When Atiya M. started practicing law, she spent big bucks on new clothes for court appearances. Although she weighed 240 pounds, she thought that she had finally made peace with herself and accepted her weight.
As a child, Atiya remembers that her busy parents routinely used food to engender momentary good feelings. She binged for the first time at age 7, after her parents separated. At age 10, she and her sister lived with an aunt in Nigeria for a year, a wonderful experience, but one that increased her feelings of anxiety and insecurity.
Atiya's father died when she was 13. She quickly gained 70 pounds. At 5-foot, 10 inches, she weighed 220 pounds. In her late teens, a friend introduced Atiya to purging. “A friend and I went out to lunch. Afterward, she said she knew how she to get rid of the food,” Atiya says. “It was like manna from heaven! I thought, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’”
Atiya tried undereating, too. For her senior prom, she cut back to 500 calories a day, exercised and smoked. Within a month, she lost 30 pounds. Over the years, Atiya went through periods of intense exercise, what she calls “exercise bulimia.” Her bulimia waxed and waned, but she resisted seeking help. “I didn’t want people to think I was crazy,” she says.
In her late 20s, Atiya stopped exercising for six weeks while she studied for the bar exam. Her weight shot up from about 230 to 260 pounds. She joined Weight Watchers and lost 63 pounds, but later regained the weight and then some. She no longer suffered from bulimia, but she continued binge eating.
Searching the internet one day, Atiya happened on Overeaters Anonymous. “Something just clicked,” she says. “It was the start of God doing for me what I couldn’t do for myself.”
“At my first meeting, I heard one woman share her story. She talked about things I had done in secret that I had never shared with anyone,” she says. “That night I knew that I was home.”
By her third meeting, though, Atiya was in agony. “I cried through the whole meeting,” she says. “I realized that food had always been my best friend and I knew I’d have to surrender it to God.”
The next morning, December 7, 2006, Atiya called a local OA contact. From that day, Atiya has followed her own plan of eating, abstaining from her addictive foods. Adhering to an OA tradition, she prefers not to talk about specific foods or habits. She does say that she's found it surprisingly easy to adopt new patterns.
Over 2 ½ years, Atiya lost 92 pounds. "I now wear a size 6," she says, "but the biggest joy is the freedom I have from food obsession."
Atiya is in daily contact with her sponsor, does her 12-step work, uses OA tools, such as writing, sponsoring, and service to others, and starts each morning with prayer and meditation. Combined with her involvement in a supportive church community, Atiya feels happy and free for the first time in her life.
“I no longer pick up food in response to emotions or life circumstances,” she says. “Every morning I wake up with the beautiful gift of abstinence and for that I am grateful.”
NOTE TO MY READERS: I would dearly love to show you a photo of Atiya, but OA's tradition of anonymity prevents me from doing so. I will just say that she is a beautiful woman and, as I've gotten to know her, a beautiful person!