12 Questions for Compulsive Food Behaviors…Not Related to Binge Foods

Many OAs celebrate Easter today, and for most American families, this holiday includes baskets of candy. If we have arrived at an easy-going abstinence, those sugary items may not call to us, but even if we have abstinence, we have to be on guard.

Holidays don’t typically end with stockings or baskets full of candy. We might get through the initial assault of Easter baskets, only to find that the battle is far from over. Special meals (with or without family and friends) come soon after. There may be an enfilade of appetizers to weaken our resolve before the main bombardment of fatty, sweet, bready, and salty foods commences.

We are so used to overeating on holidays that we may not realize that our mind is heading in that direction. This disease is cunning, baffling, and powerful, and it will use our minds, our experiences, our memories, and anything else it can to reel us back into compulsive eating. It will also make us forget things! Like how awful we feel when we eat compulsively.

All of which draws our attention to OA’s statement on abstinence (emphasis added):

“Abstinence in Overeaters Anonymous is the action of refraining from compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors while working towards or maintaining a healthy body weight. Spiritual, emotional, and physical recovery is the result of living the Overeaters Anonymous Twelve Step program.”

When you stop and read that bolded part carefully, this abstinence thing is about a lot more than our individual binge foods. If we stop eating M&Ms and donuts that’s great! But have we stopped eating compulsively? Are we still engaging in compulsive food behaviors? Here’s twelve questions that might help us spot some common compulsive food behaviors that don’t include binge foods:

  1. Are we gaining weight or stuck at an unhealthy weight even though we’ve given up our individual binge foods?
  2. Do we argue ourselves into the idea that a healthy weight for us is one that’s above what’s medically recommended for us?
  3. Are we licking pots, pans, or dishes?
  4. Do we feel compelled to get at our planned meal fast?
  5. Are we thinking about our next meal rather than the task in front of us?
  6. Are we overfull when we stop eating?
  7. Do we fear telling our sponsor what or how much we’ve eaten because they will tell us to get honest about quantities?
  8. Are we clinging tooth-and-nail to yellow-light foods that should go into the red-light category?
  9. Do we eat mindlessly in front of the TV, on the phone, in the car, or in any similar situation?
  10. Are we eating between planned meals?
  11. Do we reward ourselves with abstinent food before, during, and/or after a difficult situation?
  12. Is our mind, right now, trying to tell us we don’t do these things, even though our heart knows we do?

If we answer yes to some or all of these questions, we may want to remember what the “Doctor’s Opinion” in the Big Book tells us. It describes the cycle of addiction:

  1. We have some kind of feeling and want to take the edge off.
  2. These feelings initiate the mental obsession with eating and food.
  3. We eat.
  4. Now eating either activates physical cravings or returns us into compulsive food behaviors.
  5. We become remorseful.
  6. We resolve to do better next time.
  7. Next time comes, and we repeat the same process again and again and again.

Notice that the first thing that happens is a feeling, and then the obsession begins. It doesn’t begin with the binge foods or compulsive behaviors. Our disease may still be working on us, using our feelings to get us eating non-binge foods in compulsive ways.

OA wisdom suggests that the best thing to do is be honest with ourselves and another person. If we aren’t getting the results we want in OA, or if we feel like we’re missing out on some part of recovery, perhaps we are. Our sponsors and other members can help, but most important to ask our Higher Power for the willingness to be honest, listen to suggestions, and take action. After all, we have to be ready to go to any length for recovery.


3 Suggestions for Staying Abstinent on Valentine’s Day

For many people in the US, Valentine’s Day is synonymous with one thing: Chocolate. For others, it might also include a romantic dinner date as well. For OA members, especially those whose abstinence hinges on refraining from sugary foods and alcohol, it’s yet another holiday where we have to watch out.

In fact, many OAs will tell you that Valentine’s Day stings in a way that other special days don’t. Go to any meeting, and over time you’ll hear how our disease has caused us vast pain romantically speaking. Things such as:

  • I was too ashamed to pursue romantic relationships or say yes to them
  • My eating became more important than my marriage
  • I didn’t believe anyone could love me
  • I tried to control everything in all of my relationships
  • I hid my eating and my disease from my spouse.

These and many similar sentiments and experiences indicate how negatively compulsive eating and food addiction have impacted our lives. It’s hard to love or be loved when we hate ourselves for the terrible damage we do to our bodies, minds, and spirits through food.

When we do the 12 Steps, we route out the negative patterns associated with this old thinking. We come to discover that our Higher Power (whatever it may be) doesn’t create junk. Through working the Steps, we find a new source of strength and courage, and food ceases to call us in the way it has. We don’t have to fight constantly to maintain abstinence, it just comes.

But what about before we finish that work? While we haven’t yet exposed that negative thinking to the daylight and revealed the awful lies we’ve been telling ourselves for what they really are? How do we, when confronted with happy couples, heart-shaped boxes, and champagne dinners, keep away from the first bite?

First of all, we have to remember that we are always “activated before the first bite is taken.” If we are obsessing about food, it’s because some feeling has gripped us…and we don’t like feelings! We may not be able to identify that feeling, but it’s there, and it is reminding us of every bad feeling we keep inside us, buried under years of overeaten food. (The very ones that Steps 4 through 9 help us get rid of!) And what will activate us more than thoughts about our isolation (within or outside of a relationship)?

So we know we are activated. The obsession is on us. We MUST act fast and decisively to stave off the first bite. Because once the first bite is taken, our bodies resume their physical dependence on food. Here’s three simple things we can do RIGHT NOW:

  1. Pray like our life depends upon it: If we have a conception of a Higher Power, our first order of business is to pray for strength and the willingness to go to any length to avoid the first bite. By the way, our life does depend on it.
  2. Call people in the program: That 1,000 pound phone actually gets lighter once we pick it up. We can start by dialing our sponsor, then trusted friends. If we don’t reach someone, we can keep dialing until we do. It’s worth it. Remember that it’s always better to call before we eat compulsively than after.
  3. Get to a meeting: No meeting in our area at this hour? If we are willing to go to any lengths, then central New Hampshire, southern Maine, and Mass aren’t very far to go. Check their website to see if they have a meeting. We can also go to OA.org and look up a phone meeting. Don’t even have to leave the house for that!

These simple suggestions remind us that until we have completed a thorough run through the Steps and established a working relationship with God as we understand God, we need the support of the fellowship. Without it, we’re just like the mouse under the cat’s paw. Waiting the death blow, but not sure how long our disease will keep batting us around for its fun.

And after all, this is a matter of life and death.