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:
- Willingness to go to any length to avoid the first bite
- 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.