In 1994, Mary, who asked that her surname not be used for this story, joined the Overeaters Anonymous meeting in Kenosha.
At the time, she was 47 and carried 264 pounds on her 5-foot, 7-inch frame.
“I was a compulsive overeater, and I had too much weight, way too much weight. Let’s put it this way: I lost 98 pounds,” said Mary, who is now nearing 70 and hits the scales at 166 pounds. “I’m thrilled that I’ve gotten down this far, but I’ve still got more to go.”
Her goal is to reach 130 pounds, although she says her “higher power” might have a different goal. That’s “higher power” as in the 12-step program originated by Alcoholics Anonymous, upon which the OA 12-step program is modeled.
Since the first OA meeting was held in 1960 in Los Angeles, OA has grown to about 7,000 meetings in more than 80 countries and about 54,000 members, according to its website. It isn’t affiliated with any public or private organizations, political movements, ideologies or religious doctrines and takes no position on issues outside of its own program. There are no required membership dues or fees.
Mary says OA isn’t just about weight loss, gain or maintenance, obesity or diets. It’s about offering support for physical, emotional and spiritual recovery for people who suffer from compulsive eating. Although the majority in the Kenosha group are obese, not all members fit the description. Some are anorexic, others are bulemic. But all have compulsive eating disorders.
For the purposes of this story, Mary focused on obesity issues.
“I have never heard anybody say they are glad they are so heavy. In fact, they’re the total opposite of that. They’re unhappy. People call them names, say they’re fat pigs, they’re lazy. I had one guy call me up (after seeing her listed as the group contact for meetings) and say, ‘Oink, oink,’” Mary said. “It’s got nothing to do with that at all. It’s a disease like alcoholism.
“We have no control over that. It’s not easy at all. In fact, it’s very difficult because we love food. We eat when we’re happy. We eat when we’re sad. We eat when we’re tired. When we’re wide awake. We can’t stop it even though we’re full. That’s the sad part about iT. People say, ‘All you have to do is push yourself away.’ We wish it were that easy. If it were that easy, we know there would be no such thing as obesity.”
The issue of excessive weight is what led Debby Joling to make a commitment to join TOPS Club Inc., with her mother — but only if they kept at it for a year.
In September, they’ll mark three years in TOPS, and Joling now leads weekly group meetings averaging 18-20 participants. In that time, her mother has shed some 70 pounds and is determined to continue the downward trend after topping more than 300 pounds, Joling said.
“I was afraid I was going to lose her,” Joling said.
TOPS, short for Taking Off Pounds Sensibly, was founded in 1948 by a small group of Milwaukee women as a support group aimed at achieving thinner figures for better health. It now boasts nearly 170,000 members worldwide in 10,000 chapters, including Kenosha, and promotes itself as family friendly for men, women and children.
An elderly friend invited Joling and Joling’s mother to join her at TOPS, telling her the group was as much about making friends as losing weight.
Joling, 44, said the nonprofit, noncommercial organization has lived up to the expectations their friend described.
“For the first time, I saw my mom take off weight sensibly. Before that, she never had a significant weight loss,” Joling said. “There’s no chastising if (members) don’t take off a significant amount of weight. It’s (the club) so many different things. One is the camaraderie and the friendships that have been made.”
At 5-feet, 7-inches, and 185 pounds, Joling hasn’t lost any weight since joining, but she feels good that the club has helped her maintain that weight and not put on more unwanted pounds. Still, she describes herself as obese.
“I definitely need to take off some weight. Right now, I’m kind of at that place where I’m physically healthy, can ride a bike 14 miles at a time, and I’m physically active. But right now, I have a lot of things going on in my life. So, I’m focused more on maintaining than losing,” Joling said. Although she hopes one day to achieve her goal of dropping to 135 pounds.
— For more information about Overeaters Anonymous in Kenosha, contact Mary at 262-652-5635. The group meets 6:30 p.m. Fridays in the community education room on the second floor of Kenosha Medical Center, 6308 Eighth Ave.
— For more information about TOPS (Taking Off Pounds Sensibly), contact Debby Joling, 262-705-1968. The group meets 6:30-7:15 p.m. Mondays at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 8760 37th Ave., in Kenosha.