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.

10 ways to know if you are obsessing about food

Are you really obsessed with food and powerless over it? Here are ten common forms of obsessive thinking about food that many OA members have experienced. If you’ve experienced these or similar thinking, you may be in the grip of the obsession with food.

1. Moments after finishing one meal, you begin thinking about the next

You arrive at work at 9:00, having just tossed down a quick breakfast. For the next several hours, you fixate on what you’ll get for lunch. The minutes tick away. You tell yourself you’ll wait until 1:00, but at 12:15, you say “screw it” and yank the takeout menu from the top drawer of your desk….

2. Anytime you have a strong feeling (happy, mad, sad, glad), you get the urge to eat

The Red Sox win! Time to eat. My daughter has filed for divorce. Time to eat. The cable is on the fritz again. Time to eat. My doctor called, and the diabetes hasn’t gotten as bad as I’d feared. Time to eat.

3. Food thoughts pop unbidden into your mind throughout the day and over time

The deadline for that report is the end of the day. You’re about halfway done. This section is just killing you. Then this thought: Oh, remember that time in Denver when I had that dessert with….

4. The same foods or food types dominate your thinking


5. You rationalize food behaviors

“Just because my blood sugar is at dangerous levels doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have a little fun. My doctor is such wet blanket. He’d eat too if he had to deal with what I deal with. What’s one little bite going to do to me anyway. I’m making too much of this.”

6. Ultimately, you always lose the argument with yourself about your eating

  • Good Self: Don’t eat that last helping that’s in the dish. You know it’s just going to make you fatter.
  • Bad Self: But it’s good. You deserve a treat.
  • Good Self: Think about how much more exercise or dieting you’d have to do to get rid of it.
  • Bad Self: Like you’ve worried about it lately, anyway?
  • Good Self: And your knees always hurt, and your back hurts, and your neck hurts.
  • Bad Self: Exactly, so just have a bite and we’ll take away the pain for a few moments.

7. The idea of going without certain foods creates a visceral reaction of fear or anger

Something is upside down if life wouldn’t be worth living without a favorite food.

8. You often plan elaborate meals months in advance, sometimes even for fantasy meals that will never happen

And you’re not a chef, caterer, wedding planner, or other culinary or event-planning professional.

9. Passing a convenience store triggers you to stop and buy food

Our dealer is on every corner and even has signs inviting us in. But we don’t really need those signs because we know exactly where the store keeps the goodies we want need.

10. Pushing away a half-eaten plate seems utterly foreign

She’s not going to finish that? Is she ill? What planet is she from? If she’s not going to eat, maybe I can.

11. I’ll never get skinny—I might as well just keep eating my face off

There’s a lot truth here. We likely never will get the body we want when our mind constantly thinks about food. That’s because we can’t fix ourselves. We can’t outwit our own diseased minds.

This is just a selection of the kinds of thinking we hear about in OA meetings all the time. These old tapes run endlessly in our minds while we remain in the throes of compulsive eating.

But there is a solution.

The 12 Steps of OA provide relief from the daily slog of trying to think ourselves out of a disease that works through our own minds. With OA’s help we can eat like a normal person, one day at a time.

Permission to be powerless

Once we walk through the doors of OA, we may think that we have made the big decision.  We have finally given up the ghost with food. Our compulsive eating has left our minds, emotions, and spirit battered and bruised. We tell ourselves we really mean it. After all, why else would we go to meetings?

As we read OA literature, listen at meetings, and talk to our fellows, we begin to understand the idea of powerlessness. We learn that we cannot control our own eating by an act of willpower. We cannot stop once we’ve started, and we cannot stop from starting. We need this program because we grasp the seriousness of the situation. And yet, many of us struggle for a long time with Step 1.

Of course, to some degree, the struggle to gain abstinence arises from the cycle of cravings we initiate any time we pick up that first bite. This physical manifestation of our disease demands more and more food. Yet, many of us will put down the food long enough to be relieved of the physical sensation of craving only to return to our old eating behaviors. We’ve all been in meetings where a member shares that they can’t explain why they threw a month, six months, a year or two of abstinence out the window.

The insidious idea that after some abstinence we can control our food is planted by our disease. It grows slowly over time. We may begin a period of abstinence as desperate as we’ve ever been, yet give it a little while, and we begin to feel and act as if we’ve been doing the trick all along by our lonesomes. We forget so quickly the lessons that our years of compulsive eating have taught us. Our periods of control are temporary as long as we’re running the show.

Why do we do this? Is it possible that we haven’t given ourselves permission to be powerless? That is, permission to admit to ourselves that when it comes to food addiction our best efforts aren’t, and will never be, good enough to beat the rap. We know it to be true intellectually, and we resist and resist and resist it. We refuse to admit that something as simple as eating has us defeated, even in the face of a lifetime of evidence. Perhaps we ultimately fear that if this thing has us beaten, then all our fears about our own worth or inadequacy are also true?

Good news: they aren’t, and we discover this when we do the Steps. But first we have to give ourselves permission to accept some hard truths. Not just intellectually, but all the way deep down inside. Not just between our ears but between our ribs. We need to take OA actions not because our sponsor suggests them but because we desperately feel we want to recover, not because we think we ought to. We give ourselves permission to embrace the outcome of recovery instead of the fear of what happens if we don’t recover. We give ourselves permission to succeed rather than to avoid failing.

The Big Book tells us that with an attitude of courage and faith, we cannot fail. We give ourselves permission to put our faith in the Steps rather than drive ourselves crazy in another vain attempt to white knuckle our way to the false promise of self-controlled eating.

We will never achieve self-control with food. But with OA’s help we can achieve something far better. We can have a life of purpose, contentedness, and gratitude instead of food obsession, anxiety, and shame. All we have to do is admit defeat so that we can begin to reclaim victory.


Step of the Month: Step One, Resolutions

  1. We admitted we were powerless over food—that our lives had become unmanageable.

Unmet New Years resolutions are almost as ubiquitous as resolutions themselves. Each of us knows dozens, maybe hundreds of people who decide that January 1st is the day they will start losing weight, not eating this or that, controlling their portion sizes, exercising, or “eating healthy.” Most of these well-intentioned individuals will have broken their resolution before the end of the month. Many before the end of the week.

How many times did we compulsive eaters resolve to stop binging, to cease numbing ourselves with food, or to get right with our bodies? How many, many times? We didn’t need an excuse like the new year either. In “The Doctor’s Opinion” in the Big Book, Dr. Silkworth describes the cycle of addiction as including “a firm resolution” never to abuse our substance again. We entered this cycle multiple times daily, thousands of times yearly. Of course, that’s not the end of the cycle, it just takes us back to the beginning of it because we are filled with remorse and worry that the next time will be just like every other time. And so our firm resolve dissolves.

Yes, the difference between compulsive eaters and all those many people making food-related resolutions is that they can stop and we can’t. Oh, we might stop for a little while. Maybe even several months or years. But in the meantime we’re utterly miserable, or we turn to some other substance or activity to take the place of food. But eventually we will return to food because we’ll still be thinking about it all the while. While we think we are abstaining, we are merely white-knuckling it. We imagine our high resolve will win out, but inside we know the truth of our powerlessness.

The problem with resolutions for people like us is simple to see: Resolutions only work when we have power in a situation. We addicts have nothing to bring to resolutions because we are powerless. We can bring no will to bear on our food problem. Without that will, we can’t manage our food. Then we find that life is unmanageable as well because our food obsession has taken over and drives our thinking during times when we ought to be focusing on how to do our jobs, love our families, or make decisions.

So if we can’t use willpower and have no resolve, how does OA work? For one thing, the first Step isn’t the only Step. We must first admit our powerless and the unmanageability of our life. In doing so we make a good start, but we’ve only identified the what of our disease and not the how of our solution to it. However, we crucially recognize that the power needed to overcome our affliction is not inside our minds. We can’t think our way out.

If we get a bloody cut on our knee, we don’t ignore it and hope it goes away. Similarly, we don’t stanch the bleeding by telling ourselves we’ll do better next time we fall. Nor do we go to a surgeon and request the whole leg be taken off. To do any of these things would be lying to ourselves about our present condition and would inhibit our ability to heal. Well, that’s just how it is with Step One. We assess the fact of our obsession with food and its affect on us. We do this in the cold light of day so that we can find the warm light of the Spirit to guide us to our solution.

Here then is the importance of Step One. We see that our way isn’t working and is making us miserable. When we see the facts laid bare and accept them, we can find the willingness and desperation to start over and find the necessary Power outside of our minds. And if we follow the Twelve Steps, we never have to make a resolution around food again.