After my mother passed away, I often found myself standing at the kitchen counter, mindlessly eating one piece of cake after the next. I wasn't even hungry, but I kept on eating. I did not own a scale, so I wasn't aware of how much weight I'd gained – until my skirts became too tight to button.

I looked for a bereavement group; I needed help. The local Jewish community center advertised a new group, but registration was so low that nothing ever materialized. I called a nearby synagogue which I heard sponsored bereavement groups and was told the only one they had was for widows and widowers. I called a therapist I'd found online, but her fees were out of my budget.

Michelle wasn't warm and fuzzyThen my friend, Cindy, casually mentioned that she had started going to a weight loss group on Thursday mornings. I needed something, so I decided to join her.

After the first meeting, newcomers have a "get acquainted" session with the leader. Michelle wasn't warm and fuzzy. She did not hug me or offer sympathy and condolences when I told her my story. She gave me the new members' booklets and talked about the freedom her program offers. There were so many choices and options of foods to eat, different programs to follow.

"I don't want freedom," I almost cried. "I need structure. I'm falling apart. I need to have something to follow and hang on to."

A tall, slender woman with hair pulled back in a severe, high ponytail had heard our discussion. "Jolie," she said gently, "no amount of food will ever fill the hole that's there from the loss of your mother. Believe me, I've been there."

I knew she was right, and I began looking for a way to stop using food as my source of comfort. I decided to commit, at least for a few weeks, to Thursday mornings with Michelle's weight loss group. It became my support group, my therapy.

Michelle grew on me. She was funny, well prepared, and clearly cared about her members. Each week, she came with huge flip charts with lists of advice and pictures she'd pasted on. At Chanukah, she had pictures of steaming latkes. She encouraged us to go for broke and have two "real" deep-fried potato pancakes, which were far more satisfying than stacks of fat-free, dry ones. Also, this would help avoid feeling deprived and going berserk later.Before the 4th of July, her flip chart was filled with American flags with a red, white, and blue banner, "Declare Your Thindependence!"

At the end of each meeting she'd beg us, "Promise me you'll stick to the program this week! Say it with me: If it's meant to be, it's up to me."

Little by little, my waistline decreasedI didn’t talk much, but I did listen. Michelle taught us a mantra: Think about what you want most, not what you want most at the time. She spoke about balance. She spoke about priorities, and putting taking care of yourself on your to do list. She spoke about taking care of our bodies, which she called our “homes.”

Judaism, too, obligates us to take care of the bodies which house our souls. Michelle talked about filling your soul with good music and ocean breezes, not just food. I came to realize that caring for my body helped to heal my soul.

Little by little, my waistline decreased as did my sense of loss and being lost in the world. I had a safe place to go every Thursday, where we didn't talk about loss and grief, death or bereavement. We talked about life, the good life – a life of joy, of balance, of achievement, of conquering the impulses which can control us.

I incorporated the tips I'd learned at my meetings: not going to social events hungry; chewing gum after a restaurant meal to help stay away from rich desserts; keeping a "safe environment" by not having around high calorie foods that would certainly tempt me; and forgiving myself when I over-indulged.

The added bonus was belonging to a new, friendly sorority. I got a chance to chat while waiting in line to weigh in, and after the meetings I would hang out with new friends and old friends who'd joined as well. The weight loss group became a social group for me, but one without extra responsibilities, unlike Cub Scouts or the synagogue sisterhood. It taught me to take responsibility for myself. I always left feeling good.

After several months, I finally met my goal weight. After another six weeks of consistently not gaining, I was entitled to become a "life member." I told Michelle that I had made my way back to "life." I was called to the front of the room, and received my awards. Then Michelle asked me to say something. Although several of the regulars were life members, I had never seen the special ceremony, so I was caught by surprise. I told the truth. "I was so annoyed," I admitted, "when I kept hearing your voice saying, 'Don't think of what you want at the time. Think of what you want the most' and 'nothing tastes as good as feeling thin feels.' But I listened to that voice. I stuck it out, and lost 18 pounds, and lightened my heart."

Yes, I still miss my mother terribly, and sometimes I turn to food for comfort. But, I have turned the corner, and have found a new sense of peace, as well as my old waistline. Sometimes salvation comes from unexpected sources. Now I keep my eyes, mind, and heart open to new possibilities and for personal growth. That's how I keep my balance.