assistance. It is wise to shop around before entering any specific program, because many of them, like other types of businesses, are quick to assure you that their product is the best and don’t bother to look elsewhere. To succeed in losing weight, however, it is important that you find the program best suited to your personality and needs.

This is only a sampling — 11 types — and a general one at that, but it is hoped that the reader may hereby be spared research of his or her own, or maybe even saved from social embarrassment (“Only $300? Uh, do you take food stamps?”). Like they say, an ounce of prevention will keep you from pounding the sidewalks, or something like that.

  • Weight Loss Medicai Clinic.
  • Clairemont (275-2303) and 11 other locations

In operation for the past three years, this program touts as its most important aspect the fact that it is a “totally medically-based program.” It is owned and operated by physicians, with supplementary staff of nurses and medical technicians. WLMC has a purely medical approach to weight loss. The new patient will be assigned to a physician, will undergo a physical examination, and a program will be set up to suit the individual’s weight loss goals.

The general program consists of daily injections of humanchorion-gonadotropin (HCG), a chemical obtained from the placentas of pregnant women. HCG allows a fetus to be nourished from the mother’s body when food is unavailable through the digestive system. Thus, it is believed that HCG acts to help the overweight person metabolize his own fat more quickly, also enabling him to decrease his food intake without great discomfort. Patients who refuse HCG receive appetite-depressing amphetamines. Patients simply come in to be weighed and injected, and unless they have something they want to discuss with the physician, they may leave immediately afterwards, to carry on the low-calorie diet on their own, or they may purchase fully prepared meals in pre-measured quantities from the clinic.

Following weight loss, the patient goes through a “maintenance program" in which fats are slowly reintroduced into his system, and he receives training in proper eating habits.

A spokeswoman for the program declined to quote prices, stating it was “medically unethical.” She did say, however, that rates are the same for all WLM Clinics, and former patients may return fora weigh-in and information free of charge. At an injection a day, this program is probably expensive, one for people with medical insurance.

  • Weight Watchers
  • 53rd and University Avenue (286-0120)

Weight Watchers helps people lose weight by teaching them better eating habits. Called the “Program of Eating” (rather than “diet"), it consists of well-balanced, nutritional meals in weighed and measured amounts. The program is the same for everyone but men, who may eat more, and young people, who are allowed more fruits and dairy products. There are various Weight Watchers brand foods available to the public in grocery stores.

Weight Watchers carries out its program through weekly meetings attended by people who want to lose weight and leaders who encourage and educate them in that process. There is a weigh-in every week, with a congratulatory announcement of losses (and nothing said of gains).

The charge for meetings is $8 the first time and $3 thereafter.

  • San Diego Natural Health Center
  • (274-2482)

The program states as its purpose: to achieve and maintain the detoxification of the body, which will restore its proper balance, reduce stress, prevent disease, and .help the person cope better with life in general. The program is operated by Dr. Luly, a chiropractor.

The principal methods used here are fasting and natural foods diets.

After x-rays and lab work to check for spinal and blood problems, a patient will be put on a raw fruit and vegetable fast for two weeks to begin detoxification, followed by a one-month juice fast. During this time he will go in for a weekly check-up and any necessary chiropractic adjustments. He will also receive an Iris Diagnosis (an examination through the iris of the eye by means of a flashlight and a magnifying glass, which is said to show what is going on in the rest of the body) and colonic irrigation (high-powered enema to cleanse the colon). Fasting is followed by a lifetime (hopefully) lactile vegetarian diet (including raw dairy products and unfertilized eggs).

This program produces quick weight loss in many individuals. The fasts are also supposed to cure anemia, hypoglycemia, and other diseases. But, maintains a spokeswoman for the program, weight loss is not its principal purpose; general health is.

This program is advised (by its owners) only for people with medical insurance. It is expensive. X-rays cost $65; lab work, $28; first visit. $27; Iris-Diagnosis, $25; nutritional consultation, $20; colonic irrigation, $18 first time, $12 thereafter if the person is following the program; and extra costs for each visit after the first.

  • Gloria Marshall Figure Salon
  • 60th and El Cajon Boulevard (465-0269) and 3 other locations

This program, for women only, guarantees weight loss to individuals who strictly adhere to it. It has two parts: nutrition and-exercise. Nutrition consists of a “computerized diet” which is designed for the individual’s weight loss goal. Exercise takes place on what is called “passive equipment" machines that bump, pull, twist, and. shake one’s body fat. They also have some active exercise equipment, but believe women attending their salons want to lose weight, not build muscles. There are no calisthenics, but there is work on posture as it relates to appearance.

Weight and measurements are taken at each session. When a woman has reached her desired weight, she leaves the program. Thus, there are no memberships. A spokeswoman for the program said it costs an average of $3.10 per session (two sessions per week), but it must be remembered that that figure includes those who have paid much less and those who have paid much more.

  • Jack LaLanne European Health Spa
  • 54th and El Cajon Boulevard
  • (583-7622) and 6 other locations

This program consists of a low-carbohydrate, high-vitamin diet and exercise. While members are advised on a diet, they are not required to strictly adhere to it, and exercise becomes the major weight loss technique. The spas are replete with passive equipment and active equipment like weight lifting machines, exercycles, and barbells; and calisthenics are conducted by attendants several times a day.

Newcomers will be weighed and measured; ideal weight and measurements will be decided; and exercise will begin, including standardized exercises for all and specific ones for people with certain “problem areas.” The larger spas have separate facilities for men and women, and the smaller ones have separate days.

This is not primarily a weight loss program (many men attend for body-building). Those who do succeed in losing weight are encouraged to continue exercising throughout life, to “increase energy, relieve nervous tension, promote better elimination, improve blood circulation," etc.

This is a membership-only program, although newcomers may attend one free session as a guest of a member. Membership to one spa allows the member free attendance at any Jack LaLanne-owned spa in the city or country (and there are many). Buying a membership here is much like buying an encyclopedia from a door-to-door salesman: the prices change in the course of negotiations, with savings for signing up immediately or taking long-term memberships. Prices range from $100 to several hundred dollars.

  • Clark's Gym
  • 4935 Cass, Pacific Beach (488-1956)

Although Mr. Clark, owner of this gym, is a firm believer in the benefits of exercise, he encourages a cutback in food intake in addition to exercise for losing weight. Mr. Clark designs exercise equipment and uses his gym as a “test site” for them before selling them to other gyms. He is very critical of passive equipment, stating that using them to try to lose weight is like “filling up your car’s gas tank and then simonizing its body...you won’t use up any gas.” He believes a person burns up calories only by exercises that make him breath hard, oxidizing fat in the body. He has two types of equipment: those designed to work with individual muscles, and those for coordinated muscle groups. Using both increases strength and general body balance.

Clark’s Gym is not a bodybuilding center, but a place where “people can get to feeling better so the rest of their lives can be more enjoyable.” There are separate days for men and women. A sauna bath and Swedish massage are also available.

Fees are $25 a month, which can be put toward a $145 yearly membership. There are no longterm contracts.

  • Western Institute
  • 7522 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard (292-4220)

Western Institute is primarily a psychological clinic, but it does offer a weight loss program, run by psychologist Audrey Phillips.

The program is based on principles of behavior modification. Dr. Phillips sees each prospective client first in an intake interview, during which she collects information on the weight problem as well as on things going on in the person’s life which might be causing the problem. If necessary, she offers counseling before the person enters the weight loss program.

The weight loss program is conducted in groups of six or less people, with the client and his family, or with the client individually. Dr. Phillips conducts the program with a co-leader who has lost weight through th& program. Eating habits are examined and more appropriate ones suggested; and exercise programs, consisting of sports the client enjoys, are set up. To make the program work, “reinforcement," or a reward, must be received for proper behaviors. Clients who eat correctly and do their exercises may work for tokens with which they can later buy an item they want (with their own money), or a clients family may be instructed to prai.se the person’s -behaviors. The ultimate aim is personal reinforcement, where the client praises himself in front of a mirror. Dr. Phillips sees this program as a lifestyle change rather than simply a way to lose weight.

The program is six weeks long, one session per week, and then' follow-ups every other week, then every month, then every two months, etc., until it tapers off to an end. Fees are $20 per one-hour session for groups, $40 for families and individuals.

  • Overeaters Anonymous
  • (475-4673), over 50 groups throughout San Diego

Fashioned on Alcoholics Anonymous principles. Overeaters Anonymous (O.A.) is composed of people who believe they are “compulsive overeaters” and have been unable, through other programs, to control their eating habits. The organization holds several meetings every day of the week during which its principles are discussed and testimonials to its effectiveness are offered by members.

O.A. believes that compulsive overeating is a disease, emotional and spiritual as well as physical. Through crisis phone lines (longtime members acting as counselors), sponsors who help people plan their meals and follow the program, group discussions, reading of the organization’s inspirational literature (the same literature used by A.A.), and keeping personal journals, members are helped with various problems simultaneously. The program’s most important feature is “abstinence,” a weighed and measured food plan for three meals per day. O.A. also believes that most compulsive overeaters will never be cured of the illness, but through long-term involvement in O.A.. they can lose weight, maintain the loss, and lead better lives jn general.

There is no fee for O.A. meetings, but voluntary (foliations are accepted.

  • Miss Vernetta's Dance Studio
  • 4112 Napier (276-5550)

This program, for women only, works primarily with exercise through non-stop aerobic dance. The principle behind his is that a person can lose inches without having to lose weight, simply by toning her muscles. During the summer, the studio offers a “weight reduction class,” in which participants are weighed and measured, and posture and nutritive diets are discussed. There is no specific diet program.

The weight reduction class costs $30, two hours per day, three days per week, for five weeks. Regular studio fees are $ 14 per month for one to one-and-a-half hours per week.

  • R. J. Gallegos, R.H.
  • (Registered Hypnotist with Hypnotist Examining Council)
  • (275-2220)
  • Diet Control through medical referrals

Mr. Gallegos believes that hypnosis as a weight loss technique can be effective for some but not all people. He states that if he sees a person who he believes won’t work well with hypnosis, he will not work with that person

For those who show potential for success through hypnosis. Mr. Gallegos works by the premise that “a person must change his self-image before he can effect a lasting change in his life." For example, an overweight person usually believes he must eat more, and he will therefore be dissatisfied with small portions of food. Mr. Gallegos might suggest, through hypnosis, that the person will be satisfied with a small amount of food and will like nutritional meals more. In cases of extreme obesity, especially when a person informs him he has greater difficulty stopping himself from eating certain “junk" foods, Mr. Gallegos may suggest that these foods are distasteful to the person.

Hypnosis is not an instantaneous weight loss technique, but it can effect a more permanent change, as the factors causing the weight problem are controlled.

Although Mr. Gallegos would not quote his fee, he stated that the average rates for hypnotists in San Diego are between $20 and $35 per session (one-half to one hour).

  • Valley Center Yoga
  • (444-6965)

The goal of this program is to return the body to normal functioning, which includes returning it to a normal weight, through a natural foods diet, occasional fasting, and hatha yoga.

The owner of this center stresses that permanent weight change can occur only through a change of lifestyle, a “change of consciousness,” rather than a diet. While the natural food helps to cleanse the body, hatha yoga postures, relaxation, concentration, and meditation help to clear the mind of problems that can cause overeating. This is a long-term program for people who want more than simple weight loss.The center offers a beginners' class for $25. including four hours of individual instruction and one-and-a-half hours of group instruction. Later a person will join a group of ten or less people, to meet one-and-a-half hours per week. Those interested are advised to call-well in advance to enroll.

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