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.

Tradition of the Month: Specialness from inclusivity

3. The only requirement for OA membership is a desire to stop eating compulsively.

Remember those mens jackets from the 1980s that had the epaulet-like straps on their shoulders? No? What if I asked you to remember a Members Only jacket? Of course! Now you remember with ease. Those little bits of fabric served zero useful functions for the wearer of the jacket, but they sure did a lot for the manufacturer’s brand awareness. Why every time you saw one of those coats, you knew exactly what company’s jacket it was.

The name of the brand was chosen to give shoppers a sense of belonging to an exclusive club. Exclusivity in our culture tends to be held in greater esteem than inclusivity. If everyone can join, what makes a club special?

Tradition Three, however, turns that idea upside down. Instead of making OA a chummy old-boys network, a fraternity with hazing rituals, or an underground scene for hipsters in the know, our founders and AA’s founders before them, chose to accept members with open arms. People suffering from the misery of addiction don’t have time for secret handgrips, they need a solution now before the rest of their life turns into their death. When we are foggy with food, the window of willingness might not stay open long enough for us to learn arcane truths that allow us to pass onto the next level of mastery.

So in OA, we throw our arms around the whole world. If we want to stop eating compulsively, we41 can join. We don’t even have to want it all the way. Even a wisp or fleeting notion does the trick. Anything to get us into a seat at our first meeting.

We often hear members open their sharing by saying, “I want to claim my seat.” From the point of view of Tradition Three, we are never obligated to claim anything other than our desire to stop eating compulsively. And even that claim need only be to ourselves. No one in OA will be quizzed about that desire. The desire, though shared by many, is ours alone. The very act of sitting down at an OA meeting is claim enough on our seat.

While a desire to stop eating compulsively is all we need to get in the door, it’s easy to get off track and walk back out the door. Tradition Three ensures that when we return, we will once more be taken in lovingly and without question. We will not face a panel of questioners when we come back through the door. No one can tell us that by leaving we forfeited the claim to our seat. Quite the opposite! Typically, returning members find their seat kept warm for them by their OA friends.

Of course, this Tradition carries with it responsibilities. Individual members must uphold this Tradition so that future members will be similarly welcomed. To do so, we greet newcomers warmly and give them some sense of how OA operates. Just as was done for us. At the group level, when tensions arise at a business meeting or out of the behavior of a single member, we do our best to observe principles, not react to personalities. We remember that are all chronically ill, and that we once displayed behavioral difficulties, just as the disruptive member may be doing. We avoid legislating members out of our group or putting up psychological walls between “us” and “them.”

Because in the end, thanks to the imperative magnanimity of Tradition Three, we all have an equal claim on our seat, and no claim against anyone else’s.

 

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.

Tradition of the Month: Dissenting opinions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step of the Month: Obstinance or Abstinence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

I should be able to do this myself.

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

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

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

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

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