The meeting takes place on a warm July evening in the Buffalo suburbs.
As a gentle breeze drifts through an open window, three women sit at a long table. One nurses a mug of coffee. Another shuffles through a stack of papers.
The meeting is routine in some respects, with its welcoming message and reading of an inspirational prayer.
And yet it is, like many of this group’s meetings, frank and revealing.
“I think we use our addiction to numb out to life,” said Judy, a Cheektowaga resident who has struggled with eating disorders since childhood. “I used to eat until I was in a coma on my couch.”
This is a meeting of Buffalo’s Eating Disorders Anonymous.
The group was started last summer in grassroots fashion, by some local women affected by eating disorders who wanted a forum in which to meet, share thoughts and feelings, and support one another. (The group is open to male members; as yet there are none.)
It is modeled on Eating Disorders Anonymous, a national group that helps people all over the country run support sessions for those with eating disorders. (The rules of the eating disorder-focused group, like those for other “anonymous” support groups, prohibit the divulging of members’ last names or identifying details.)
The new anonymous group sprang from the sense, among its members, of a lack of support in the Buffalo area.
“There still was something missing,” said the group’s organizer, Christina, a Cheektowaga resident, in a conversation about the support group outside the recent meeting. “Something wasn’t feeling right.”
The group, which has a handful of core members at the present time, meets twice a week in a church on Maryvale Drive in Cheektowaga. It follows the “12-step” model made familiar in groups like Alcoholics Anonymous.
Among some experts on eating disorders in the Buffalo area, news of the new group met with a positive response – if a qualified one.
In Western New York, there is a need for more services for those with eating disorders, said Ann Marie LiCausi, executive director of the Eating Disorders Association of Western New York.
“I think we’re lacking,” said LiCausi. “There are some private therapists that deal with eating disorders; we have Centre Buffalo, thank goodness. But for something low-key for people just to attend, we have very little.”
In that sense, LiCausi said, the new group deserves credit for trying to put another option for support out there for families. “Kudos to them,” she said.
However, LiCausi, a licensed social worker, cautioned that support groups that are not led by trained experts – like the ones available through the Buffalo Centre for the Treatment of Eating Disorders in Amherst – need to be careful to remain constructive.
That’s a job which can be especially tricky where eating disorders are concerned, she said.
“It’s definitely trickier,” LiCausi said. “It’s absolutely much more complicated. You want the group to be productive. You want everybody to leave the group feeling good.”
The goal of the Buffalo Eating Disorders Anonymous group is support for all members, in a relaxed setting that allows for the airing of problems and issues, its organizers said.
The group includes members in their 20s, as well as women in their 50s and 60s.
There is no fee for the sessions, although members do take up collections at times to make small donations to the church where they hold meetings.
“We give each other coping skills,” said Christina, who said her own struggles with eating began in her youth. “I never had any opportunity to express feelings. We express our ideas about living – the more we can do that, the more we can help each other.”
The tone of the group is positive, members said.
For one member of the group, a professional in her 20s who calls herself a “recovered anorexic,” the discussion at the group’s meetings provides the inspiration she needs to keep herself on track with her progress in overcoming her illness.
“I’ve had a good deal of physical recovery, some spiritual,” said the woman, a North Buffalo resident who said she has struggled with disordered eating since high school.
At a recent meeting, she talked about fighting the urges she feels at times to avoid meals during busy shifts at work.
“That feeling that I couldn’t take it back, after I ate something, that terrified me,” she said. “That feeling – ‘It’s ON me’ – it will go away.”
LiCausi said that the Buffalo Centre for the Treatment of Eating Disorders offers a free, professionally run open support group from 6 to 7 p.m. Sundays at the facility for those dealing with eating disorders.
For many people, talking helps in coping with these disorders, said LiCausi.
“It’s like … ‘You feel the same way I do – I’m not crazy. I’m dealing with an eating disorder,’ ” said LiCausi. “I often think a support group is truly the first step toward acknowledging an addiction.”
The anonymous group’s organizer, Christina, said her goal is to keep the support group running – and maybe even expand it.
She said she would love to see more such anonymous groups tailored to those with eating disorders in Buffalo and the suburbs.
“I would like to help every young person out there,” said Christina. “I would like to be able to go to a meeting every day. To have all kinds of groups, throughout Buffalo.” As group member Judy explained it, these women – and maybe, someday, men too – feel they have something important to share.
“We’ve come from dark places,” said Judy, “but we’re in the light now.”
The meetings of the Buffalo-area support group are listed on the website of the national-level organization Eating Disorders Anonymous, see www.eatingdisordersanonymous.org and click on the “meetings” tab to see schedules.
The support group Eating Disorders Anonymous of Buffalo will be participating in a health fair next month. The group will be at the event scheduled for the Amherst Senior Center on Audubon Parkway on Aug. 3, from 9 a.m. to noon.