The first time I remember binge eating was in sixth grade. After school I went home with my friend Susan who threw a sleeve of buttered crackers in the oven for us to snack on. We ate the whole stack of warm treats before her mother arrived.

Then puberty set off waves of insecurity about my changing body. I wasn't alone. Friends my age also were obsessed with body image, dieting and fitting in. I managed to keep my weight under control until college, when at last I was on my own and had free rein over my food supply, whether stocking the mini fridge in the dorm room or eating meals in the cafeteria.

Overweight and depressed, I drifted between my bedroom, the refrigerator and the couch, mindlessly eating to numb the emotional pain.

Later, in my 20s, I was stuck in what my brother called the Bermuda Triangle. Overweight and depressed, I drifted between my bedroom, the refrigerator and the couch, mindlessly eating dozens of doughnuts, boxes of cookies and gallons of ice cream to numb the emotional pain.

Somewhere in that foggy decade I applied for membership in Mensa, the high-IQ society – and passed the entrance requirements. Was this an act of ego or low self-esteem? Probably both, but now I was officially intelligent.

All that sharp grey matter couldn’t help me feel better, stop overeating and lose weight. My years of unsuccessful attempts included juice fasts, ear acupuncture, diet pills, therapy, pay-and-weigh support groups, over-exercising and countless diets revolving around cabbage soup, bananas, grapefruit and high protein. If I was so smart, how come I couldn’t figure my way out of this? Maybe if I just found the right diet! I still believed in my own resources. Yet I had no clue how to face my problems.

Food Was Never the Problem

I didn’t know that food wasn't the root of my problem. Ironically, that realization would dawn because of a Thanksgiving meal with our local Big Brother/Big Sisters agency. I noticed another Big Sister had lost a lot of heft – 100 pounds, to be exact – since the previous year, and asked her how she’d done it. Kathy told me how Overeaters Anonymous had changed her life.

Intrigued, skeptical and nervous, I tiptoed into my first OA meeting in January 1986.

The biggest gift of coming to a 12-step program was to find my own Higher Power, Whom I didn’t know was missing.

I wish I could recall how my smart-cookie self felt. I just knew I was powerless over food and wanted to recover. OA pointed me to a Power greater than myself, but didn’t define it for me. The biggest gift of coming to a 12-step program was to find my own Higher Power, Whom I didn’t know was missing. As an assimilated young career woman, I just never thought about God.

Filling the Emptiness Within

Here was a chance to seek a Higher Power of my own understanding. The steps suggested turning our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. How was I supposed to do all that? I had no clues in my memory bank from Sunday school at my synagogue, which included dry subjects like the history of Judaism and Israel. I couldn’t imagine members of my tribe talking about things like God and praying.

So who did I turn to for help? Good Southern Christians who unapologetically wore these subjects on their sleeve. My explorations even led me to a nondenominational Christian Bible study course on Genesis, where I simply tuned out Jesus's name. After all, I wasn’t looking to convert, just to discover.

But the next year, Bible study centered on the New Testament, and that I couldn’t tune out. So I dropped out. Meanwhile with my love of learning I decided to see if the synagogue of my youth offered adult education. It had been many years since I had crossed that threshold.

I remain deeply grateful for the rabbi I encountered. He was young, brilliant, warm and relatable. He cared deeply about God, Judaism, Jews and Israel. As he taught classes in the library of the synagogue, my mind soared to keep up with him. His words and passion pierced my heart.

Much to my surprise, I began thirsting for more connection and started attending services. Soon I was enjoying Passover seder with the rabbi and his family. Then I was staying up all night on Shavuot studying Torah in his basement with other seekers.

Judaism provided a wealth of food for my soul.

I was filling my inner emptiness not with food, but with a foundation based on my Higher Power, the God of my heritage. The urges to overeat were cues to attend to something in myself, whether a fear, resentment or other feeling I was attempting to push down. The 12 steps helped me deal with them. Those food thoughts and cravings also signaled a need to get out of myself and connect to other people and to God.

Judaism provided a wealth of food for my soul. And my Jewish exploration is never- ending, continuing to inform my life today. I often find myself thinking, "I didn't know our tradition had this."

The Winding Path Home

The journey that began 36 years ago has included a strong connection to my heritage, many trips to Israel and dual citizenship. My 20-something, 50-pounds-heavier self never would have imagined this direction.

I’m grateful that my food problems and a sense of despair and hopelessness led me home. I couldn't do it myself. The orchestration from Above was brilliant.