Group aims to help overeaters

SPRUCE – Alpena social worker Amy Will is starting an overeaters support group at an Alcona County church, and as a licensed professional knows she can help others.

Will has another reason – she wants to continue her own six-month effort toward a healthier lifestyle.

“The purpose is to help people, who have issues with controlling their eating habits,” the 31-year-old said. “They may eat compulsively and binge when bored or depressed or stressed.”

In November, Will spent two weeks at Structure House in North Carolina as a patient, and received counseling, specially prepared meals and exercise.

“I learned that binge eating is an addiction for some people and it doesn’t have anything to do with willpower,” she said. “I also learned I needed to make behavioral changes, instead of blaming it on my addiction. I needed to have a good outlook in order to stay on the right track and keep healthy.”

Benefits eventually replaced excuses, she said.

“I had very elevated liver enzymes six months ago and now they are normal,” said Will, who works for Wellspring Lutheran Services.

She also noticed herself feeling better physically. Chronic joint pain went away; her mood improved. So did her relationship with people.

But weight loss is intimidating emotionally. Painful issues and defeat always seem to be waiting to bubble to the surface and sabotage any effort, she said. Many people are even too scared to walk through the door of the church, and at her first session three people canceled.

“Society has this view that to be accepted you should be thin – like a size 0 or size 5,” Will said. “And I let that get to me. But through the counseling and Structure House I got my confidence back, and I don’t let that predict my mood.”

Three triggers can cause people to binge or overeat, she said.

  • Emotion: When you are really happy, you may want to celebrate with food; when you are really down, such as being dumped by a boyfriend, you may want to binge. “It’s an excuse for your addiction,” Will said.
  • Boredom: You are sitting in front of the TV and are restless. Then you remember you made brownies the day before and cave in.
  • Stress: Your basement is flooded. You think eating will make you feel better, but that’s faulty thinking, she said.

To avoid those triggers, Will stays active, exercising and dancing at a local workout facility. She goes on walks, takes her mind off problems by doing crossword puzzles or enjoys window shopping.

“Before, I didn’t like clothes shopping, because all the cute stuff was two sizes too small for me,” she said. “But I’ve gone down a dress size so I don’t feel like an outsider.”

The support group does not have weigh-ins. It also isn’t part of an organized group or 12-step program, because Will said she was concerned certain rules would interfere with the therapeutic process. Instead, people introduce themselves at the start of the meeting. Then Will talks about a topic, such as stress management or how many calories people should consume. The remainder of the meeting is spent sharing experiences and success stories, she said. Will also has a list of over 40 online resources and numerous publications available to participants.

Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.