Memorial Day

On Memorial Day, the US remembers the sacrifice of lives that freedom requires. In order to be free of tyranny, slavery, and oppression, men and women have fought and died.

As OA members, we go to the front lines and fight for freedom each day. We don’t use guns and bombs, but we fight a pitched battle nonetheless. We seek freedom from the tyranny of our illness, the slavery to the obsession with compulsive eating, and the oppression of our very souls by the ravages of food addiction.

Those of us still actively engaged with OA and the spiritual solution are the lucky ones. Even if we struggle with our food, we know that the war is winnable. We know it because we see other OA members in normal sized or shrinking bodies day after day, week after week, year after year. We hear in their stories that OA is not just some crash diet nor that they suddenly developed will power. We know that spirituality is real and it does for them what they could never do for themselves.

But we also see that many, many members come and go. We wonder what happened to them. Are they still alive? Or has our disease destroyed them fully. We can let every day be Memorial Day in OA, and turn our reflection into action. When someone has disappeared from our midst, we can call them. We can email them. We can text them. They need our loving support, and we need them just as badly. Helping others is what keeps us on the spiritual straight and narrow.

People leave OA for numerous reasons. If they return, they often find in retrospect that the reasons for their departure were trivial excuses that their illness used to keep them away from getting better. When people stay away from OA one day at a time, they suffer. If they’ve been to just a couple meetings, they may know that a solution is out there but resent the idea that they need a Higher Power to recover. If they’ve done a lot of work in OA, they may feel guilt or shame about returning after a long absence. They may also have experienced the terrible sensation of having a belly full of food and a head full of OA.

Sometimes an OA may leave the program and die. Our disease claims lives every day (whether the sufferer was an OA member or not). If we go back to compulsively eating, we can be in grave danger. Type 2 diabetes is a killing disease that is triggered by obesity and excessive weight gain. It’s end stages are not pretty: Losing toes or legs, exploding blood vessels in the eyes and potential blindness, dependence on insulin, and the frustration of a food addicted mind grappling with the need for careful dietary management. Heart disease isn’t sexy either. Difficulty breathing, inability to conduct basic activities without shortness of breath or dizzy spells, the fear that at any minute the big one could hit. Obesity increases the risk of stroke, which often results in loss of speech, movement, sight, or brain function. COPD and emphysema can also be caused by obesity, and a life of irreversible constant coughing and shortness of breath won’t make anyone’s top-ten list.

Diabetes, heart disease, stroke, COPD/emphysema, and those are just the tip of the deathblow iceberg. People with our disease die in the trenches all the time. They are fighting the food and are losing or already lost. Yet, we know that fighting the food isn’t the same as abstaining. We know a spiritual solution that works and the power of fellowship to help.

If our battle is fought on the emotional and spiritual planes, then we have the ability to bring people back from that kind of death. We do it by reaching out to those who have left OA and whose emotions and spirit have often flatlined. We let them know that they are still loved and that the solution is still out there for them. We let our Higher Power act through us so that others may have their lives saved as ours have been so saved.

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.

Tradition of the Month: Serving our primary purpose

5. Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the compulsive overeater who still suffers.

Here’s an OA slogan that is often understood incorrectly: “Service is slimming.” It is not slimming for us. Only an abstinence supported by the Steps and Traditions is slimming for us. But you know who it might be slimming for? Everyone else in OA.

This sounds paradoxical, but like many OA slogans, it requires us to shift our perspective to see a simple truth. Tradition Five tells us that our job as a meeting is to carry the message. Service in OA provides the people power for carrying that message. When we each do our part to help our meetings carry the message, more food addicts can hear it and begin their journey toward recovery. Therefore, by doing service, we are helping everyone else get slim by finding the solution we’ve found.

Carrying the message is also part of Step 12, which is vital to maintaining our recovery. But if it comes at the end of the Steps, what good is it for those who haven’t gotten there yet? Plenty good! The Steps are there to change our perspective. Our self-centered impulses rule us. Even if we show codependence, we can recognize that as a kind of self-centeredness. But service doesn’t come with guilt, compulsion, or as an I-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine. Service in OA is freely given with the knowledge that it will help someone, somewhere, sometime. It is also given freely out of gratitude for what has been given us: a path to recovery. If we aren’t yet at Step 12, giving service helps open our hearts and minds to the idea of being others-centered.

When we do service, we may be pleasantly surprised by the subtle change in attitude we feel. Whether working alone or with our fellow OAs, we find that we want to do a good job not because we’ll look good or get accolades or win friends. Instead we may, in some cases for the first time in a very long time, do something because we can feel in our spirits that our actions are helping others in some small way. Our Higher Power can use that little spark to crack open long closed-off reservoirs of sympathy, empathy, and joy, which each nurture our recovery and make us useful and purposeful in ways we may never have known before.

In most cases, service is easier than we think it will be. At the meeting level, we may raise our hands for a position such as treasurer or speaker-seeker. These turn out to be far less time-consuming or complicated than we thought they would be. A phone call here or there, adding up the money and giving the rent check to our host location aren’t going to suck us dry of time. Though our sickened minds might tell us otherwise. Tasks such as setting up chairs, carrying the meeting’s bag, or being the key carrier give us the chance to support carrying the message in nuts and bolts ways. If our meeting doesn’t require many service positions, we can even make one up! Does the meeting have a greeter? If not, we might ask to be one and then greet members as they come in.

Our local Intergroup is EXCLUSIVELY about providing service for carrying the message. An Intergroup’s function is to help meetings join at a broader level what they cannot do themselves. Creating special events, informational campaigns, and strategic plans for getting the message out to the community all require service by many individuals. Anyone can provide service at the Intergroup level. Even if we don’t currently meet the requirements for an Intergroup office holder, we have many talents and experiences that can be helpful. Special events may need someone with design talent to create flyers. An initiative aimed at educating the medical community might benefit from those in the fellowship who have worked in the field. Project-management skills are always helpful for executing on any kind of long-range plan.

So if we want service to be slimming, we might need to think of someone else’s waistline besides ours. We might need to consider the idea that raising our hand for service is

  • changing our mindset to be less self-centered, which supports our Step work
  • taking out insurance on our own recoveries (Step 12)
  • giving back freely to the the fellowship that so freely gave us recovery
  • ensuring that OA is around in perpetuity for folks like us.

Let’s carry the message!

Step of the Month: Honesty

Honesty, it turns out, doesn’t have to be a lonely word. In OA, we need to get honest about our food and our lives as quickly as possible. It’s imperative that we can stop killing ourselves with food, of course, but that longer life will be much happier and free if we can be honest with ourselves and those around us. Step Five takes us a long way toward our new ideal of complete honesty.

The moment that we cross the line into addiction, we became liars. Our diseased minds may tell us that we are honest people, but we’re not. We have lied to ourselves daily about food. “This time I’ll get control.” “I can eat this without repercussions.” “Screw it. I’m going to eat because I’m not worth saving anyway, and food is my only proven source of comfort.”

Meanwhile, we’ve told half-truths, dissembled, obfuscated, omitted, prevaricated, stolen, stashed, and out-and-out told baldfaced lies to ourselves and others about our food, our feelings, and our life. With the best intentions, we’ve said to spouses and children that we’ll stop eating so unhealthfully. Maybe we even lose a few pounds. Then we pick up that disastrous first bite again. All along, we ignore our history of continually failing to control our food. We ignore the lingering feeling that it won’t work anyway. We do it for them instead of doing it for ourselves.

Another common source of dishonest around food is stealing. We put our hand into someone else’s candy stash at work. We eat a roommate’s food and hide the evidence. We may even shoplift, including eating out of bulk food bins without paying first for the “sample” we’ve taken.

Perhaps the very worst lie our illness perpetrates on us is the one that says “I am not good enough.” That little sentence is food addiction pulling the trigger on the eating gun that’s destroying us. We who have experienced this disease and found recovery know now that this is, indeed, a huge lie. All of us are worth being saved from the oblivion of food addiction. But try to tell anyone who’s in its grips.

In fact, they have to tell themselves. That is what Step Five is all about. In Step Four, we wrote a fearless and searching moral inventory. But what good is the inventory if we don’t do something with it? A business that takes inventory doesn’t just file it away. It then decides what to keep, throw away, or order. In our inventory we have learned much about our dishonesty. We’ve also learned how to be more honest with ourselves. Now in Step Five, we’re going to use that inventory and the connection with made with our Higher Power to reach a new level of honesty by sharing it out loud, omitting nothing.

At this point, some members feel awkward or frightened. Of course we do. We are always thinking of ourselves, so we fear how will the person who is hearing our inventory judge us. But we go ahead anyway. We have to or else.

We read our inventory aloud to our Higher Power and another (carefully chosen) person (who is likely our sponsor). As we read, we discover a few things. First that holding all this crap inside of us has been exhausting. We’re relieved to just get it out. Second that if our listener is an OA member or familiar with the Twelve Steps, they completely understand. They nod their heads and remind us that they and many others have done the very same things we have. Third that when we are done, we have just done the most honest thing we’ve ever done. We can meet anyone’s eye without blinking because we have told the whole truth, and it made us stronger and didn’t kill us.

Some of us may experience the aftermath of Step Five as a refreshing breeze that blows across us. Others may simply feel quiet and grateful. Still others report that it took them a few days or weeks to notice a difference in themselves. But inevitably, they eventually feel a remarkable difference in their feeling about themselves and in their ability to be honest.

Thanks to our Higher Powers’ willingness to help us recover, we come face to face with our dishonest past, and we sweep it away by being utterly honest about it and by then following Step 5 with more action in the middle Steps. And we learn the big truth: That we are OK on the inside. We move from hope for a better life toward a certainty we will find it with God’s help. Honesty in OA isn’t lonely. We find it by working with our Higher Power, our sponsor, and the fellowship. In fact, as we discover that honesty really is the best and simplest policy, we find that we feel closer to others in lives because, finally, we can be real with them.

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.

Pathways to a finding a Higher Power

The reality of Overeaters Anonymous is simple: It’s a spiritual program for people who are medicating their spiritual sickness with food. That means we turn to a Higher Power that we can trust and rely upon to live one day at a time without abusing food.

Bing, bang, boom, we’re done!

Well, if it were that easy, we’d have fixed the problem long ago. In practice, finding an HP we can count on is one of the most difficult trials we face in recovery, and most people fall into one of a few basic categories:

  1. The religious: We may belong to a religious organization already and have accepted its god figure as our own. Even so, religious knowledge isn’t enough, obviously, or those members wouldn’t need OA.
  2. The formerly religious: Lapsed church members have trouble because even though they want to be free of dogma, they seem unable to shake their religious upbringing.
  3. Atheists and agnostics: Those who believe there is no God or who are awaiting more evidence are immediately irritated by the necessity of a god in their life. As many others of us in OA can tell you, atheism and agnosticism are active stances in the same way that religiosity is.
  4. Those with no spiritual experience or inclination: In some ways these folks have it easiest since they may have no prior experiences or thinking to block their path, but they may also be the most dogmatic do-it-yourselfers in the room.

No matter which person we identify with the most, we have to find a way into spirituality…or else. We have to choose between dying miserably of our disease or trying out the spiritual solution.

As we noted earlier, every person finds their own way to a Higher Power. The one common truth we hear about each person’s journey, however, echoes what the Big Book explains in the chapter title “To Agnostics”: We cannot know a Power greater than ourselves, we can only experience It. The human mind is limited. Were we able to comprehend powers greater than our own, we would already be a Higher Power. And, believe us, we learn in OA that we are not.

So how do we get onto the spiritual path? Here’s a few common reflections we’ve heard over the years that might be helpful. Most members find their experience relates to more than one of these.

Actively searching for God

Some members begin their journey by using activities such as writing, discussion, reading OA (and non-OA) literature to seek a Higher Power. As they work, they gain insight about what they want and need from an HP and can then come to a conception that works for them.

Passively searching for God

Those of us who aren’t verbal processors might ask others in the program to talk about finding God, listening carefully for spiritual experiences that resonate with us. We attentively tune in during meetings to hear others’ perspectives. As we listen, we take what we need to develop a spiritual path and leave the rest.

Get willing, then wait and see

The Second Step only says that “we became willing” to believe in a Higher Power. The Third Step only says we make a decision about trusting and relying on God, but it doesn’t say we are required to have nailed down our concept of an HP. So, some pragmatic members decide to adopt a stance of willingness, go through the Steps honestly and carefully, and see what happens to them spiritually as they go along. We have yet to hear about a person who assiduously went through with the Steps and did not have a spiritual experience.

If it worked for them…

Closely related to the path above. In this model, we trust the spiritual experience of those whose stories of spiritual recovery we’ve heard. We forge ahead through the Steps, knowing that if those people got a spiritual awakening out of it, then we will too.

The God catalog

If we already know what we want from a Higher Power, but we don’t know of One in common circulation that fits the bill, then we can “order” One up. If we know that we want warmth, unconditional love, and support from an HP, we start right there. Those initial ideas may be enough. We might consider other properties of a god we could trust, and also of a god we would not trust, taking the former, declining the latter. We needn’t add a beard, a robe, earrings, a gender, hair color, anything if it doesn’t suit our purpose. And that purpose must always remain firmly in our mind. We are constructing a concept of a god that we will want to trust and rely on.

Prayer and meditation

Not surprisingly, these well-worn paths to a Higher Power feel least intuitive to many of us. We’re used to eschewing prayer, and we may only see meditation as a means of relaxation. These might feel to us like new-age mumbo jumbo or the long-rusted tools from a less scientific age. But after all, prayer is talking to God, and meditation is listening. We’re trying to find a God we can work with, so we might as well just go right to the source. “A little spiritual help here? Can you give me some clues?” Or why not just relax, close our eyes, connect with the quiet inside of ourselves, and see if any spiritual insights arise. The worst that might happen is that we have a quiet few minutes or fall asleep.

Try any of these or all of them. Adopt a stance of honest curiosity, and experience shows us that nothing can stand in our way. It’s been proven time and again among the ranks of Twelve-Step groups everywhere that we cannot fail to find a spiritual solution if we have honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness. We don’t have to be perfect in all of this. We’re just looking for a spiritual light to lead us out of the darkness and toward the life we’ve always wanted to lead.

Patience is gratitude

Why do we eat compulsively? One reason is that we are impatient to take the edge off of our feelings. We can’t sit still with discomfort. Whether it arrives with words or by an urge, inside we feel that I’VE GOT TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS.

In “The Doctor’s Opinion,” Dr. Silkworth explains that when we don’t have our substance, we feel “restless, irritable, and discontented.” Even before a triggering feeling or event occurs, we’re emotionally primed for self-sabotaging action because of the general uncomfortableness of our disease. It’s like prickly heat of the mind. So when we can’t stand it anymore, we eat, or we yell at our loved ones, or we blast out of the room we’re in, or we slam the phone into the cradle.

One thing that people routinely discuss in meetings is how much more patient they feel in recovery. We might hear that “those things my husband does don’t bother the way they used to.” Or someone might say that “I don’t have to go to every fight I’m invited to.” A great old saying that gets bandied about: “Do I want to be right? Or do I want to be happy?” Much of this increase in patience comes about by the simple action of abstaining from our trigger foods. When these substances are no longer in our bodies, physical cravings cease, removing one of the factors in our general impatience. But the feelings of restlessness, irritability, and discontent only clear up once we have experienced the Twelve Steps.

The Steps remove many mental and emotional barriers to abstinence and spirituality. Every trigger we encounter reminds us of some past bruisings of our ego. Just another piece of evidence against us in the court of mental law. But once we do the Steps, these feelings either disappear entirely or they ease so far back that we can gain perspective on them and deal with them in an adult manner. What a relief! The restlessness, irritability, and discontent are not permanent features of our mentality.

We also, however, gain through the Steps the ability to draw upon the support of a Higher Power, however we might define our HP. Infused with spiritual energy, our hearts and spirits soften and we become more open minded. We find that our need for immediate relief has slackened. We can make an appropriate decision or ask God for help. And that pause is beautiful.

When we take a moment before acting, we can reflect, even if just for a moment, on our situation. Are we amped up emotionally? Has anger risen up to our eyeballs? Has a gaping pit of despair opened in our stomach? Have we become so excited that we’re hyper? Pausing to recognize these conditions helps us come down from our emotional high.

Its turns out that applying patience to a situation is also an act of gratitude. We are so thankful for a new lease on life. We may find ourselves reminded that as people in recovery we can demonstrate our gratitude by turning to love and tolerance. We committed in the Third Step to building a better world by helping others:

God, I offer myself to Thee

To build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt

Relieve me of the bondage of self

That I may better do Thy will

and take away my difficulties

that victory over them

may bear witness to those I would help

of Thy power, Thy love, and Thy way of life.

May I do Thy will always.

The bolded areas indicate that our HP wants us to engage in constructive action and help others. It’s the contract we made with God: Save me, and I’ll help You and others. If we react to our emotions (especially the negative ones) instead of pausing, then we risk destroying rather than building. We risk alienating others whom we might help.

So pausing is an opportunity to demonstrate gratitude. We’ve been saved from the doom of compulsive eating, and we return the favor by not going off half-cocked for selfish reasons. We wait as long as is necessary, perhaps a lifetime, perhaps a second. But we wait, sometimes gritting our teeth in gratitude, so that we we can be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

Tradition of the Month: Innovation from Autonomy

4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or OA as a whole.

In OA, there is no one food plan. Our statement on abstinence says only that “abstinence is the action of refraining from compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors while working towards or maintaining a healthy body weight.” Each member determines what abstinence means for them and a food plan and action plan that support their abstinence. No one in the program has the right to tell anyone what they can and cannot do.

In other words, while we depend on the fellowship for support, we are each autonomous in how we work our program.

This very same principle applies to meetings. There is no one way to run a meeting. OA has some important guidelines about meeting formats such as allowing all members the chance to share, avoiding crosstalk, promoting the 12 Steps, and abiding by the 12 Traditions. Beyond that, however, OA as an organization lacks much central authority.

Most organizations have a great deal of centralized authority. There are chains of command and rules both spoken and unspoken. We might think of OA instead with an analogy. OA’s World Service is a greenhouse, and each meeting is one of the plants inside of it. World Service supplies a broad, roomy, and safe place for groups to grow. The beams and glass of the greenhouse are the 12 Traditions. Each group sits in its own pot, finding its own way to thrive. Not every plant will survive, but most will, and they produce their own beautiful flowers.

Sometimes, however, a blight, pest, or invasive species may be inadvertently introduced to the greenhouse. When this occurs, we carefully watch to see whether groups’ own natural defenses will be enough to keep it at bay. If we mind the 12 Traditions, that’s likely. But because we are human beings, events can get ahead of us and begin to spread throughout the greenhouse. When this occurs, we need to be vigilant, and we need to act parsimoniously, doing exactly enough to remedy the issue. We can’t beat the issue by killing everything we’ve planted.

Blatant and repeated breaks of tradition are often cause for consternation and cries for action. But we may find that they end up damaging the metaphorical host plant before it can infect others. So we watch carefully instead of flying off the handle and threatening extreme sanctions. This is the essence of autonomy. It’s OK to let groups do things wrong and to fail. The fourth Tradition explicitly says we don’t get involved unless “other groups and OA as a whole” are affected. Notice it doesn’t say “OA members.” We are not in charge of making things perfect for the newcomer, though many of us have that fear. We are not in charge of making sure someone else is “doing it right,” though our perfectionistic streaks may swell with anxiety.

Ultimately, OA is anarchic by design. This sort of hands-off approach has the great benefit of creating opportunities for innovation. A new and successful meeting format may emerge from the wide experimentations of our groups. We stifle that impulse at OA’s expense…which is ultimately our own expense. So we encourage autonomy and only act if it’s absolutely necessary.

Step of the Month: 10 Suggestions for Completing Our Inventory

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Oftentimes when members contemplate Step 4, the moral inventory, they think Uh-oh. Who wants to face the past? We’ve been eating compulsively to forget it. Who wants to know the bad stuff about themselves? We’ve been eating compulsively to forget that too. Who wants to stare down their fears? We’ve also been eating compulsively to forget them. But compulsive eating never solves the problem. It’s only delaying the inevitable confrontation with ourselves or hastening our demise so we won’t ever have to look ourselves in the eyes.

Are we really that awful? We’re not, but we may not be able to understand that until we actually write our inventory. So for those wary of the inventory or approaching it in their step work, here are several suggestions for completing Step 4 that we hear frequently from those that have worked through it.

  1. It’s not as scary as we thought. In fact, for many of us, we realized that we’d built it up into some kind of monster, yet it turns out to be very gentle.
  2. Just get going. If we wait until we’re ready, we may never start at all. Our window of willingness is only open for so long before we’re again drowning in self-pity and sugar-coated sugar bombs (or whatever our favorite kind of binge foods are).
  3. Write every day. Look, if we’re going to do this thing, let’s get it the heck done! Why delay receiving the gifts of recovery! Even if we only write one page or one entry on a given day, it’s better than nothing at all.
  4. Use a timer. Commit to a certain amount of time each day, and use a kitchen timer to ensure to reach that goal. Because otherwise, our sickened minds will tell us that five minutes is thirty minutes.
  5. Say the Third Step Prayer every time you write. If we’re writing our inventory, then we ought to have completed Step 3. The prayer associated with it (on page 63 of The Big Book) is, in essence, a contract with God. If our HP helps us recover, then we’ll pass it on and be of service to others. It’s helpful to be reminded of that goal while we write. We’re not there to recover so that we can merely feel better. We’re writing inventory so that by our surviving this disease, we can be a beacon to others with our affliction. By helping them, we further insure ourselves against recidivism. So we say the prayer to remember Who’s in charge, and how the program will transform selfish us.
  6. Let God do the writing. By saying the Third Step Prayer, we’re acknowledging that HP is in charge. So then, as we write, we can take care to listen for God’s voice. We may think we know all about ourselves, but in reality, much is buried deep inside us, and we need more power than we have to dig it all out. When we let God push our pen and run the show, we are assured of success.
  7. Perfect is the enemy of recovery. Seeking perfection is self-centeredness running amok, and the Steps are helping to deflate that very kind of attitude. Instead of asking if it’s a perfect job of inventorying, we trust that God will help us see what we need to see. Getting stuck in perfection is a great way to just get stuck.
  8. Use visual aids. The Big Book tells us to be fearless and thorough. So as we make our grudge list, before we declare it done, we might consult yearbooks, photographs, directories, old address books, Facebook, any place where we might get a visual reminder of someone we resent. If we feel anger toward a person, or if we feel some gnawing but unnamable feeling, it’s worth adding them to the list.
  9. Lean on a sponsor. To write an inventory, we must be sure our sponsor has written one, and talk to them frequently about it. We check in with them often, showing them our writing. We can’t be too careful because our minds love to sabotage our efforts to get better. A sponsor can gently show us where our brains are trying to take over and BS us.
  10. The BIG SECRET is that we’re not so bad after all. Yup, if we do this inventory well, trusting God along the way, and working closely with our sponsor, we’re going to discover that while we may have done some bad things, we are not bad people. In fact, we’re good people who have been stuck in a rut thanks to a disease that controls our minds and actions. We see how we’ve been trapped and now we start to see the path ahead of us. A path that’s cleared of choking debris and that leads in  purposeful direction. All those defects of character and experiences we’d rather forget are about to be turned into assets by which we will help others and lead a happy, joyous, and free life.

GET WRITING! KEEP WRITING! FIND FREEDOM!

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.