12 Questions for Compulsive Food Behaviors…Not Related to Binge Foods

Many OAs celebrate Easter today, and for most American families, this holiday includes baskets of candy. If we have arrived at an easy-going abstinence, those sugary items may not call to us, but even if we have abstinence, we have to be on guard.

Holidays don’t typically end with stockings or baskets full of candy. We might get through the initial assault of Easter baskets, only to find that the battle is far from over. Special meals (with or without family and friends) come soon after. There may be an enfilade of appetizers to weaken our resolve before the main bombardment of fatty, sweet, bready, and salty foods commences.

We are so used to overeating on holidays that we may not realize that our mind is heading in that direction. This disease is cunning, baffling, and powerful, and it will use our minds, our experiences, our memories, and anything else it can to reel us back into compulsive eating. It will also make us forget things! Like how awful we feel when we eat compulsively.

All of which draws our attention to OA’s statement on abstinence (emphasis added):

“Abstinence in Overeaters Anonymous is the action of refraining from compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors while working towards or maintaining a healthy body weight. Spiritual, emotional, and physical recovery is the result of living the Overeaters Anonymous Twelve Step program.”

When you stop and read that bolded part carefully, this abstinence thing is about a lot more than our individual binge foods. If we stop eating M&Ms and donuts that’s great! But have we stopped eating compulsively? Are we still engaging in compulsive food behaviors? Here’s twelve questions that might help us spot some common compulsive food behaviors that don’t include binge foods:

  1. Are we gaining weight or stuck at an unhealthy weight even though we’ve given up our individual binge foods?
  2. Do we argue ourselves into the idea that a healthy weight for us is one that’s above what’s medically recommended for us?
  3. Are we licking pots, pans, or dishes?
  4. Do we feel compelled to get at our planned meal fast?
  5. Are we thinking about our next meal rather than the task in front of us?
  6. Are we overfull when we stop eating?
  7. Do we fear telling our sponsor what or how much we’ve eaten because they will tell us to get honest about quantities?
  8. Are we clinging tooth-and-nail to yellow-light foods that should go into the red-light category?
  9. Do we eat mindlessly in front of the TV, on the phone, in the car, or in any similar situation?
  10. Are we eating between planned meals?
  11. Do we reward ourselves with abstinent food before, during, and/or after a difficult situation?
  12. Is our mind, right now, trying to tell us we don’t do these things, even though our heart knows we do?

If we answer yes to some or all of these questions, we may want to remember what the “Doctor’s Opinion” in the Big Book tells us. It describes the cycle of addiction:

  1. We have some kind of feeling and want to take the edge off.
  2. These feelings initiate the mental obsession with eating and food.
  3. We eat.
  4. Now eating either activates physical cravings or returns us into compulsive food behaviors.
  5. We become remorseful.
  6. We resolve to do better next time.
  7. Next time comes, and we repeat the same process again and again and again.

Notice that the first thing that happens is a feeling, and then the obsession begins. It doesn’t begin with the binge foods or compulsive behaviors. Our disease may still be working on us, using our feelings to get us eating non-binge foods in compulsive ways.

OA wisdom suggests that the best thing to do is be honest with ourselves and another person. If we aren’t getting the results we want in OA, or if we feel like we’re missing out on some part of recovery, perhaps we are. Our sponsors and other members can help, but most important to ask our Higher Power for the willingness to be honest, listen to suggestions, and take action. After all, we have to be ready to go to any length for recovery.


5 Ways to Get a Full Serving of OA

We compulsive eaters have never cheated ourselves. A full serving for us means enough servings to make us full…and then some. It means an extra dip of a spoon or scooper into whatever serving dish or container we’re holding. It means mounded measuring cups or eating those last bits because we’d “hate to see it go to waste.” We’d rather it go to our waist than to waste!

So why do we resist a full serving of OA?

What’s a full serving of OA look like? It’s about following an ages-old piece of OA wisdom:

  • Program first.
  • Then family.
  • Then work.

Our members share stories all the time about how our illness degraded or ruined their family relationships. How it made them less productive workers or even got them fired. If we don’t put program first there may be no family or job to return to. This disease kills, so eventually there may be no life to return to.

It’s like that old story about a reluctant OA telling a longtime member, “I’ve always had a problem with commitment.” The OA veteran, not giving an inch replies, “You don’t have a problem with commitment. You’ve been committed to compulsive eating for the last thirty years.” We all have the ability to work this program and to put it first. The question is whether we’re in enough pain to listen to the voice inside us that wants to get better.

Here’s 5 proven ways we can get a full serving of OA!

  • Treat compulsive eating like the killer disease it is: We can’t BS ourselves about the severity of this disease. It will kill us spiritually, emotionally, and physically. It destroys us from the inside out.
  • Keep making meetings: Sometimes we let our minds dictate our meeting schedule instead of listening to our desire to get better. We get “busy” or “tired.” Better to attend a meeting while tired than to be back in the place of being sick and tired of being sick and tired.
  • Get, and use!, a sponsor: If we are truly powerless, then we cannot get better alone. We must ask another person for help. If we have a sponsor and aren’t working closely with them, then it’s time to get honest about why we have a sponsor.
  • Work the Steps: OA is not an intellectual exercise. We can’t think our way out of the illness. The Steps are an action plan that gets us better. Do the Steps seem scary? Perhaps. But aren’t they less scary than the devastation of our disease? Of dying too young? Of a lifetime of physical debilitation, foggy thinking, depression, and enslavement to the likes of Betty Crocker?
  • Raise our hand to sponsor: If we don’t help others, we will eat again. Our literature and experience tell us so. Abstinent but plateauing? Raise a hand to “get someone started.” Done the Steps but feel uneasy about sponsoring? Trust God and raise that hand! Anyone with long-term recovery will tell us that sponsoring is the lifeblood of their recovery.

Get a full serving of OA starting right now!

Tradition of the Month: Tradition 3…The Only Requirement

oa funnel3.  The only requirement for OA membership is a desire to stop eating compulsively.

When in “Our Invitation to You,” we read “Welcome to Overeaters Anonymous, welcome home,” it’s easy to focus on “welcome.” We all want to be accepted and welcomed into OA’s ranks, and for the newcomer this is a particularly powerful thought. But isn’t it that last word, “home,” that holds the most meaning in that sentence?

OA is the place where people who can’t stop themselves from eating compulsively find their tribe and the solution to their problems. The merely fat may not be at home in OA because they might not be compulsive eaters. They may yet have the ability to put the brakes on their eating if a really good reason crops up. Why would someone like that spend several hours a week in OA?

Of course, we all want to be that person, the “heavy eater,” but we arrived at OA on a losing streak. None of us could get off the food and stay off the food. We’d proved that much to ourselves, and that’s the difference between people like us and heavy eaters. That’s why OA is home. Whether we eat too much or whether our obsession takes the form of overeating, underrating, overexercising, or any other symptom, we all have in common the twin perils of a mental obsession with food, body image, and relief-seeking behaviors that won’t go away no matter how much we wish it. We are at home, among our tribe at in OA.

Step 12 tells us that we must carry the message of OA to still-suffering compulsive eaters. That is to other members of our OA tribe. Tradition 3 is something like an extension of that condition of our recovery. In fact, it saves us from ourselves in a way so that we can help others. To borrow a contemporary business analogy, imagine a funnel. This funnel will represent how people are attracted to OA at the wide end and how many stick around for recovery at the narrow end. Further imagine that this funnel has four levels.

  • The top of the funnel, the widest end: We attract people through word of mouth, the OA website, and various public-information opportunities. Many of these people will never go further than investigating OA.
  • Section 2, one step narrower: Meetings, where an interested person will either feel at home or not come back.
  • Section 3, another step narrower: Sponsorship, where a person will either decide to ask for help, connecting them more strongly to our fellowship…or not.
  • Narrow end of the funnel: The Steps, where a person will either take action to find recovery and help others, or they will get stuck and not make progress.

When viewed this way, it’s easy to see why Tradition 3 exists. The number of people who actually stick around to do the work of recovery is small compared to those who never attend a meeting or who come and go quickly, so it is dependent on sheer quantity. So why in the world would we want to narrow the wide end of the funnel?

Everyone who eats compulsively deserves a shot at a better life. Everyone in OA deserves a shot to help as many people recover as they can. If we placed any restrictions on membership it would benefit no one. Oh, some meeting or member or another might think that excluding those people will make their meeting stronger or reduce tension or what have you. And in AA’s early history many groups did just that. Whether it was women, people of color, atheists, or any other sort of person who didn’t meet their version of what a good AA looked or sounded like. Ultimately, however, groups discovered that exclusionary principles had a triple-whammy effect: They did not jibe with our code of kindness, love, and tolerance for others; they reduced the number of opportunities members had to work with others; and they kept recovery away from those in the community who desperately needed it.

Outside the halls of OA, we see potential problem eaters all around us, and it is not for us to decide who is eligible for recovery through the 12 Steps and who is not. It’s only for us to trust our Higher Power to put people in our path so that we can be helpful as they recover. After all, while OA may be our home, none of us is the king or queen of the castle. We’re all just servants.

Step of the Month: Step 3

3. Made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God as we understood him.

For those of us with religious education that included phrases such as “sinners in the hands of an angry god” or “fear is the heart of love,” we may not be thrilled by the prospect of Step 3. However, if we’ve done Step 2 well, the third Step will feel like precisely the next right thing to do.

In Step 2, we chose to define God in a way that is helpful to our recovery. This is the Higher Power that we want in our lives. This is the Higher Power we’re excited about. So it’s sensible to tell the God of our understanding that we’re all-in, that we want to do whatever God wants us to do. If we aren’t willing to do this, then we need to look again at our concept of a Higher Power. Does our concept actually work for us? Is it a concept that we’re willing to work with? Are we hanging on to old ideas about a Higher Power that keep us from recovering?

It may be that we are diffident about giving our selves away. We fear that this surrendering to God will result in the neutering of our personalities. We imagine ourselves turning into spiritual robots, smiling automatons spewing programspeak and ignoring what’s really going on outside our limited point of view.

Don’t worry, that’s just the usual…our disease trying to kill us.

All we need do is look around at those who have experienced recovery. Does Mrs. so-and-so on Wednesday night act like a Stepford Wife? Is that fellow on Sunday morning devoid of personality? Do we know anyone who has completed the 12 Steps who hasn’t faced hardship since then? Of course not. What we might see are people with more perspective on their problems. They don’t need to drunkalog about their issues because the Steps help them feel, heal, and deal appropriately. They don’t have to talk about what hard going life is because they have a solution. They express gratitude not because it’s expected but because they aren’t dead nor are they physically or emotionally incapacitated by food addiction. They are like the cancer survivor who is thankful for every healthy day.

Beside which, do we really want to keep on being the miserable person we are? The one we really don’t like that much? We may be all we’ve got, but in that case we are as impoverished as a starving third-world refugee. But our disease is once again pulling its usual levers: fear, pride, and control. These forces are quite strong. One OA member recollects that while taking Step 3 they felt a physical sensation as if someone inside them had grabbed their ribs and was yanking down to prevent the reciting of the Third Step Prayer.

In the Big Book’s chapter titled “More About Alcoholism,” Fred says that after taking Step 3, “I had the curious feeling that my alcoholic condition was relieved, as in fact it proved to be.” Of course, he did the other nine Steps as well, but this points out that Step 3 is a turning point where some members receive a jolt of God-presence. Others find themselves being decisive where in other aspects of their life the were frustratingly irresolute. The reality is that in Step 3, we are making an agreement with God that goes like this: We’ll do the rest of the Steps and agree to help others do them, too, in exchange for our Higher Powers removing our compulsion for food and helping us turn our lives around. The experience of those who live in recovery today confirms that our HPs keep their word.