7 ways that compulsive eaters are not like normal people

The Big Book is filled with all sorts of lists, language, description, and stories whose purpose is to smash the idea that we are normal with respect to our food behaviors. Bill W, Dr. Bob, and the other early AAs knew full well that the illness of addiction was no respecter of facts. It lies, deceives, warps, obscures, and bends whatever information and memories it needs to so that it can perpetuate our compulsion. Our brains are trying to kill us.

So an important aspect of the Big Book’s message is to get our head out of the metaphorical sand. Dr. Silkworth writes in “The Doctor’s Opinion” that alcoholics think “their life is the only normal one,” which frustrates and boggles them because they see others drinking without harrowing consequences. They think they are normal so they should be able to drink like everyone else. But they can’t.

Swap food for drink, and it fits compulsive eaters to a tee. We OAs who have thought that maybe we were “making too big a deal” of compulsive eating have compared ourselves to normal eaters. Even once we hear the truth in OA about our compulsion, our mind continues to deny that we are materially different than anyone else. We “should” be able to eat normally and exercise willpower. We “should” be able to lose the weight. We “should” be able to live happy, healthy lives. Our disease is so tricky that many people leave OA because the idea that we have control is so persistently trotted out by our stinking thinker that it seems like truth.

This fallacy of normalcy will kill us if left unchecked. So we’ve got to examine our behaviors carefully. Not just at a surface level either. Nearly all of us in OA can admit to doing warped things with food: eating from the garbage, eating burnt/freezerburnt food, binging in vast quantities, hiding food, stealing food, excessively exercising or dieting out of shame, purging or starving out of desperation. You name it.

But those are the outward manifestations of our disease. They explode out of our motivations, our attitudes, our beliefs about ourselves and others. Not surprisingly, in meetings we hear a great deal of commonality about those underlying thoughts. The following are a few that we hear most often. If we struggle with the question of whether or not we really are compulsive eaters, these might remind us, because they are thoughts that normal eaters don’t have about food.

  1. Getting my food is more important than the needs of the people around me.
    Do we have to have something in our mouths before we can see to the needs of our children? Do we become irritated or angry if our spouse asks us to do something before we get can get at our food?
  2. Once one meal has ended, the countdown begins to the next.
    Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. After we finish breakfast, do we start looking at our phone, our computer, our car’s clock well before we are due to eat lunch? If it’s 11:55, are we capable of waiting patiently for the next five minutes? Or do we typically say “close enough,” grab it, and wolf it down.
  3. If I don’t have access to food, I am not OK.
    Does our sense of moment-to-moment security rely on our proximity to food? Do we feel edgy until we nail down where we can get our next bite from? Must we have our food fix to simply get through the day?
  4. I’d rather die than be without my favorite foods!
    Would we rather eat compulsively or stop so that we can see our children or grandchildren graduate, get married, or have children? We may say “of course, the latter,” but do our actions suggest we’d rather eat? Do we heed our doctors’ advice and lay off our binge foods if we get a diagnosis of diabetes or heart disease? Can we imagine a life worth living without our favorite binge foods?
  5. Is food fuel?
    Can we differentiate between food as fuel and food as fun? Is food a material object that we need to live? Or do we imbue it with magic, mystique, and fond memories despite what it always does to us?
  6. Being alone with my thoughts is too difficult without food.
    Can we sit by ourselves without eating? Can we reflect on the happy or sad aspects of our day or our lives without resorting to food. Are there repetitive flashbulb moments, deeply disturbing memories, or thought loops that we can’t bear without the effect food has on us?
  7. I’m not worth saving anyway, so what difference does it make how much I eat?
    Do we believe that no one will care much if we’re gone? Do we feel as though our own lives are worth less than the brief feeling of relief that comes from eating compulsively?

What makes us different than normal people isn’t only that we think like this, it’s that we think like this all the time! Food is the axis our lives spin on, and our addictive thinking propels us around and around that axis until we find the solution or die from our disease.

Fortunately, there is an answer. With OA we can arrest our illness one day at a time. With the help of our fellow OAs and our program of recovery from food addiction, we not only can put down the food, but we can undergo a metamorphosis into the kind of person we’d always hoped we could be. A person whose thoughts don’t constantly consist of food and whose underlying motives don’t resemble a death wish. It’s a much better way to live than we have ever had before.

What to do as a sponsee

The Big Book devotes a chapter to working with others. OA has a pamphlet just about how to sponsor. Many meetings ask for active sponsors to identify themselves. Members speaking at a meeting or generally sharing often talk about how they work with others. But when it comes to being a sponsee, we hardly hear more than “I did what my sponsor suggested.” That’s great advice, but what exactly does it entail?

Once we’ve gotten up the courage to ask someone to guide us through the program, the real work begins. We often talk about HOW in our meetings: Honesty, Open-mindedness, and Willingness. These form a strong foundation for getting the most from our sponsor/sponsee relationship.

Honesty is obviously the most important attribute we can bring to our work with a sponsor. We are used to being dishonest. We minimize, overdramatize, fantasize, and downright lie about our food, our feelings, our relationships, and our life circumstances. With our sponsor, we have an opportunity to finally be absolutely honest about ourselves. We can tell them exactly what’s happening outside and inside us, and particularly about how the illness of compulsive eating is affecting us. There’s no point in bs’ing our sponsor. They’ve encountered people just like us so many times, and they see right through us. We don’t worry about what they might think of us, we just tell the truth. All of it. We can’t get better without it.

Open-mindedness buds from the branch of honesty. When our sponsor suggests an action to take, do we instinctively react negatively? Do we immediately shut down the possibility of taking that action? When our sponsor suggests considering the idea of a Higher Power, do we put it in our mental shredder because we know there is no god? Do we insist to ourselves that even if a god exists, it won’t help us? Or do we belay the orders our mind wants to give us and pause to examine the fact that a spiritual solution has worked in our sponsor’s life? We have for years and years been closed-minded. We have thought we had all the answers. We have thought that we must take the edge off of life with food because our feelings were too much for us. We have thought that we were broken and unfixable, unloveable, and unredeemable. By being honest with someone for the first time, we see that our thinking is unreliable. By being openminded, we become able to receive truths we had denied and apply some of those new truths to our lives.

Once we are openminded enough to actually listen to our sponsor, we can get willing to take action. OA is all about taking action. We can’t think and feel ourselves out of this disease. if we could, we would have done it already! So it’s time for action. If we have open-mindedly heard our sponsor’s suggestion to attend a meeting, we use our willingness to get our butt into a seat. If our sponsor tells us that they see a food becoming problematic for us, we can try going without it and observe how our mind and body respond. Willingness is indispensable, because it is a decision maker. We have long responded to invitations with “I’ll think about it” or “maybe I’ll try that.” We’re only lying to ourselves because everyone on the green Earth knows that’s code for “I’m too scared to use the word no.” When we adopt willingness, we can say yes or no. If we are willing, we say yes. If not, we say no thank you. With our sponsors, we probably need to be extra willing. If they recommend an action, it’s likely because it works.

Taking the HOW framework further, we might also consider making a commitment to thorough action in OA. We’ve many times made decisions and been willing to do something about our food then failed to take action, follow through, or do the job completely. In OA, our sponsors remind us that the program is only effective, if we finish the job. This means doing the Steps, observing the Traditions, and using OA’s tools. It means doing something even if we don’t want to or are scared to. If we commit to an action, we need to stay honest about it. We addicts are often unreliable, so when we agree to do something or be somewhere, we do it. We have to walk the talk of honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness if we’re going to get anywhere, and when we’re in the food, blowing things off or canceling at the last minute is one of our favorite moves. We are developing integrity, something we may have elsewhere in our lives, but not around our food and personal well-being.

Being a sponsee is kind of simple. We need to adopt a teachable attitude that’s encapsulated by HOW. Then we follow that up by doing what we say we’ll do and saying to our sponsor what we do. It’s we, ourselves, who make things complicated.

10 questions to ask while developing a food plan

Overeaters Anonymous has no official food plan. This baffles some newcomers because they have experienced dieting programs that supply paying members with plans of eating and sometimes offer foods to purchase for those plans.

In OA, every member is encouraged to develop their own food plan. But just because there’s no single food plan doesn’t mean there aren’t a few tried-and-true guidelines. Many of these can be found in the pamphlets “A Plan of Eating” and “Dignity of Choice” (both of which are included in the OA newcomers packet and are available individually at OA. org), and some local member experience adds some ideas as well. Here are 10 questions we often ask ourselves when coming up with a food plan.

  1. Am I working with a sponsor?
    We start here because if we aren’t working with a sponsor, we’re just trying to control our food on our own. That’s never worked for us before, so involving our sponsor is an important, new difference between OA and our best efforts.
  2. Do I need to consult a medical or dietary professional?
    Before we think specifically about our food plan, we need to know whether there are any foods our doctor asks us to avoid eating due to physiological (allergies), medical (diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, diverticulitis) or medication-interaction issues. Similarly, our doctor may ask us to add certain foods to promote better overall health. A dietary professional may also recommend foods to rebalance our nutrition.
  3. What are my red, yellow, and green foods?
    This simple metaphor comes in handy. Red foods are specific foods or food groups that we obsess about. We can’t stop eating them once we start, and we can’t stop from starting to eat them. Yellow foods are ones we should watch because they creep up on us. They may also be foods that prime the pump for red foods. Green foods are the ones we can eat in safety.
  4. What about alcohol?
    Many people find sugar- and flour-based foods go in the red category. Sugar and flour are simply highly-refined grain-based foods. There’s something about the process of refining foods that many members’ bodies cannot resist. Alcohol is a liquid form of highly refined grains that are fermented in the presence of sugar. Are we clinging to alcohol? If so, it may be wise to eliminate it.
  5. How much food do I need to eat?
    OA’s statement on abstinence includes not only avoiding individual binge foods but also “working toward or maintaining a healthy body weight.” In OA it’s not enough to simply stop eating our binge foods if we are replacing their high with another kind of high that comes with high-volume eating. It is wise to ask a doctor or dietary professional to recommend the amount of food to eat to lose weight safely and effectively.
  6. How often do I need to eat?
    While a good rule of thumb to get started is simply eating three square meals a day, every member’s metabolism is different. Some of us may need to eat smaller meals more often during the day. It’s OK to eat at whatever cadence works for our own bodies so long as we are not eating more than our body needs as a result.
  7. Do I need to avoid any specific eating behaviors?
    Our bulimic and anorexic friends recognize that this question addresses binge-and-purge symptoms and starving. In addition, we might ask ourselves about more subtle symptoms. Some of the behaviors that members in our meetings discuss are eating directly from packaging or containers, eating anywhere other than a table, and eating standing up. We need to identify any such behaviors to avoid, and they are different for everyone.
  8. Do I need to avoid any specific eating situations?
    Here we need to suss out whether we need to keep away from scenarios that trigger compulsive eating. For example, eating at restaurants, parties, or in the car on long trips. Do we need to avoid eating in front of the TV, in bed, or when we are reading? What about at night when we are alone in the house? In a certain room of the house? With certain people? Or at the grocery store? When we are mad, sad, or glad? The list is as long as there are OA members because we each have our own triggering events or situations.
  9. Does this plan fit my life circumstances?
    There’s not much point to to committing to a food plan that involves preparing five-course, preparation-intensive meals if we are a single mom of three working two jobs. It’s setting us up for failure. We need to be sure that our food plan matches the time and energy we have available instead of trying to live up to some lofty ideal and drowning in a sea of chopping, shopping, and sobbing.
  10. How honest am I willing to be?
    This is the toughest question of them all. We’ve spent a lifetime denying our problem, minimizing it, or ignoring it. So how’s this food plan thing going to work if we’ve been inherently dishonest about our eating since forever? It starts with willingness. Are we willing to trust another person to be an accountability partner each day? Are we willing to trust the folks at my meetings when I need to talk about how my food is going? Are we willing to endure the initial turbulence as our body and minds detox? Are we willing to work the 12 Steps in order to insure against relapse? Lastly, are we willing to begin leading a new life that’s really worth living in all the ways our life isn’t when we walk through the doors of OA? Take it from those who have experienced the miracle of healing. It’s all worth it, and so are we.

Step of the Month: The 1-2-3 Waltz

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood Him.

Music fans, know the waltz tempo well: ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three. It’s characteristic of “The Blue Danube Waltz,” “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” and “Norwegian Wood” among numerous favorites. Many folks in OA know that tempo too. They get a food plan for Step ONE, think earnestly about Step Two, get stuck at Step Three. Then they eat compulsively and repeat the whole thing over again and again. ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three….

Why does this 1-2-3 Waltz happen? Of course, every OA member is different, but there are some guiding principles that might help us if we find ourselves dancing these Steps.

The whole concept of Step Three is surrender. We’ve reached a point where it’s do or die. If we go on the way we’ve been living our lives we will die from the inside out. We’re mostly dead spiritually already, our emotions feel lethally out of control, and if our bodies haven’t already begun falling apart they soon will.

In nearly every culture, men and women are taught to be self-sufficient, to solve their own problems, and to stubbornly resist help lest we show weakness, lose face, or put someone out. We are not naturals at accepting help. But man oh man do we need it. In this terrible predicament, Step Three asks us whether we’re willing to make a decision to let our Higher Power not merely lend a hand but to run the whole show.

This is not a decision where we are saying, “I, for one, welcome my new spiritual Overlord.” Instead we are saying, “If I bang my head against this wall anymore I’ll spill my brains. I’ll give try this last-ditch Higher Power thing my best shot because it’s my last hope.” In other words, Step Three is a practical, hard-headed decision. We don’t make it because we think it’s a good idea, we make it because we know there’s no better alternative, and we’re going to die from compulsive eating.

In that light, the do-or-die, it’s not so complicated. We don’t even have to become sudden supplicants. All we must do is decide to let our Higher Power show us a better way by actively doing the remaining Steps. Even if we are doing the Steps to prove Bill W. or the Fellowship wrong (as has been heard at meetings from time to time), if we do them thoroughly and honestly, we will be shown a better way of life.

Still, it’s not a snap decision, and we may not be as ready as we think we are. If we’re in the midst of the 1-2-3 shuffle, something’s amiss. As one of our local members has noted, when someone gets stuck on a particular Step, it’s often because they haven’t quite wholeheartedly completed the previous Step, or some Step along the way. In the case of Step Three, there’s relatively few things we’ve been asked to do or accept before hand:

  1. We are powerless over compulsive eating.
  2. Our lives have become unmanageable.
  3. We are insane around food.
  4. There is Something more powerful than we are.
  5. That this Something is powerful enough to restore our sanity around food.
  6. That this Something would restore us to sanity if we reached out for help.

That’s pretty much it. We could go deeper and find nuances, but that’s the big picture in Steps One and Two. So if we struggle with Step 3, we can turn those six things into questions to answer from as deep in our hearts as we can:

  1. Am I powerless over compulsive eating? Or is there still some part of me that thinks I can control my food?
  2. Is my life unmanageable? Is my life a chaotic mess? Or must I control everything and everyone because I’m afraid of chaos?
  3. Am I insane around food? Am I obsessed with food? Do I do things that normal eaters don’t do?
  4. Is there anything out there more powerful than I am? Do I think that my mind is the most powerful thing out there? Or that because I can’t conceive of a Higher Power, one must not exist?
  5. Is there Something powerful enough to restore my sanity around food? Or am I terminally unique, such that other OAs’ Higher Powers can help them, but I’m beyond help?
  6. Would this Something restore me to sanity if I reached out for help? Let’s meditate on this last one a little longer….

It’s easy on that sixth question to confuse our self-worth with our actual worth. We may believe we aren’t worth saving. That we’re far too flawed, bad, ugly, stupid, fat, or whatever to be worth a reclamation project. But this negative self-talk is just our diseased brain trying to deceive us out of getting better so that it can continue to dominate us. But take a step back and ask this: If a friend in the same predicament asked whether a Higher Power would save them from compulsive eating, would we say, “Yes! You’re worth saving no matter what your mind might tell you!” Of course, and the same is true for us. We are worth no more and no less than our fellows, and we deserve to be freed from our illness as much as the next person.

If we are still listening to the 1-2-3 Waltz, it’s time to turn off the music. Whether we finally decide to make that Step Three decision or whether we go back to review Steps One and Two to make sure we’re solid, we’ve got to get off the dance floor and get better. Because we don’t want this song to be our funeral dirge.

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.

Any excuse is a trivial excuse to eat

There’s no good excuse for wittingly taking the first bite. Not when we know what kind of pain and misery this disease brings us. Not when we know the terrible, fatal consequences of our decision to eat.

But when our disease gets hold of us, we do it anyway. We think out complex levels of justification. The broken shoelace led to not being able to wear the right shoes. That led to a blister. Which led to an embarrassing limp. Which led others to look askance and judge. Which led to negative self-talk. Which led to feelings of uselessness and worthlessness. Which led to taking off a loved one’s head at a slight provocation. Which led to a big fight. Which led to feelings of isolation. Which led to the first bite. All because of the broken shoelace!

We tell ourselves that any one of these things by itself isn’t so bad, but taken all together, it’s simply too much for us to handle.

In the Big Book’s chapter “More About Alcoholism” (page 37), it says, “There was always the curious mental phenomenon that parallel with our sound reasoning there inevitably ran an insanely trivial excuse for taking the first drink.” Or bite in our case.

In fact, given what happens whenever we take the first bite, any excuse is trivial. We understand the torture of food addiction. It is dehumanizing and utterly painful. Any time we try to take the edge off with food, we are making things worse, not better. First of all, we are engaging our addiction, which has terrifying consequences. Second, we aren’t even getting rid of the feeling. We burying it alive temporarily, knowing fully well that it will come back after us later. It always does.

Actually the broken shoelace that started this example off is in fact too much for us to handle. So are all of those other things in the scenario. We’ve proven again and again to ourselves that we can’t handle feelings of any sort. Otherwise, why do we continually eat to take the edge off? So we need a Higher Power to get us through these spots that we can’t navigate ourselves without food.

But what about truly awful circumstances? What about abuse, past or present? Instances of rape, the death of a loved one? A diagnosis of late-stage cancer? A crippling accident? Or some horrendous combination of them all? That big hairy monster that makes us unique and broken and unfixable?

The answer to that question is in the halls of OA, looking right back at us. Among OA’s membership are thousands of people who have been physically, sexual, or emotionally abused, and who are not eating. OA members have been through the worst diseases without the first bite. Live or die, they don’t pick up. Thousands of OAs have lost parents, siblings, children, friends, pets, you name it and still not taken that first sucker bite. They all have their own hairy monster of damage, and they don’t eat over it.

These people know today that there is absolutely no excuse that can justify a return to compulsive eating. If they do, they not only inflict misery on themselves, but they, in turn, inflict misery on those around them by the inevitable falling apart and negative personality changes that compulsive eating brings. These people know that in each of the dire situations just mentioned eating will make them less able to cope, less able to heal, and less able to help those who desperately need it.

One other thing they know: That they didn’t avoid picking up on their own willpower. If only! Instead, they were given courage, strength, and purpose by their Higher Power…however they understand their HP…and found additional strength through the Steps, Traditions, Tools, and fellowship of OA.

So next time the wheel of addictive thinking presents us with the choice to eat over our problems or not, let’s choose to not. Because otherwise, we’re just making excuses.

 

The 1 question to ask before that first compulsive bite

Are we asking the wrong question about taking that first compulsive bite? We often have second thoughts when faced with that fateful decision, questions such as:

  • Am I going to do this to myself again?
  • Will this lead to another binge?
  • Why do I want to eat this?

These are all helpful responses, and yet, they don’t get at the most basic part of what every addict faces, including us compulsive eaters.

One of the most important paragraphs in the Big Book is in the Doctor’s Opinion (pp xxvii–xxix). Dr. Silkwood tells us that when we put the substance into our bodies we have a reaction that creates physical cravings. But before we do so, however, we are activated mentally and obsess about eating. And why are we activated to obsess? Because of a thought or feeling.

The doctor tells us “Men and women drink essentially because they like the effect produced by alcohol.… They are restless, irritable, and discontented, unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks….” Or to put it another way, we eat because we want to take the edge off.

That edge is the emotional discomfort or pain we feel in any given moment. It is both the triggering event itself (job stress, a fight with a loved one, a broken shoelace) and the accumulation of every hurt, disappointment, and fear that we’ve buried alive inside us by eating. Every new pain reminds of all the previous ones, so we do what we did before: eat compulsively.

We never just sit with emotional discomfort. It’s too much for us. We may appear stoic on the outside, but by always taking the edge off, we are admitting that our discomfort is stronger than we are.

In OA, however, we discover that our Higher Power is more powerful than our feelings. Even our roughest emotions are no match for the god of our understanding. So the question we ask ourselves now is:

Are we willing to trust and rely on God to get us through discomfort instead of turning to food?

After all, why would we ever turn to the food that makes us miserable instead of the God that makes us feel better?

Of course, there’s an important condition to trusting God instead of food. We need a conception of God that we can actually put trust in. If we are unable to achieve abstinence despite asking our HP for help, our understanding of God may be too limited. Or it may simply be the wrong conception for us.

In the former case, we may believe a Higher Power is out there, but we don’t really believe it cares about us. Or we may believe we are so terminally unique that not even God can help us. These are both instances where we can choose to let an HP show us its power rather than assume it isn’t available to us. The way we do that is by not taking the first bite, finally asking God for help, and observing what happens when we let go and let God.

In the case of having the wrong conception for us, we may have long-held religious beliefs that are hindering our spiritual understanding. If we are not actively religious, we may find it useful to finally admit that our religious heritage isn’t helping us and seek a God concept that does. If we are engaged in religion, we might consult with our religious teacher or leader to see if we something about our concept of God is holding us back.

Of course, we may be atheistic or agnostic. This is no barrier to trusting and relying on God. We might define it as Good Orderly Discipline or as Group of (Food) Drunks. Others among us with the atheistic/agnostic line of thinking have seen other OAs recover with the help of a Higher Power and simply decided their conception is a Great Friend or the God of My Not Understanding. If it helps, we don’t have to use the capital G.

The most important thing is that we have a useful, effective conception of a Higher Power.

Why is it so important? Because we need to believe that whatever it is we trust will get us through the rough patches we ate over in the past. We need to believe that we can sit with discomfort thanks to the help of something bigger than we are. We need something that we can pray to, paraphrasing the Doctor’s Opinion, asking: Higher Power please bring me ease and comfort.

Trust God, clean house, and help others is the formula Dr. Bob passed down. Not picking up the first bite is putting trust in our HP, demonstrating our willingness, and starting down the road to happy destiny.

9 ways to turn Black Friday into Cyber Monday

For us compulsive eaters, “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” can have very different meanings than for everyone else. One that we don’t like, and one that can really help us.

Thanksgiving might be better termed Amateur Day. All those normal eaters out there have their big turkey feast then fall asleep on the couch while watching the Lions or Cowboys. These normal eaters have seconds and feel as stuffed as the bird they were just consuming. Meanwhile, we compulsive eaters are just getting started. Actually, we probably primed the pump well before company arrived or before we got to our feast destination. Once there, we graze on appetizers, pick at the turkey to get the choicest pieces of skin, take extra helpings of everything, then pile in the pie. By 5:00 while everyone else is groaning about their bloated bellies, we’re thinking about turkey sandwiches.

Then comes our Black Friday. It might begin in the wee hours of the morning, with a sudden awakening to acid reflux. Or maybe we’re so full we never got to sleep in the first place and stayed up berating ourselves for gluttony once again. We get up in the morning feeling lethargic, burping, and wondering whether we’ll ever be able to control our eating. All the while, we know deep inside that we’ll never gain control, but our pride tells us to fight anyway. In this way, Thanksgiving is no different than many other days except in the volume of food at the dining room table.

Over the rest of the weekend we might tell a spouse or friend that we’re going on a diet on Monday. Or maybe after Christmas. Or in the New Year. We just need to get through the holidays. As Friday, Saturday, and Sunday roll by, we feel that familiar sense of failure and remorse, and our misery continues. Thanksgiving dinner didn’t fix it.

Luckily for us, however, we can interpret Cyber Monday in a different way as well. We can see it as an opportunity to look for the solution. We can go online to locate all kinds of OA resources that will guide us toward recovery from compulsive eating! Here’s a few examples for people in different parts of their OA journey.

Prospective members

  • Not sure if you’re a compulsive eater? Take this quiz and find out.
  • Visit this page for newcomers at OA.org to see what happens at meetings and hear podcasts of member’s experiences.
  • Read OA’s FAQ to learn the answers to questions commonly asked by newcomers.

Newcomers and returning members

Members who struggled on Thanksgiving

 

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

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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.