War with food is not the answer

Today is Memorial Day when we remember those who lost their lives in battle. Military personnel are taught to never run from a fight. In the midst of the chaos of battle, they press toward the enemy’s position, pursuing their mission objective. They fight; they don’t run.

For compulsive eaters, it’s nearly the opposite. Our battle rages day and night inside our minds and our bodies. There is no place to run. But the more we fight, the worse it gets. No matter how close we get to our mission’s objective, it remains out of reach. As it turns out, we’re on the wrong battleground, and we’re using the wrong weaponry.

As food addicts, many of us spend much of our life wondering why the weapon of self-will isn’t effective against this intractable enemy. No matter how much will we summon, we can’t defeat the food. So we call in our air support: books, diet plans, nutrition classes, anything outside ourselves that we thought might soften up the enemy’s will to fight another day. Instead, it is we who lose morale as we see the food continuing to advance on us, seemingly unstoppable despite all we throw at it.

Next we call in the heavy guns: People such as our physician, celebrity doctors, counselors, hypnotists, psychologists, diet mavens, knowledgable friends and family, even charlatans and mountebanks if they promise us results. We recognize that we can’t win out by ourselves, so we must get reinforcements. We’d seen others get better with the help of people, but our hearts sink when we see that our experts’ heavy weaponry did little more good than our own.

Desperate, we dig a trench around our position. We’d throw away our favorite foods, swear off, and isolate from the outside world. But that doesn’t stop the food either. The fortunate may finally recognized at this point that they are about to be overwhelmed by the enemy.

Some fall to the food forever, but a few lucky ones—bloodied, wounded, out of ammo—stumble into OA. That’s where we discover that the enemy wasn’t ever the food. The enemy was inside of the lines all along.

We fought, fought, and fought on the physical, and maybe emotional, plane. But OA shows us that recovery occurs on the spiritual plane. As the Big Book tells us, “When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.”

We might decide to keep fighting the losing battle, but if we accept that compulsive eating has a spiritual solution, then the truth comes to us. At first it seems to us that we have gone to this food-war with slingshots instead of guns. But eventually we realize that war, itself, is not the answer. Surrender is.

The battle over our spirits cannot by won through opposition and combat. It can only be won by giving up the idea that we can win at all. Once we do so, we realize that our generalship has led us from one humiliating defeat to another. We need a better leader, which is our Higher Power, however we choose to define a Higher Power.

Once we give control over to God and let go of the idea that we must fix our problem alone, we suddenly find that our enemy has begun a retreat. But we have a cunning opponent, and we cannot let it lure us into complacency. As we do each of the Twelve Steps, the enemy’s retreat continues, and as we attempt to expand our spiritual selves over time, it remains at bay.

But it is always lurking over the next rise, sending scouts out to probe the weakness in our defenses. So long as our defense is our HP, we’ll be OK.

If we keep fighting the way we have been, then we’re heading to a food addict’s Memorial Day. But if we work toward the spiritual solution, we’ll instead be around to celebrate Veterans Day.

Memorial Day

Tomorrow we celebrate the sacrifice of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have given their life in service to our country. It’s a day of parades, wreath laying, and, of course, eating.

Many of us will attend picnics and parties where a spread of every salty, fatty, sugary, and floury food will be on display. And lots of it, free for the taking. We will be tempted, lured, attracted, and even admonished to eat things not on our food plans and in quantities no longer appropriate for our life in recovery. In our meetings this coming week, we will celebrate along with those who made it through cleanly, and we will encourage those who didn’t to get back on the horse.

Of course, the answer to how to get through Memorial Day is best talked about with a sponsor, but the same general guidelines apply to any similar occasion.

  • Ask God for help before, during, and after the event
  • Use the tools: have a food plan, use the phone if tempted, get to a meeting afterward if you still feel the compulsion.
  • Don’t go if you will be unsafe around the food.
  • Treat the day just as you would any other, not as an excuse to go off the wagon.
  • One day at a time!

But let’s take the conceit of Memorial Day and think of it in OA terms. We in OA have witnessed many who have died from this disease and its complications. In our own area, we know OA members who have died from heart maladies exacerbated by their physical condition as well as those who have taken their own lives from the desperation this disease causes. Among us now are those who count themselves as absolutely certain that without the benefits of our program, they would no longer be alive. Outside OA examples of the ravages of this disease show in the obituaries each day.

We have a life and death illness. It doesn’t go away, but it responds to the treatment known as OA. We survivors, however, are left with reminders. Those reminders might even help us get through Memorial Day weekend without eating compulsively. In OA our defects are turned into assets for helping us and our fellows recover. Our Higher Power uses these reminders of our disease when we remember how miserable our life as compulsive eaters was. Here’s some examples of those reminders:

  • loose skin
  • stretch marks
  • pitting in our skin from weight-related edema
  • limping caused by damage to our hips, knees, or ankles
  • surgical scars from joint replacements, organ surgeries, and other procedures
  • missing toes due to type 2 diabetes
  • dental work caused by eating too much sugary food or by throwing up
  • chronic acid-reflux or heartburn
  • breathing issues
  • sleeping issues
  • clothes we can no longer fit into—too big or too small
  • photos from the bad old days
  • wedding rings we no longer can wear because our marriage dissolved before the food problem was solved.

For us overeaters, it’s not a question of whether we are scarred by this disease, only where. Even if we can’t see or feel the scars on or inside our bodies, we probably also have many, many emotional scars in our psyches related to this disease. Shame, guilt, a feeling of unworthiness, depression, anxiety, remorse, regret, and loneliness, run rampant among us food addicts. Our disease may try to trigger us with flashbacks to traumatic, embarrassing, or merely difficult events in our lives. Like picking at an infected scab.

Instead of seeing all of this as pain to number with food, we have an opportunity to see them as the reason not to eat. Reminders of how lousy life can be when we eat compulsively and don’t stay in touch with God.

Unlike a war in the conventional, real-world sense, we OA members don’t get leave time, and our war never ends. The good news, however, is that we don’t have to fight the battle. In fact, when we surrender, we win! So on Memorial Day, we can enjoy peace by letting God do the fighting for us and by using what we know about the fellowship, the Steps, and the Tools to keep this disease from turning us into another casualty statistic in the war for our bodies, minds, and spirits.