Step One

We admitted we were powerless over
our compulsive behavior with food ~
that our lives had become unmanageable.


Hi. I'm Penny, a gratefully recovering compulsive eater and food addict.

(By the way, unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from The 12 Steps and 12 Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous.)

I knew I was powerless over food the day I walked into my first OA meeting. At least, I sort of accepted the idea. I knew I had done abnormal things with food; I knew I couldn't stop eating; I knew I could no longer stay on a diet. I knew that food and eating, which had at first been a means of socialization and liberation, had taken over my mind and body.

So if this was all true, how come it took me 5 years to finally surrender and get abstinent? Well, I was powerless over food - but I still wanted to eat things that I had to admit created a craving that I could not resist. I still gave myself permission to eat what I wanted because "I could handle" these foods. I had accepted Step 1 mentally and spiritually, but definitely *not* physically. That would not come for 5 years (to be followed by a period of abstinence, a relapse and now a second period abstinence - more about that later). Bottom line was that I wanted to eat, but I didn't want the results of eating. I heard people talk about not eating this or that food, but I was going to be different - not like those "controllers."

How *do* we admit our powerlessness? How do we tangibly and concretely acknowledge the reality that "we are not like normal people when it comes to eating. We can't quit . We crave more. Our bodies and minds seem to send us signals . (We have) abnormal tendencies?" (OA 12 & 12, p. 2)

One place to start is with knowledge that leads to awareness, and it is suggested that we "take a good look at our compulsive eating, obesity, and the self-destructive things we have done to avoid obesity - the dieting, starving, over-exercising, or purging." (p. 3)

My history of compulsive eating is probably similar to most compulsive eaters. I started bingeing, stealing money to buy food, and sneaking around to get food in 6th grade. I felt inadequate and socially awkward, and I decided that food would/could be my equalizer. Food and eating could make me popular. I got this idea from watching classmates eat lunch at a local luncheonette or go out to local bakeries during lunch. That made them look mature, and I was sure that if they saw me at those places, they'd want me to be a friend, too, and that they would be impressed with my maturity. So I ate my in-school or at-home lunch, steal money from my parents, and sneak out to the local hangouts. Even though my ploy didn't work - they never did like me - I stuck to this plan throughout high school.

Food was my comfort and my friend, and I jumped into eating with a vengeance. I think I was a binge eater from the get-go. I got fat, I was miserable, and I kept eating. I ate out of garbage cans and freezers; I ate out of serving bowls and off other peoples' plates. I stole food from grocery stores and spent hours eating entire boxes, bags and jars of food. If someone mentioned my weight, it was usually that I was so pretty, if only. Well, I'd show `em - and I ate to cover up the pain.

I'll only talk about my first diet here. I was a senior in high school (you know, the fat kid that no one ever wanted to date), and my doctor had told me that if I didn't lose weight I'd have a heart attack and die. I don't know how I found this diet, but I did. It was a binger's heaven because I could eat all the protein I wanted and still lose weight. Dozens of eggs, pounds of meat. It was wonderful. I commented to my mother (may she rest in peace - she died of this disease) that I didn't know what I was going to do once I lost all the weight because I didn't really know how to eat any less. Her response was that I would figure it out. I didn't figure it out, and in fact went in the other direction, turning to anorexia because I was afraid of gaining weight again, and I believed that I had to severely restrict my food intake to control my weight. Power for me was the ability to eat only 400 calories a day. I was thin and I could wear fashionable clothing without looking stupid. And I was OK as long as I maintained strict control over what I ate.

Needless to say, "the day always came when the excess food looked so inviting to us we couldn't resist, and our firm resolutions were forgotten. We always started overeating again gradually (or rapidly); the eating worsened until at last we out of control." (p. 3) Part of my problem was that I truly believed that once I got thin, I'd never be fat again. I thought that being thin meant that I had developed an immunity to weight gain, and I could eat whatever I wanted and not get fat. Denial, illusion, delusion. Whatever. Diet, binge, fat, skinny. The cycle continued for the next 20 years.

Emotionally, when I was fat I was miserable; when I was thin, I felt powerful (but still miserable. What on earth was this about?). My life was a wreck no matter what, but it would be years before I would put the two phenomena together.

"Once we honestly examine our histories, we can deny it no longer: our eating and our attitudes toward food are not normal; we have this disease." (p. 3)

Questions for journaling and sharing:

1. Take a good look at your compulsive eating, obesity, and self- destructive things you have done to avoid obesity. Please share your thoughts with the group if you feel comfortable doing so.

2. I've heard a term for my belief that thin was an antidote to ever being fat again. The term is "magical thinking." Have you ever experienced this?

Yours in recovery,

Penny, Step Leader
WTS 2002 Study, 2nd Quarter



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