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.