Mike Findlay meets an inspiring community group in Glasgow who are supporting addictive eaters on the road to recovery.
The current lockdown is exacerbating some people’s behaviours, for better and for worse. If you are an obsessive or addictive eater, this is a particularly prickly time. The temptation to eat even more, may be greater than before. If you are bulimic or anorexic, you may slip into old habits doing both your health and mind a lot of damage.
The chances are that each one of you readers will have experienced, or know someone else that has, struggled with addictive eating.
According to NHS Inform, around 1 in 250 women and 1 in 2,000 men will experience anorexia nervosa at some point; Bulimia is around five times more common than anorexia nervosa and 90% of people with bulimia are female; whilst binge eating usually affects males and females equally.
Dealing with your own addictive behaviour is often done in private. If, however, you are serious about tackling your eating behaviours head on, then you may need to rely on your fellow addictive eaters to see you through the darker times.
And the good news is, help is here.
Addictive Eater Anonymous (AEA) is a friendly community-based support group helping people struggling with their addictions. Describing themselves as a ‘fellowship’, AEA follows a similar model to Alcoholics Anonymous. Although not a religious group, AEA members are encouraged to follow The Twelve Steps, allowing them to acknowledge their struggles and create a way forward.
AEA is a truly global network – with meetings taking place in the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. In Glasgow, AEA has been in existence for the last three years.
During ‘normal times’, the group has been having open meetings for anyone at Woodside Halls on a Tuesday night at 7pm. During lockdown, this is taking place online instead.
Founding member of AEA in Glasgow is Beth*. She describes herself as a former binge eater, and during the peak of her eating she weighed 23 stone. She relates much of her relationship with food back to her own childhood:
“My parents were immigrants. They came to the UK is the 1950s hoping the streets would be paved with gold. As a child I was full of anxiety, stress and I never thought I was ‘good enough’. It was easy to abuse food in my family home. If you ever came to our house, you never left without eating a great big fat meal. Food was just piled-high on the plate! Now imagine that child, uncomfortable in her own skin, and how easy it would be to abuse food. I used food to anaesthetise these feelings and push them down.
“I had a sister who was morbidly obese who tragically died at 38. I have absolutely no doubt I would have died if I had continued eating the way I did. With lockdown if I was still eating, heaven knows how I would cope right now.”
Beth says her path to recovery came when her doctor referred her to a mental health nurse, who told her about the Twelve Step programme. She has been involved in the programme for around two decades now and describes herself as being “sober from eating for twelve years”.
AEA in Glasgow has moved its activities and support networks fully online. This has gone down well with its members, allowing them to tap into the international AEA network, which runs an average of eight meetings per week through Zoom.
Each meeting provides members with the opportunity to talk about their daily lives and talk through strategies for overcoming addictive behaviours.
Members also have daily contact with each other, and can also ask for a sponsor, which is a powerful way of supporting people through their daily struggles.
Beth is just one of a number of inspiring people who are part of the AEA movement in Glasgow.
Jo* has struggled with addictive behaviour for most of her adult life. She describes herself as having had bulimia and a reformed compulsive exerciser. It wasn’t until she reached her early 40s that she realised the extent of her problem and reached out for support. She has been involved with fellowships for the last five years and says her involvement with AEA in Glasgow has been “a lifesaver”.
Jo says: “On paper I was very successful. I looked well. I had achieved a lot in life materialistically – moving to a more affluent part of Glasgow. However, behind this, I didn’t know how to eat safely. I was binging and I was purging food, most days.
“It was the same with my exercise habits. I was attending half a dozen gyms around the city each week. I was one of these people when I did something, I did it to the extreme. A school friend of mine commented that I never seemed to sit still.
“I didn’t know how to deal with the pain of life without substance or some kind of physical activity. I needed a power that was greater than myself to help me recover. And for me that has been AEA.
“My sponsor is in a different country, but we manage to phone each other each day. AEA is the only thing that has worked for me personally. I see people who are happy that are part of the network and that’s what’s attracted me to stay. I am free from the binging and the purging – I was coughing up blood most days – and that is not a part of my life anymore.”
AEA in Glasgow describes its members as being from “all walks of life” including both males and females, people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, people with different stories to tell. The network is open to anyone to join at any time and often friends and relatives of people with eating disorders attend in support of their loved ones.
Beth comments: “We are a small group and are looking to grow. The fellowship is about reprograming. I have had to learn new ways of living and reacting to life. And that has been taught to me by the other members, which is why we keep in constant contact. Feel free to come and talk to us anytime.”
For more details see:
*Please note names have been changed to protect identities.