10 ways to know if you are obsessing about food

Are you really obsessed with food and powerless over it? Here are ten common forms of obsessive thinking about food that many OA members have experienced. If you’ve experienced these or similar thinking, you may be in the grip of the obsession with food.

1. Moments after finishing one meal, you begin thinking about the next

You arrive at work at 9:00, having just tossed down a quick breakfast. For the next several hours, you fixate on what you’ll get for lunch. The minutes tick away. You tell yourself you’ll wait until 1:00, but at 12:15, you say “screw it” and yank the takeout menu from the top drawer of your desk….

2. Anytime you have a strong feeling (happy, mad, sad, glad), you get the urge to eat

The Red Sox win! Time to eat. My daughter has filed for divorce. Time to eat. The cable is on the fritz again. Time to eat. My doctor called, and the diabetes hasn’t gotten as bad as I’d feared. Time to eat.

3. Food thoughts pop unbidden into your mind throughout the day and over time

The deadline for that report is the end of the day. You’re about halfway done. This section is just killing you. Then this thought: Oh, remember that time in Denver when I had that dessert with….

4. The same foods or food types dominate your thinking


5. You rationalize food behaviors

“Just because my blood sugar is at dangerous levels doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have a little fun. My doctor is such wet blanket. He’d eat too if he had to deal with what I deal with. What’s one little bite going to do to me anyway. I’m making too much of this.”

6. Ultimately, you always lose the argument with yourself about your eating

  • Good Self: Don’t eat that last helping that’s in the dish. You know it’s just going to make you fatter.
  • Bad Self: But it’s good. You deserve a treat.
  • Good Self: Think about how much more exercise or dieting you’d have to do to get rid of it.
  • Bad Self: Like you’ve worried about it lately, anyway?
  • Good Self: And your knees always hurt, and your back hurts, and your neck hurts.
  • Bad Self: Exactly, so just have a bite and we’ll take away the pain for a few moments.

7. The idea of going without certain foods creates a visceral reaction of fear or anger

Something is upside down if life wouldn’t be worth living without a favorite food.

8. You often plan elaborate meals months in advance, sometimes even for fantasy meals that will never happen

And you’re not a chef, caterer, wedding planner, or other culinary or event-planning professional.

9. Passing a convenience store triggers you to stop and buy food

Our dealer is on every corner and even has signs inviting us in. But we don’t really need those signs because we know exactly where the store keeps the goodies we want need.

10. Pushing away a half-eaten plate seems utterly foreign

She’s not going to finish that? Is she ill? What planet is she from? If she’s not going to eat, maybe I can.

11. I’ll never get skinny—I might as well just keep eating my face off

There’s a lot truth here. We likely never will get the body we want when our mind constantly thinks about food. That’s because we can’t fix ourselves. We can’t outwit our own diseased minds.

This is just a selection of the kinds of thinking we hear about in OA meetings all the time. These old tapes run endlessly in our minds while we remain in the throes of compulsive eating.

But there is a solution.

The 12 Steps of OA provide relief from the daily slog of trying to think ourselves out of a disease that works through our own minds. With OA’s help we can eat like a normal person, one day at a time.

THE Cause versus Because

Here’s an obvious statement: We OA members eat over our feelings. Our program literature tells us that the cycle of addictive behavior begins with a thought. We are activated before the first bite. A primary emotional trigger for addicts of any stripe is resentment.

The Big Book describes resentment as “the number one offender.” We eat because we are pissed off at the world, at people, at situations. When Bill Wilson and company put together the Big Book in the 1930s, they very carefully selected their words. They knew that the addicted brain manipulates us by turning our feelings into powerful language. So when they wrote down how they inventoried resentment, they used precise language that doesn’t give our brains wiggle room to make excuses.

Look at page 65 in the fourth edition of the Big Book. It lays out the first three columns of resentment inventory (the fourth column, or “turnaround” appears in the middle of page 67). The first column is headed “I’m Resentful At.” The second: “The Cause.” Notice they didn’t say “BEcause” but rather “The Cause.” There’s a world of difference.

Our addict minds are like little lawyers, always seeking to parse language in ways that justify or excuse our behaviors and let us keep eating. Among trial lawyers, there’s a well-known axiom about questioning a witness. Never ask why [unless you’ve personally coached the witness’ answer]. Lawyers frequently ask leading questions that begin with WhatWhoWhen, Where, or How. These are all closed-ended questions with a single answer: “I saw Joe”; “I was cleaning the barn”; “8:19 PM”; “He opened the door with a lock pick.” But why is open-ended. It allows a witness to pontificate and deflect blame elsewhere. It allows opinion to enter the record. It may also give a witness license to build sympathy when sympathy is the opposite of what you want to elicit.

In a similar way, “because” is a weasel word for us addicts. We use it as a way to keep on destroying ourselves with food. Why do we eat? Because blah blah blah. If someone asked us why we were burnt up, we’d give them a litany of because statements. Insidiously, what because” does is shift the blame to someone else.

Because Mom said I was fat, I am resentful.

This is far different from the language the Big Book recommends in that second column: “THE Cause.” To get grammatical for a second, “the” is the definite article. It indicates singularity or specificity. It reduces confusion and ambiguity. To use it in a sentence related to resent would sound like these examples

The cause of my resentment is Mom’s saying I was fat.


We can see that when we use “the cause” instead of “because” we turn a statement of blame into a statement of fact.

Here’s a big difference between these two ways of talking about resentment. “Because” creates slippery slopes. We’ve all heard someone talk about how their mind will create a chain of because statements that leads to eating:

Because Mom said I was fat, I must not be good enough. Because I’m not good enough, I feel pain. Because I feel pain, I need to get rid of it, so I eat.

The struck out text is a reminder of how over time our brains skip over the “reasoning” and go straight to the food. But “THE cause” doesn’t easily lead to that slippery slope.

Mom said I was fat, so I must not be good enough….

Here we can see that when we put “because” ahead of Mom, she bears the blame for our believing her. If we put “because” instead of “so” it wouldn’t even make sense. When we put “so” in front of “I,” we start to see that we are taking someone else’s words and turning them into a reason to eat. Why should we believe that we are not good enough just because Mom says we are fat? Unless we, of course, we, ourselves, are complicit in that belief?

We don’t have to be linguists for OA to work. But the folks who wrote the Big Book used “The Cause” instead of “Because” because they knew from personal experience that blaming the rest of the world for their drinking predicament didn’t work. We have to own our part of things. We’re the ones holding onto the hurts, big or tiny. We’re the ones eating ourselves to an early grave. After all, it’s our inventory, and no one else’s.

Step of the Month: Step 9, Labor Days

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

This weekend, we celebrate the idea that hard work is its own reward. This idea is woven throughout the 12 Steps, and they encourage us to remember the importance of hard work each and every day. Step 9, the famous making of amends, is very much included.

In North America, the US and Canada celebrate Labor Day this weekend. This is the working person’s holiday when we celebrate the historic achievements that workers have made to the advancement of society, the economy, culture, and prosperity. Of course, when we engaged in addictive behaviors, we did the opposite. We made every day about ourselves not about bettering the world we live in. We did little to advance anything but our own agenda, which was usually to keep things as they were because we feared change. Prosperity was a means by which we might acquire more food.

But as we worked the Steps of OA, we discovered that we hadn’t necessarily done hard work in our addiction, but that we definitely had made hard work of our lives when it wasn’t necessary. We tried to control the uncontrollable, and when that we didn’t work, we used food to medicate ourselves against fear, anger, and sadness.

Soon, we found we needed more and more food to medicate ourselves because our bodies quickly developed a high-level tolerance for our binge foods. Soon it was a difficult job to keep up with our cravings. So, we didn’t care whose toes we stepped on, whose needs we ignored, how bad we felt about ourselves, or what we had to do to satisfy the unsatisfiable. We were going to get our food, everyone else be damned.

Over the years, we accumulated a lot of soul-junk through our behaviors. As we placed food ahead of loved ones, they felt hurt. As we blamed others for our situation, they felt betrayed. As we tried to control our friends and family and coworkers to get our fearful way, they felt resentful at our know-it-all attitudes. As we marched slowly toward a food-based death, those who cared about us felt unlistened to and angry at our incredible selfishness. But we kept right on eating.

So now, we have some work to do in recovery. Our side of the street is littered not only with candy wrappers, chip bags, crumbs, blobs of sugary gum, soda bottles, and empty pastry boxes but also with the wreckage of the relationships we’ve warped with our addict behaviors. The broken promises are heaped up. Our harsh words are spray painted on the sidewalks. The lies we’ve spun hang over our side of the street like smog.

In the first seven Steps, we discovered all that our compulsive eating had done to to our life and our relationships. In Step 8, we listed specifically who we needed to straighten things out with. And now, in Step 9, we step out into that garbage-strewn street and go about the necessary clean-up. Making amends can be hard work. There are people we’d rather not see again. We don’t want to admit to them that we did what we did. And it doesn’t matter because if we don’t, because we’re screwed if we don’t make those amends.

We’re living a new kind of life in OA. We avoid behaviors that lead to us having to make amends. We make kindness, love, and tolerance our code. We know that if we don’t, we will return to the miserable existence we had before. Making amends is part of that code. The kind thing to do is humbly acknowledge our wrongs. The loving thing to do is set the situation right, and in so doing, perhaps help someone else exorcise a spiritual burden. The tolerant thing to do is clean up the mess we’ve made with everyone, even those who have done more harm to us than we have done to them. And when we do, the smog will clear, the piles will be gone, and we can finally invite people onto our side of the street without fear.

This hard work we do in Step 9 is, indeed, its own reward. With each amends we make, we move closer to our Higher Power. We remove another barrier between ourselves and others. We place ourselves in a position to be of increased service. We make contributions to the spiritual good of the world rather than self-centered withdrawals. And it feels good.

So as we consider how much the working people of our land have done to create the prosperous conditions in which we find ourselves in September of 2016, we might also consider Step 9. We might consider how through our labors with amends and the example we show of the power of recovery, our Higher Power is creating opportunities for peace, good will, and freedom from addictive behavior.