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A Compulsive Overeater's Eating History

(I wrote the following for my OA sponsor as a part of working the twelve steps.)

My earliest memory of abnormal eating occurred in Shreveport, Louisiana. My family lived half a block from a convenience store. Every school day morning, four or five of us elementary school children would meet there to catch the school bus. Nice weather would find us playing in front of the store. When it rained or turned cold, the owner of the store let us wait inside. It was a nice arrangement for everyone except me. I started buying sweets every morning while waiting for the bus. I paid for them by using the money I got for an allowance, by begging coins from my mother, by looking all over the neighborhood for glass soda bottles that I could return for the deposit, and by stealing coins from my parents.

During those grade school days, I learned to love sweets. Breakfast was usually a bowl of cereal with two or three teaspoons of sugar on top. Other routine choices included hot oatmeal with sugar on top, French toast with plenty of syrup, hot cakes with plenty of syrup, heated doughnuts, and waffles with plenty of syrup. Chocolate milk was also available sometimes.

School lunches always included dessert. There were cookies, pudding, cake, or ice cream (for an extra fee). I often begged, pleaded, borrowed, or stole in order to buy ice cream.

When I got home from school, my mother would have a snack prepared for me. I think a peanut butter and jelly sandwich was my favorite. Sometimes it was cookies and milk. Often it was leftover dessert from the night before.

Every supper was followed by dessert. Foremost in my mind right now are the chocolate brownies my mother made. She could also bake great cakes and cook wonderful pies as well. I guess she learned that skill from her mother. I remember visits to my grandmother where every meal except breakfast was followed by dessert. Not just one dessert, but your choice from three or four sitting on the sideboard. I often had more than one.

My dad loved hot doughnuts and there was a Southern Maid doughnut shop a couple of miles from our house. Just about every time we drove past it, we would stop and get a dozen. I always ate my share and wanted more. Since there were two parents and three children, my share was two doughnuts. There would be two left over, and my dad and I usually split those. I got one because I was the oldest.

My dad also loved homemade ice cream. About once a week during the summer we would freeze a gallon. The five of us would eat it all in one or two settings. I remember one time we visited my aunt and uncle and had an ice cream eating contest. My dad and uncle both made ice cream. The five of us and two of them started off with a large bowl of ice cream each. My mother, brother, and sister dropped out after that. My dad, uncle, aunt, and I kept eating ice cream until we couldn’t take another bite. My aunt won the contest and I was sick that night.

Because of my good grades I was allowed to become a lunchroom worker. My peers considered this a great honor because it got me out of class. There were a number of jobs that we rotated. My favorite of all was selling ice cream.

We moved to New Orleans when I was in the fifth grade. My mother started cooking more French and Cajun dishes, but the desserts remained the same.

I really do not remember any major changes in my eating pattern from fifth grade through the junior year of high school. But my senior year was very different. Seniors got to go off campus for lunch. There was a Dairy Queen behind the school and a convenience store in front of it. I would go off campus and buy sweets with the lunch money my parents gave me. By that time I was babysitting, mowing yards, and getting a much larger allowance. Most of this money was spent on sweets. My ideal weight was 150 pounds. I weighed 168 when I graduated at the age of eighteen in 1964.

Then it was off to college. The campus cafeteria offered desserts at lunch and supper. I do not remember a single time that I passed them up.

Going home for Thanksgiving and then for Christmas gave me an excuse for going on the biggest binges of the year. My mother made lots of sweets for both holidays and I consumed as much of them as I could get away with.

My senior year I got engaged. My sweetheart called me her “teddy bear” because I was about thirty pounds overweight. Since I was going into Air Force pilot training after graduation, I decided to go on my first real diet. Each weekend I ate no meals whatsoever. From Friday supper until Monday breakfast I only ate sweets from the dormitory vending machines. I lost about ten pounds during the last half of my senior year in college, and arrived at Laredo Air Force Base weighing 170, only twenty pounds over my ideal weight.

For some reason I do not remember eating a lot of sweets during that year of pilot training. Instead, I remember buying a large pizza late at night, taking it back to my room in the BOQ, and eating the whole thing by myself. I only gained ten pounds that year because of all the physical training. However, I developed some very bad eating behaviors. When I graduated, I got my multiengine pilot license. The license shows that on June 25, 1969, I weighted 180 pounds.

After pilot training, it was off to California for four years. During my last year in the Air Force, I hit 200 pounds for the first time. I also got engaged to a 5’ 3” young beauty that weighed 90 pounds. Between the date of my engagement and my wedding day, I lost fifty pounds. I walked down the aisle weighing 150 pounds, my ideal weight. Emptying my apartment of food and leaving it empty for five months accomplished this. Every time I wanted something to eat, I had to drive to get it. At each meal I would eat the least amount I could to feel satisfied. I was also jogging at least two miles every day at a pace of eight minutes a mile, lifting weights, playing a lot of tennis, and hiking.

My honeymoon was spent at the Highland Inn in Carmel-by-the-Sea. We had a cottage in a beautiful wooded area overlooking the ocean. It was July but cold enough to use the fireplace in our little cabin at night. The price of the Inn included two gourmet meals a day. Everything was served in courses and a typical meal would last about two hours, ending with some of the most wonderful desserts I can remember. We were there six nights and I gained ten pounds.

My wife and I stayed in California after I got out of the Air Force so she could finish college. I attended Golden Gate Seminary near San Francisco, but we lived in married student housing on the campus of UC Davis. That meant a ninety-minute commute for me each morning and afternoon. I remember sometimes eating snacks the whole trip. I had an overweight friend that tried Weight Watchers and he told me that it really worked for him. I was interested in what he was eating, but was not ready to try it myself. I remember a recipe that I got from him for banana milk shakes made in a blender. It used artificial sweetener instead of sugar but still tasted great. I’ve been using that recipe for twenty-four years now. However, I usually use sugar and honey instead of artificial sweetener.

When my wife graduated, we moved to Fort Worth so I could attend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. While there my weight made it all the way back up to 200 pounds. This was during a time when my wife had a vegetable garden in our back yard and worked at a health food cooperative. She had gained four pounds since our marriage and I had gained fifty. I tried Weight Watchers for the first time and lost a lot of weight. But I quickly gained it all back, plus a little more. This began my period of yo-yo dieting.

While attending school, I had a part time job as Minister of Music at First Baptist Church of Kaufman. Every Sunday and Wednesday I drove from Fort Worth to Kaufman and back, usually by myself. The trip took ninety minutes and I traveled that route twice a week for three years. I became very well acquainted with every place along that stretch of highway that sold food. I always got something to eat to help with the tedium, most often something sweet.

On Sundays, I was free between 12:30 and 6:30. During this time I would study, nap, or work on the music program. I would also go across the street to the icehouse and buy a quart of Borden’s Dutch Chocolate milk. I would use a small glass to drink out of so that it seemed like I was having more. And I drank it very slowly, savoring the taste of chocolate on my tongue to the absolute maximum with each tiny sip. At times, it took me over two hours of sipping to finish off the bottle.

Upon graduation I was called to a church in San Antonio. My weight crossed 250 for the first time. I lost weight then gained it back. I tried Weight Watchers several different times, NutriSystem once, and Overeaters Anonymous once. I jogged, hiked, swam, rode a bike, and joined a fitness center at various times. I started a group within the church modeled after Weight Watchers. We met weekly, elected someone we all trusted to weigh each of use in private, discussed how we were doing, and then prayed for each other. This turned out to be the most successful program I ever tried. I got all the way back down to 200 pounds. But it did not last.  No matter what I tried, I always lost weight. But I would always gain it all back plus a little more. I averaged a net weight gain of five pounds a year.

During the early years in San Antonio, I began what I think is one of the sickest eating behaviors I ever had. My wife was an R.N. working the night shift. After she left for work, I would go buy some Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream. I would always buy the large half-gallon size since this seemed to be about the amount I wanted. When I got back home, I would sit down in my favorite chair, turn on the TV, and begin to slowly eat this wonderful frozen creation. I always planned to eat the whole half-gallon, maybe with a can of Hershey’s chocolate syrup poured over it. Invariably, I could not eat the whole thing. How do you hide a carton of left over ice cream? I couldn’t think of a way, so I had to get rid of it. If I threw it in the garbage can, it would melt and made a huge mess. Using all my powers of problem solving, I came up with the perfect solution. I took it to the sink, turned on the hot water, and watch it vanish down the drain. Then it was easy to dispose of the wet piece of cardboard that remained. Problem solved.

A sane person would realize that a half-gallon was too much ice cream for one person at one setting, especially if a can of chocolate syrup was also eaten along the way. Since I am not sane when it comes to food, I repeated this behavior over and over and over for the last twenty-three years. I bet I have the sweetest drainpipes in San Antonio.

Here are some other examples of insane eating behaviors:

bulletI would buy a large package of cookies and eat all of them that I could. Then, feeling quilt and shame, throw the rest away by hiding them in the bottom of the garbage can out in the garage. The following night, feeling an overpowering craving for sweets, I would get the cookies out of the garbage can and finish off the bag.
bulletWhen Judy asked me to run to the grocery store to pick up some item she needed while preparing supper, I would always add two or three candy bars to the purchase. Since the store was so close to our house, I would have to sit in the parking lot to eat my treats, or drive home some round-about way that gave me time to consume my purchase.
bulletI have made every member of my family mad at one time or another by eating some treat that belonged to them – something they had bought or that had been bought for them. I reasoned that if it was in the house and no one had eaten it yet, then I was free to eat it. One year I bought Godiva chocolates as a Christmas present for my wife, and then ate about two-thirds of them myself.
bulletI attended an OA convention in Houston. I went by myself and greatly enjoyed the seminars, the speakers, and the huge array of OA materials. Everything seemed to be going well until Saturday afternoon. Most of the people seemed to be from Houston and knew each other. I didn’t know a soul and started feeling somewhat lonely. There was a dance scheduled for that night, but being a minister in a domination that still frowned on that, and not knowing how to dance very well anyway, I decided to go out to eat and see a movie by myself. I made it to the restaurant, but then went to a store and bought a load of sweets and snacks. I went back to the motel and devoured them while watching a movie. Bingeing at an OA Convention ranks as one of the all time lows of my life.
bulletMy church is a twenty-five minute drive away and I usually go alone. I got in the habit of stopping at the nearby Albertson’s each Sunday morning and buying a dozen glazed doughnuts. I would eat them all before arriving at church. Even after my church started offering doughnuts between Bible study and worship, I would still buy my dozen. I did not want anyone at church to see me eat more that one or two doughnuts.

When I hit 300 pounds, I decided to try psychotherapy. It did a lot of good for me in every area of my life. I gained some more weight, but the yo-yo effect finally stopped. I maintained a weight of about 330 for almost five years. My weight never rose higher than 340 or lower than 320 during that time. I found it easy to maintain that range without dieting.

Then a very tragic event happened to my daughter. She became emotionally and mentally ill due to a traumatic incident that happened when she was twelve years old. My answer to the pain, grief, stress, anger, and feelings of helplessness was to start bingeing on sweets once again. I crossed 350 for the first time, and continued to get fatter and fatter until I reached an all-time high of 364 pounds on April 6, 2001. On that day, I hit bottom and began the OA recovery process. I'll write about that later.

I asked my wife and daughter to read this history to see if it passed the “smell test” of honesty. They only added two items. One time they were horrified to come home and find out I had eaten an entire jar of marshmallow cream. They just couldn’t imagine someone doing that.

They also mentioned my eating semi-sweet chocolates that had been purchased for some other purpose than my own gratification. I remember one year my wife bought a large package of semi-sweets a month before she needed them at Christmas. During that month I would eat the candy one night, feel guilt and shame the next day, then go to a grocery store and replace them. During that month, I think I did this six times. That is sick.