The action of living one day at a time…today!

“One day at a time.”

It might be the most widely known and used slogan in any 12 Step program. It’s easy to understand, and it shines a hope-filled light on our difficulties. I don’t have to stop eating compulsively forever, just for this day. 

In the past we have been overwhelmed by the idea of permanently changing. We lose weight only to gain it all back. We try a healthy new diet on Monday, only to be cheating by Tuesday. Our new exercise program becomes a $35-dollar-a-month financial sinkhole after our diligent first week. We just don’t have it in us to change our lives. That’s why we need a spiritual solution to our problem with food.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a part to play. We, not our Higher Power, are doing the eating, so we draw strength from our God to take the action of abstaining from compulsive eating. We might think of it as a formula:

Our decision not to eat compulsively
+ Our will power
+ God’s strength and guidance
= A day of abstinence

We’ve always used the first two parts of the equation only, which has landed us back in the food, cursing ourselves as weak-willed or broken. Turns out that for people like us, we can exert all the will power we want to, but without God’s help it is not enough. As one member in our area says, “I’m a 40-watt bulb in a 60-watt fixture, so I need God to supply the other 20 watts.” We don’t have enough power to overcome both the physical craving and the mental obsession with food.

What does adding God’s strength and guidance mean when we are obsessing about food? It could mean any or all of these things:

  • Praying to have the obsession with food removed, for ease and comfort, and for guidance…then listening for a response
  • Making a phone call or texting someone in OA because spirituality flows through us when two addicts talk about their common solution
  • Dropping everything and get to a meeting, whether in person, on the phone, or online
  • Pausing to read a piece of OA literature whether a favorite pamphlet or a longer work.

Of course, that’s just the moment of crisis. To live one day at a time, we need to prepare each day to meet our challenge. The Big Book gives explicit suggestions for morning prayer and mediation (pages 85-87) that help us live in ways that are less self-centered. Thinking of others helps keep the obsession at bay because we aren’t focusing on ourselves and our own life problems.

Speaking of our life problems, they too can be addressed one day at a time. In fact, they have to be. Like the sports adage goes, when you’re behind by dozen runs, you can’t hit a 12-run homer. So, if we are in heavy debt, for example, we can’t pay back after a single paycheck. We work each day, cash our checks, and send payment to our creditors on a schedule. Similarly, if we have a looming deadline, we must do what we can each day to meet it, not try to get the whole darned thing done right now. If our family is in crisis, we will not solve the issue by perseverating all day on it. In every case, we must simply do the next right thing that our Higher Power suggests and move toward resolution of the situation.

A funny thing happens when we take this one-day-at-a-time attitude toward our personal problems. They often resolve themselves without our having to do very much! All the dreaded heavy lifting we thought we’d have to do ends up done by another. Or we suddenly realize it is unnecessary or less burdensome than we expected. Sometimes it is done by us with courage we didn’t know we had. OA members have walked through the most difficult circumstances with dignity, grace, and courage by taking it one day at a time and asking for their HP’s help and guidance.

We just can’t wrestle our problems with food or life to the ground by ourselves. We’ve tried and it doesn’t work. So have to add our Higher Power to the equation so we can lead happy, healthy lives. And after all, it’s just one day.

Why can’t I stop eating?

Why can’t I stop eating? It’s a question that probably every Overeaters Anonymous member asked themselves every day before they joined. We also asked ourselves similar questions such as:

  • Why can’t I eat like other people?
  • Why can’t I stop after just one bite?
  • What’s wrong with me?

While every OA member is different, we all share some basic understandings about the disease of compulsive overeating. Our own experiences, the experiences of other members in our area, countless recordings and podcasts, and our program’s literature give us a reasonable set of explanations for our behavior.

Compulsive eating is an illness

First of all, we believe that compulsive eating is an illness or a disease. Just like Alcoholics Anonymous believes that alcoholism is a disease. No healthy person would go to the lengths we go to with food. Who but a compulsive eater would dig into the trash for food? Or eat frozen, burnt, spoiled, stale, or damaged food? Or hide their stash of food? Go out in a horrible storm or the wee hours of the night just to get something sweet or crunchy? What healthy person would allow themselves to gain as much weight as we have despite the well-documented risks, the physical pain, the shame, and the inevitable medications and surgeries? Who would eat themselves to death if they didn’t have an illness?

Major symptoms of compulsive eating

We recognize our illness as having three universal components. Every OA member has experienced these, and they explain a great deal of the why behind our illness. Sometimes we don’t realize it until well after we join OA, but these three symptoms have always been there. These symptoms differentiate us from normal eaters.

1. Physical cravings

Radio and TV ads often tell us that a restaurant or product can satisfy a food craving. They are talking to normal eaters, not to us. There is no amount of food that can satisfy us physically. That’s part of why we keep eating. For many OAs, certain foods are like allergens. When they eat these foods, the allergy triggers a physical need that only more food can meet. Over time, our bodies develop a tolerance, so we need more and more food to address the craving, and the relief from the craving lasts a terrifyingly shorter time. Although the craving may be related to any food, our members often find it manifests often with added sugars, flours, salt, and/or fats. As with any substance-centered addiction, the elimination of physical cravings may require a few days to a few weeks once someone begins to abstain from their trigger foods.

2. Mental obsession

Physical dependence on food is relatively simple. Remove the substance, and the cravings go away. So then why do people fall off the wagon? It’s because our minds are sickened as well. The expression of this sickness is our obsessive thinking about food. Immediately after we’ve eaten a meal, our mind is asking us What’s next? We might be doing something very important at home or at work, but suddenly the thought of a favorite food comes to us unbidden. We can’t be in a room with food without thinking about eating it. And getting seconds. Or thirds. The mental obsession is so powerful that it overwhelms rational thought. When we try to talk ourselves out of that next bite, the mental obsession shouts us down. Even when we diet, we invariably regain weight because we haven’t righted our mind.

3. Spiritual demoralization

If we could have changed our thinking about food we would have done so years ago. But the fact that we can’t stop shows us that we are powerless to stop eating compulsively. We can’t do the job. So we’ve turned to dietitians, weight loss groups, best friends, family members, celebrity gurus, and everyone else we could think of. None of them could help either. Eventually, no matter what successes we had with them, we always returned at some point to compulsive eating. We may have tried religion and found it only so helpful. What we need is someone more powerful than we are to help us. A Higher Power as the saying goes. But our illness also affects us spiritually. Our spiritual health has been as deeply damaged as our minds and bodies. We’ve been denying our problem for a very, very long time, and so we’ve forgotten how refreshing the truth is. We’ve been believing our situation hopeless for so long that we’ve forgotten what real hope feels like. We’ve been soothing our cravings and immediate crisis-triggered feelings but not our hearts, so we can only feel dullness instead of lightness. We’ve forgotten what it feels like to engage strongly with our spiritual selves. We may have been angrily denying that we have a spiritual self or that any spiritual power can help us. That’s a very common theme in many OAs’ stories.

It turns out that spiritual demoralization is at the root of our troubles. When we re-energize our spirits, we can overcome the mental and physical aspects of our malady. That’s precisely what OA and the Twelve Steps help us do.

Terminal uniqueness

Why can’t we stop eating? It’s not because we don’t want to. It’s because our disease has a stranglehold on us. But a key to unlocking its grip is to realize that we are not “terminally unique.” We are not so different from everyone else in the world that there’s no help for us. When we attend our first OA meetings, we learn that in our own communities, there are many people who think just like we do. Oh, the particulars might differ, but the pattern of their thinking is just like ours. If we can suspend, just for a little while, our mind’s chatter and go hear what others say about their experiences with compulsive eating and  recovery, we are giving ourselves the most valuable gift imaginable: hope.

Tradition of the Month: Dissenting opinions

2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience.

No one runs OA. That’s what Tradition 2 reminds us of. It also reminds us that we should make decisions that affect our group purpose carefully. When it comes to matters of carrying the OA message to still-suffering food addicts, there may be ten, fifty, a hundred or more Higher Powers represented in the making of a single decision. Our group conscience, then, arises from the commonalities among the spiritual direction we each receive as we discuss an item of business.

And dissent is good for OA, so long as it comes from a spiritually guided place.

In the Twelve and Twelve, Bill Wilson goes to great lengths to encourage groups to hear every voice, especially dissenters. Often those seeming contrarians save the day with a simple question or statement that catches the larger body off guard. While the rest of us are already steaming along mentally toward dramatic, positive results that leap quickly into the view of our mind’s eye, our contrarian friend spots a tragic flaw in our plans. Perhaps they have experiences that suggest unintended consequences the group hadn’t yet identified. Or they recognize where our designs may compromise one of the Traditions and make us less effective at working on our primary purpose.

We addicts range from the overconfidence man whose big ideas and sureness mask a squishy self-esteem to the mousy wallflowers who dare not speak lest their inner doubts take root in someone else’s mind. We are prone to the same social dynamics that all organizations are. Groupthink, follow-the-leader, squeaky-wheel syndrome, circular decision making. All the familiar thinking that leads to bad decisions out there are present in OA. But unlike the outside world, we trust and rely on the God of our individual understandings as a check on our worst tendencies. Whereas outside of OA, we might feel the need to silence dissension as a matter of time, efficiency, or simple ego, inside OA, we must listen to it because every one of us is an equal in Overeaters Anonymous. None of has a superior Higher Power than another. We are not leading monocultural prayer groups, we’re getting the message out to those affected by our illness.

But dissent can be a burr in the saddle of a smooth-running organization if it comes from a place of pride, ego, or attention-seeking. We are encouraged in OA to decline taking part in the fights that used to fuel our anger. We are encouraged to be humble and not lord our mastery of logic and persuasion over others. We are encouraged to seek freedom from self-seeking behaviors and avoid the high associated with capturing the eyes and ears of others. We don’t argue to argue or to stand out.

We must always carefully weight our motives in speaking up whether in favor or opposition to the matter at hand. We must always monitor whether we are trying to play the hero or the spoiler rather than listening to our spirit. And we must do what the Serenity Prayer suggests and find the wisdom to know the difference between our inner voice and our Higher Power’s voice. But especially in dissent, we must take care that our position is carefully presented to avoid judgment, take-it-or-leave-it language, or anger. Just as those who respond to us should do.

So long as we take our Higher Power’s suggestions, it’ll be OK.

Step of the Month: Obstinance or Abstinence?

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Are we going to be happy or are we going to be right? Perhaps there’s no situation where this question comes into sharper focus than in Step Two. On the happy hand, we are desperate to relieve the misery of compulsive eating. On the “right” hand…there’s all the rest of our thinking.

On the happy side of things, we see others in OA whose lives do not revolve around food, who seem well-adjusted to living a food-sober life. We like what we see in them. They seem to enjoy their lives and have found contentedness. They have the ability to say what they mean and mean what they say. They don’t shirk from responsibilities, and they don’t need to self-medicate with food to meet what life throws at them. They have very little internal drama about food, people, and life.

The rest of our thinking, it turns out, is dishonest. Our minds are diseased and bear down on us. Those people are not really that nice. I could never do what they’ve done. I couldn’t live without my foods. And here’s the big two lies our brains tell us:

  • God, if there even is one, won’t help me anyway.
  • I should be able to do this myself.

We can obstinately keep on believing these untruths if we want to, but if we are food addicts, we won’t be able to abstain from food if we do. So let’s pick apart these two falsehoods for a moment.

God, if there even is one, won’t help me anyway.

If we believe in a Higher Power and believe it won’t help us, then what’s the point of that belief in the first place? We might as well believe in no god because it’s really the same difference. And in OA we don’t have to believe in a godhead. We can define our Higher Power as “Gift of Desperation,” “Good Orderly Discipline,” or “Group of (food) Drunks.” In any of those, we lean on the power of the fellowship of OA to help us change, recognizing that there is something special, spiritual, and powerful about two or more compulsive eaters working together to solve their common problem.

 

Also, if we believe there is a god who helps others but won’t help us, then we need a big reality check. Are we really so uniquely broken that we don’t deserve what other OAs have gotten? Are we really so uniquely broken that a powerful God won’t help us…and just not us? Seriously? We need to remind our brains of how unhinged our thinking has become and stop putting ourselves in the company of the worst monsters of history. We’re not that special and not even one-thousandth as bad as our disease tells us we are.

I should be able to do this myself.

If we coulda, we woulda. But we’ve been programmed from birth to avoid seeking help. We don’t want to trouble anyone else with our problem. We just need to soldier on and keep at it, suffering in silence, and maybe someday figuring it out. Getting help means admitting weakness and showing vulnerability, and that’s a fate possibly worse than any other.

There’s just two words for that: GET REAL!

We’ve never, ever been able to do anything about our eating. Some of us have spent forty, fifty, sixty years in a constant war with food obsession. Why will tomorrow be any different? Is admitting our failure and our problem so painful to us that we’d rather endure the misery of our disease until we die?

And this is what’s so hard about food addiction. We don’t even know that our minds have been turned against us by this disease! We have disordered thinking, an insanity around food. Our brains are actively trying to kill us. It is this illness that tells us that our pride is more important than our recovery. That we’d rather be “right” than happy…when in reality we are wrong anyway. Dead wrong.

The reality is that our obstinate thinking is all a symptom of our illness. Another reality is that OA and the Higher Power we find there will allow us to lead a normal, abstinent, and happy life. But we must set aside our pride, our terminal uniqueness, and our doubt. Once we know we are compulsive eaters, we must drop our carefully crafted facade and let ourselves appear weak and vulnerable to ourselves. Because we are the only ones we’re fooling.