What do I do about night-time eating?

Many OAs report in meetings that they struggle the most with their abstinence at night. Not necessarily during the day when a stressor occurs, but at night when it’s not right in their face. They tell us that the time after dinner and before bed daunts them most of all. Why do the wheels fall off at night? And what can we do about it?

Why night-time is the right time…for our disease to attack

Food addiction is an insidious disease that uses our minds against us. So let’s step back to the light and ask why the daytime might pose fewer problems for some compulsive eaters.

  • We may connect with our Higher Power and fellow OAs in the morning or during the day
  • We may have gotten some sleep and so have some level of alertness
  • We may have alertness from a stimulant like caffeine in our blood stream
  • We may be focusing on engrossing problems or important interactions at work
  • We may not want our office mates, friends, or loved ones to see us eating compulsively
  • We may not have access to our favorite binge foods until we get home.

In other words, we might have enough distractions, structure, and program disciplines to get us through dinner. Then all hell breaks loose, food wise. So what’s different about that witching hour between roughly the moment we clean the dishes and the moment our eyelids droop shut? Quite possibly, everything.

  • It may have been hours since we talked to our Higher Power or an OA person, or hours since we did any OA disciplines…and we may feel awkward calling someone during what we perceive as their “family time”
  • We’re tired, which puts us in that well-known danger zone called HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired)
  • Similarly, the events of the day may put us in the angry part of HALT, and if we live alone (and sometimes even if we don’t) we may be lonely.
  • We may still have stimulant in our blood streams, propping open our eyes yet keeping our mind spinning on the day’s events
  • Many addicts have no hobbies, or we are too tired too work on them, and with less structure at home, we may have nothing to occupy our minds except TV, which is a notorious tag-along to binging for many compulsive eaters
  • If no one’s around, we don’t have to hide our eating
  • We have lots of access to food, and we likely have a stash of our favorite binge foods nearby.

Of course these are just a few of the reasons why day may be easier and night more difficult for food addicts. We each have our own set of circumstances. Nor is caffeine problematic for all of us, and this shouldn’t be taken as an exhortation to abstain from it. But it’s clear that our disease has a lot more opportunity to get us at night than during the day.

So what do we do about night-time eating?

There are many, many things we can do at night. But for any of them to work we need two things:

  1. Willingness to go to any length to avoid the first bite
  2. Trust that we won’t die if we don’t eat, that our discomfort is temporary, and OA will help us through our toughest moments

Without willingness, we are merely wishing and wanting. Without trust, we have no alternative to the lies our minds tell us. But with willingness and trust, these actions can get us through the night:

  • Pray to a Higher Power: We don’t even have to know what It is, we just have to be willing to believe in one, we just have to say Help! or Please remove the obsession with food! Here’s a few OA prayers. But even if we don’t yet have belief in a Higher Power, we can use the rest of these ideas.
  • Meditate: We are often shocked when we first feel the amazing calm that comes from sitting quietly and emptying our minds of the worry of the day. There are many ways to meditate, google it, pick one that’s simple and fits you, then try it. It needn’t require a belief in a Higher Power, and a minute or five may be all it takes to quiet the urge to eat.
  • Call another OA member: OAs are willing to go to any length for recovery, and that includes taking phone calls or even texts at any hour. OA members would rather be roused from sleep than wake up to hear that another member has eaten compulsively. If we have a sponsor, we might start there. Don’t forget to ask how they are doing!
  • Attend a meeting: Hit a face-to-face meeting during your difficult hours of the night,  and if there isn’t one at that time, attend a phone meeting or an online meeting.
  • Listen to an OA podcast: There’s little more inspiring than hearing the powerful story of how others members found recovery.
  • Use the rest of OA’s tools: Reading some OA literature. Writing in a journal, writing a letter to our Higher Power (if we have one), continuing our Step 4 writing, or writing down our 10th Step. Working on any OA service projects we are involved in. Doing anything that falls within our OA Action Plan.
  • Remember OA slogans: Nothing tastes as good as abstinence feels. One day at a time. Take it easy. Here’s a page with hundreds of these helpful sayings!
  • Go to bed: An underrated by simple and effective way to avoid compulsive eating. Not only do you avoid the first bite, but you get a little extra sleep to help strengthen you for the next day. It always feels good to wake up abstinent.

These are just some of the many ways to support abstinence, even after our worst days. We know it’s possible because we know members who have long-term food-sobriety. So we simply find what works for us, work it as well as we can, and trust our Higher Power and OA to help us through the dark night.

Welcome Back Workshop, Nov 4th in York, Maine

Join us on Saturday, November 4th at 9:00 am in York, Maine, for Welcome Back to a New Beginning! If you are currently experiencing relapse or have been away from OA for some time, we hope you will join us. Our three person panel will tell us how they survived relapse and came to thrive in OA. Check out our Welcome Back Workshop Flyer for all the details. There is no registration necessary.

If you are not currently experiencing relapse, you are also welcome to join this fellowship opportunity. In fact, please consider inviting someone you haven’t seen at a meeting for a while. This handy guide provides some language for inviting someone to join the event. We know from experience, that there’s nothing more powerful for members who are out of the rooms than to receive a caring call or email from OA friends.

Together we get better. Join us to hear our speakers’ experience, strength, and hope, and enjoy fellowship with other compulsive eaters. Please share this flyer widely with OA friends from this and other areas, especially anyone in relapse. And please announce this special event at your meetings.

Friends you keep

OA friends are like few others in our lives. We may know one another only a short time yet feel as though we’ve known one another for years or decades more. It only makes sense. We watch one another get better. We ask one another for help. We share a number of intimate secrets with one another.

Perhaps most importantly, we hear our OA fellows talk about our problem in the same way that we’ve thought about it. We thought these incessant, dishonest, and overpowering thoughts and feelings belonged only to us. We thought that somewhere, sometime, our circuits got fried, irreparably damaging us, and we knew we couldn’t tell a soul. Yet when we arrive in the halls of OA, our story gets told to us time and again. Oh, the details differ, but we recognize that it’s nonetheless, the same tale of woe and misery. That is, until our new friends tell us about the solution they’ve found in OA’s 12 Steps.

Our pals show us that the impossible is possible. We believe them because their experience matches ours. Their renewal shows us that a new path can open up for us if we care to follow them on it.

As tough as things seem at first as we struggle toward abstinence and do the Steps, it’s when things go awry that we find out how much our OA friends come to mean to us. If we stumble in our program, we discover more helping hands extended to us than we could have thought. Sympathetic ears lean toward us. We learn more about the experiences of others than ever and know that if they’ve skinned a knee on the broad highway and are still walking, so can we.

If it is our new friends, instead, who miss a step, we discover the power of listening to and helping others. We feel honored by their willingness to confide in us, and this increases yet again the tightness of our connections. When they rise again to their feet, we rejoice with them, clap them on the back, and admire the courage they’ve shown. Because we know: this thing ain’t easy.

The OA fellowship is powerful. It is not a foundation stone of recovery, instead it is the cement between the stones. While it is not enough to get us abstinent, nor keep us abstinent, it helps us to see how each stone fits into the ongoing work. It helps us stay together if some pieces loosen.

In all of our lives, friends will come and go. OA will always be here, and we can be assured that our OA friends, new or old, will understand us and help us in a way that few others in the world can.

Tradition of the Month: Is Abstinence an Outside Issue?

10. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on out- side issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.

Previously, we’ve explored whether God is an outside issue in OA. Indeed, much about God and faith lies outside of the bounds of OA. We only know what a Higher Power does for us, not who or what the Higher Power might be. But here’s an even trickier one: Abstinence.

Overeaters Anonymous exists because folks like us need to abstain from compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors. We need a solution to our problem with food. In the sense that our primary purpose is to carry the message of hope to those who still suffer, abstinence is very much an inside issue. We go to any length we must for relief from compulsive eating, and we go to great lengths to help others find it too.

At the same time, abstinence is a slippery topic. Whose abstinence is the right one? Do you have to be squeaky clean in every facet of abstinence? What about the differences between food substances and food behaviors? How about anorexia, bulimia, and other disordered eating? Fortunately, OA has a definition of abstinence that helps us all find common language:

Abstinence 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.

Regardless of the kind of eating or food issues we have, this definition includes us. We are all part of the OA tribe.

Beyond this, however, OA has no position on food and abstinence. We have no official food plan because it’s an outside issue. How can that be true when abstinence itself is central to recovery? Simply because OA isn’t the food police. If we spent our time hunting down food-plan heretics, we would not be spending time helping others get better. Instead, we encourage every person to have their own food plan and to seek medical and nutritional advice for creating one. We support their efforts to follow it as best we can and share helpful experiences as appropriate.

But more important than that is the fact that food plans aren’t just a tool. They are spiritual. When we commit to a food plan, we direct our willful selves away from our selfish impulses and toward something healthier and, ultimately, more spiritual. A food plan may be the first spiritually oriented move we make in OA…whether we know it or not. Initially or later in our journey, we may begin to ask our Higher Power, the universe, whathaveyou for willingness to follow our plan and relief from the obsession with food. From these small starts comes the willingness for more recovery, the willingness to surrender to the idea that we are no in charge. Never have been, if we’re honest.

If food plans and abstinence are, in fact, spiritual in nature, then they are our Higher Powers’ business. Each of us must find our plan on our own, just as each of us must do the Steps on our own. The Steps provide a framework for recovery, just like the OA definition of abstinence provides one for the food-based part of our journey. Although the pamphlets “Dignity of Choice” and “A Plan of Eating” give us helpful suggestions, they are not codes of food conduct. We cannot legislate the direction of someone’s first steps toward God. We can only share how we did it and help them to find the honesty, willingness, and spiritual connection to get going and keep going.

Step of the Month: Continue

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

On page 84 of the Big Book, Step 10 begins about halfway down the page. In one paragraph, Bill W. and company explain its mechanics:

Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them. We discuss them with someone immediately and make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone. Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help. Love and tolerance of others is our code.

This little snippet begins with an important word: Continue. In the entirety of this paragraph, the word appears four times. It must be important:

  • Continue to take personal inventory
  • Continue to set right any new mistakes as we go along
  • Our next function is to grow in understanding and effectiveness…. It should continue for our lifetime.
  • Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear.

Previously, in Chapter Two, “There Is a Solution,” we learned that we are in the grip of a progressive illness. We are never cured of our addiction. Like any chronic disease, it worsens over the long haul, and it must be managed one day at a time. Our disease continues to worsen, even as we work on our recovery. That means that if we discontinue the spiritual practices the Steps recommend, we are going to revert to compulsive eating. Why? Because we’ll stop getting better, and our disease will eventually catch up to us.

To understand better, here’s an extended metaphor:

You are running in a head-to-head marathon. At the outset, your opponent bolts out to a big lead. You think about quitting the race altogether as you plod along. How will you ever catch up? It’s hopeless. But you realize that this is one of many tactics your opponent uses to psyche you out. Finally, you get a bolt of energy, and you catch up! In fact, you pass your opponent.

The other runner appears to be flagging. But you’ve studied your opponent’s clever tactics. Your rival is also known to hang back, just a few steps behind, letting you set the pace, then pouncing at the first sign of an opponent’s fatigue. So now you have to continue at your pace, lest you be passed again. You have to remember all your training and preparation every step of the way during the rest of the race.

But the further you run, the more tired you get. It seems easier to forget that the other contestant is nipping at our heels. Just as you think you’ve got it made, your foe resorts to a new tactic that you hadn’t expected. Your rival runs up beside you, but just outside of your peripheral vision. You hear their footsteps beside you, and worse, you hear whispers: “Don’t you think you deserve a little rest? You’ve run such a good race so far.” The other runner then drops back to where they were and watches for weakness in your stride. They periodically repeat the tactic, especially on really tough hills. But you know that if you just keep on like are, you’ll win out.

It is not only easier to get abstinent than to stay abstinent, it’s easier to continue living by spiritual principles than to take a break and try to resume them later. If we stop working Step 10, then we will stop growing spiritually, and our opponent runner will pass us. Worse yet, there is no guarantee that we will have the willingness to get back in the race if we stop for a breather. The resentments, fears, dishonesty, and selfishness that build up inside us when we don’t do Step 10 are like the lactic acid that builds up in a runner’s legs. If we keep running, we can get through the discomfort, but once we stop, we’ll likely cramp up or be unable to get back to the pace we’d set before.

Good news: If we keep going, keep doing Step 10, we will keep our focus clear on the race. We also discover that there are people lined up to help us alongside the race course. They shout encouragement, they provide water and even energy bars as we go. Best of all, we discover to our astonishment that two other runners have joined us. They don’t wear a number, so they just decided to run on their own. One is our running coach, and they keep stride with us and give us practical suggestions to keep us going. Better yet, a mysterious fourth runner stays right beside us, pats us on the shoulder as we’re going, tells us how well we’re doing, and provides quiet encouragement to drown out our foe. Each time we hear from that mysterious runner, we feel like a gust of wind is blowing us toward the finish line.

So all we have to do is continue. Continue, continue, and continue, until we hit the tape.