Written in 1980 by the late Reverend Rollo M. Boas, this favorable assessment of Overeaters Anonymous offers a timeless truth: compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors are indicators of an individual’s starved and suffocated spirit. However, with the encouragement, support, and wisdom of OA’s Fellowship, the still-suffering compulsive eater can learn to wean themselves from debilitating compulsive food behaviors and find peace in nurturing their spirit. As the individual surrounds themselves with the love found in the OA program, compulsive eating is diminished and a new sense of wholeness and balance emerges.
The title of this commentary puts in simple words the uniqueness and special place that Overeaters Anonymous has earned and is earning within the whole approach to the problem of compulsive overeating.
It was not easy to determine how to apply a program dealing with alcoholism, in which thousands have learned how to live without drinking, to a commodity—food—without which not one can live. I am sure that this difficulty still exists within the minds of some. For many others, however, it is clear that what compulsive overeaters and alcoholics have in common is a need to nourish the spiritual side of their nature.
All in all, it is the saving grace of the spiritual in the OA program that has made for its success and growth, and I can prophesy that OA will continue to grow, bringing not only sane eating habits but also spiritually and morally oriented lives that will help build society.
Spiritual values are important because they deal with the whole person. Wholeness in this sense is related to “holiness,” as well as to “balance.” A holy person is one whose body, mind, and spirit share an equality that was (and is) the intention and plan of God for all men. Such a person takes his or her place within the community with ease and grace, motivated by a deep and abiding sense of thanksgiving. Such individuals become creative and constructive, not only with the family circle or community but also in the arts and sciences. Their creative energies are not blocked by shame, guilt, self-pity, and hate or by the facades of arrogance, aggressiveness, and uncaring attitudes.
It is only as the hurt and damaged soul is given emotional and spiritual sustenance that these destructive characteristics slough off, and love begins to flow freely within and from there outward.
Let us look at this spiritual food. To begin with, it falls under the heading of love, the most abused, misused, and yet the most wonderful word in the English language. Without love, every other human virtue or ability is as “sounding brass.” Love is a spiritual quality that is not confined to the limits of any religious community. No one has a corner on it. It is free—free to fill the lives of all who allow it to flow freely. And as it flows, it washes and gives life and glorifies its source—God.
This brings me to my first point. Those who are prone to stuff themselves with food that makes their bodies unsightly are refusing the food that satisfies and soothes the unhappy soul within. Have they said, “I don’t deserve anything good” for such a long time that they are literally putting their heels on that source of love that alone can bring peace? Or have they become so discouraged or so angry that they deny even the existence of love, let alone God?
All of us can identify with such feelings. Compulsive overeaters and alcoholics, gamblers and drug addicts are not the only inhabitants of life’s gray areas. The number of such afflicted people is legion.
There are three stages in the process of getting any kind of food. One: Take your body to the food. Two: Dish it out and eat it. Three: Enjoy it and use the energy it creates. It is the same with spiritual food, food for the soul. Let us look at these three stages.
One: Take your body to the food. Sometimes people become so sick with overeating that the “spiritual food” has to come through one who cares, one who loves. This is God’s method. He first loved us. But sometimes he knocks at the door of our lives in the form of a person or a book or magazine article—a thought, a hope.
The knocking is heard but often the door remains shut. Sooner or later, however, it must be opened to allow some kind of help to enter. In most cases, many kinds of “help” have been tried. They all involved money, effort, and disappointment. Finally, the message gets through: Someone cared enough to reach the starving soul. You allow love within your life. You are ready to take your body to spiritual food.
Two: This stage follows closely upon the accomplishment of the first. How surprising to find—and difficult to believe—that all those people at the OA meeting understood your problem and cared about you!
You see, love that is accepted immediately eliminates your aloneness. The only way you can use the word love when you are alone is by loving yourself, and no compulsive overeater does that at first. So it must begin by allowing someone else’s love into your life. This very action of including others and being included is food for the soul—the starving waif within the stuffed body.
But the process of love has only begun. Carefully, even suspiciously, you allow a few people closer to your inner self. Through trusting them, even passively, you move closer to love. You may call these individuals foolhardy to love you, but the pain and loneliness drive you to respond. It becomes easier and easier, until you “over-love” and someone lets you down. This happens because immature love tries to possess and control. Then, you may run back into your shell to lick your wounds, and perhaps a few platters in the process. Like a mighty flood, you feel swamped again by that compulsion that once all but destroyed your life. A phone call: an understanding member of OA hears your story and levels with you. Thankfully, there are many who have learned the difference between loving and “over-loving.” They are always standing by, ready to help.
What a relief to be on the raft of OA again—that group of people who take you firmly by the hand in love and fellowship.
It is then that you are encouraged to ingest and digest two new kinds of food: First, understanding for your straightjacketed mind. This comes from OA literature and other sources. Second, you learn that prayer and meditation have a lot to do with satisfying the inner hungry one. Finally, you can listen to the stories you hear at meetings with a deeper insight. You study the Traditions, born out of pain and trial, which have kept a spiritual movement living and growing for nearly seventy years. You learn that others have personal histories more traumatic than yours. You acquire humility. You learn some of the tricks of the trade of wholesome living. And finally you can turn to the healthy sauce of good humor. You can not only laugh at the ridiculous reasoning and situations others go through, but you learn to laugh at yourself also.
Humor is a most important ingredient of love. I think it shakes down the food—now shrinking away—so that you can make room within yourself for others. This is a major step forward because it takes some of the emotional heat (condemnation) off yourself. And what a relief this is!
Fellowship, understanding, and humor—all of them digestible forms of love: food for the soul.
Somewhere along this pathway the spiritual itself becomes real to you. You begin to be aware of mystical qualities that become important and real. Is this the birth of a soul? No, because the soul was not dead. It was only starving, denied, and stifled. Now it moves within, purring with contentment as it begins its lifelong, God-given task of furnishing control, establishing security and, finally, giving purpose. Now you understand what it was that really attracted you to Overeaters Anonymous. Sure, you were impressed by a slim and trim figure. You wanted that, too. But what really caught you was the love, the understanding, the soul qualities that touched you where you really lived, though you may not have been aware of it.
And wonder of wonders, you too become an instrument of love. You doubted that you could meet the needs of others, but soon the people about you began to respond to your love. Now, you have reached the third stage. You are walking on Cloud Nine, only to be tripped up by pride and even a tinge of complacency or arrogance. The power you envied in others is now yours. You must learn to use it without losing your way again.
Sometimes this experience strands us on a stagnant, arid plateau. You may see someone else maturing more rapidly than you. Disillusionment and standstill can result. There is at this crossroads a signpost you cannot miss: “Go deeper with others and with God.” God has provided many other means of fellowship and growth. They too offer soul food. But always remember that your compulsion with food does demand that kind of understanding and experience that members of OA can provide. But now that your body is no longer your master; your mind is beginning to think clearly; and your soul is fed, nurtured, and functioning, you can reconsider those other sources of soul food.
I now leave off my description of this pilgrim’s progress that takes us from compulsive overeating to its replacement with food for the soul. It is a journey that leads straight out of self-made prisons and limitations into green pastures where we find many a table spread with wholesome food and a cup that overflows.
— The Reverend Rollo M. Boas, 1980
One of OA’s earliest supporters, Reverend Rollo Boas was a minister of the Episcopal church and the recipient of OA’s 1979 Appreciation Award. He passed away in 1993.
Overeaters Anonymous, Third Edition pp. 204–208.
© 1980, 2001, 2014 by Overeaters Anonymous, Inc. All rights reserved.