Overeaters Anonymous (OA) is a twelve-step group that adheres to the basic premise of any twelve-step group. The membership shares a specific illness or "disease." Admission that one has the illness is the initial step toward "recovery" or pushing the illness into remission. The group lends support to one another to best accomplish this goal.
The disease concept of OA is compulsive eating or the unfettered drive to engage in the irrational act of excessive eating. The only requirement to participate in OA is the ambition to end compulsive eating. When this premise of restraint is acknowledged, a person has begun the process of recovery.
Some passionately endorse twelve-step programs while others dismiss them altogether. The legitimacy of these programs will not be supported nor dismissed in this writing. The point of focus is the contention made that overeating is an illness or a disease. The scientific community may be in agreement.
The Compulsion to Eat in Excess
Prior to my gastric bypass surgery I ate in excess. It did not matter if I was hungry or not. Food had a magnetic pull for me, and I often wondered if there were forces at work beyond a very busy fork and the stereotypical belief that I lacked discipline. I wanted to change my eating habits, and I often made attempts to do just that. Needless to say, the end result was always failure.
I knew I was sacrificing my health. I knew I was dissatisfied with my appearance. I knew my self esteem was one level beneath the bottom of the barrel. But still, I ate and ate and ate. Between self-destructive binges, I wondered if it were possible to be addicted to food.
The Nature of an Eating Addiction
A study conducted at Scripps Research Institute showed that when rats are given a constant diet of junk food they exhibit behaviors similar to those seen in heroin addiction. Among the junk foods given to the rats were Ho Ho's, cheesecake, and pound cake. My addictive food was grain.
The point of convergence between grain, Ho Ho's, cheesecake and pound cake is sugar. Ho Ho's, cheesecake, and pound cake are obviously sugar rich, and grain is converted to glucose in the body. The more refined the grain, the quicker the conversion.
Sugars raise insulin in the blood level which in turn raises endorphin levels which in turn elevates mood. Overindulgence in sugar causes the body to produce less endorphins. More sugar is required from outside sources to maintain the necessary endorphin level or else depression can set in. The operative term for this unpleasant cycle is addiction.
Obesity As a Psychological Disorder
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV (DSM-IV) already recognizes the eating disorders of anorexia and bulimia. If one doesn't have the criteria to qualify for either of these eating disorders, he might find Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified a better fit.
The criteria for obesity is the compulsive eating of food and the inability to restrain this compulsion despite wanting to do so. The symptoms for obesity and the symptoms used in the DSM-IV to diagnose substance abuse and drug dependence are quite similar.
Many in the scientific community believe that the criteria for obesity clearly merits inclusion in the DSM-V. The addition would be welcome.
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You can read about my decision to have weight loss surgery back in 2003 and my journey to maintain a lifetime of obesity disease management since that time. My wish is to help you on your own journey of lifetime obesity disease management with shareposts along the way to help you navigate that journey successfully.