Step One

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


My Story

My name is Penny, and I am a compulsive eater. Sometimes I define myself as a food addict. Itís my honor and privilege to lead the next quarterís Working the Steps Study, and I am grateful to have been given the opportunity.

I joined OA on August 17, 1987, a few days after raging inwardly because my newborn twin sons wanted attention, and I wanted to eat. I half-heartedly tried OA in 1977-1978, but I wasnít ready or willing. My OA history is one of always trying, never leaving, taking one small step at a time and learning to value myself as a human being created by God (thatís what I call my Higher Power), worthy of taking up some small amount of air on this planet.

Let me give you a brief history of what I was like before OA; itís pretty simple. I was a frightened child who was socially awkward and who never grew up emotionally. Intellectually I could run rings around the smartest person, but socially I was a mess. I wanted to fit in with the popular kids and got the notion that food would do it for me. I figured that if I could be seen eating at the local luncheonette where all the popular kids ate when they went out of school during lunch, then theyíd think that I was equally grown up. So I ate lunch at home or school and then went to the hangouts and ate another lunch. I had an eating buddy, and we spent lunchtime chowing down at various local stores. Needless to say, my weight blossomed. Sad to say, I honestly donít remember my outward body going through puberty; when youíre fat, nothing really changes physically. I was made fun of during gym, especially because in high school (at about age 14 or 15 ≠ yeah, I was young), I was wearing my motherís hand-me-down girdles and bras; my underwear was full of holes. You could say I was a physical wreck. The more my teachers and parents tried to urge me to lose weight, the more I said, "screw you," and the more I ate and the fatter I got. My junior high school and high school years were total misery for me. The world hated me, and I hated the world right back. I was the worldís victim. No one liked me ≠ and I ate the pain. I tried to buy friends with favors only to be ignored when it was time for them to return the favor by being my friend.

I did my first diet as a high school senior because I had been scared by the family doctor who assured me that I would have a heart attack very soon. My mother (z"l) ≠ who was also obese and who definitely was a compulsive eater ≠ and I went on the all-protein-all-water-all-peeing diet. It worked, especially when I didnít drink all the water ≠ Iím damned lucky that I didnít fry my kidneys. I lost a LOT of weight and loved wearing small ≠ teeny, actually ≠ sizes for the first time. I had found the solution to being fat: being thin. I found power in eating 400 calories a day. During and after college until I was married, my weight fluctuated 20 or 30 pounds, and I just went back on the all-protein-all-water-all-peeing diet to drop the weight.

But by the time I was 26 or so, married for a few years, I couldnít stay on the all-protein-all-water-all-peeing diet anymore mostly because my husband whoís a medical professional was really opposed; he told me to just watch what I ate and that he would take care of my food. Do I have to tell you that he was the recipient of a lot of my anger in those days? I went back to the local OA, where they gave me a diet (they called it a food plan) that seemed harsh (and my husband opposed it, too, because he said it wasnít nutritionally balanced); I tried to eat what was on the "food plan," but I couldnít do it. I think I tried to work the steps, but I donít remember, other than doing a fourth step. If you think working the fourth step is hard, try doing it while youíre actively bingeing; not a happy picture. So I left OA and went back to the diet circuit.

[An aside: all I ever wanted was for people to love me. And if that meant that I believed everything they said so they wouldnít be mad at me, then I did that. I had a lot of godlets in those days, people who IMO were more powerful, knowledgeable, intellectual, spiritual, etc. than me. "What do you think or feel about (xyz)?" "I donít know ≠ you tell me."]

But I couldnít stay on *any* diet anymore. I sought out commercial diets, nutritionists, my family doctor ≠ no one could understand how come I wasnít losing weight. Of course, I was lying through my teeth: I was eating way more than the diets called for; and I felt ashamed. Because I was so ashamed that I couldnít control myself around food, I ≠ of course ≠ blamed the commercial diets, the nutritionists and the doctor; it was their fault.

We had a daughter, and I kept eating. The day my second pregnancy was confirmed to be twins, all I wanted to do was eat, and I did ≠ for the rest of the pregnancy. I binged all day and starved in the evening so that my blood-sugar tests would be normal. I gained 65 pounds. Thank God (and I do mean that seriously), my sons were healthy young boys. And my eating went totally out of control. I was terrified of taking care of these beautiful children; terrified that I couldnít/wouldnít do it right; terrified that Iíd never have another moment of peace. And I ate. It got to the point where I was bingeing all day long and couldnít imagine life ≠ not even a minute ≠ without something in my mouth.

I called a friend who had experienced a lot of weight loss in OA; she told me to go to the next available meeting. I did ≠ on August 17, 1987 ≠ and I have never left.

My OA history is pretty rocky ≠ more about a lot of that history when we get into the step study. Itís enough to say that I didnít understand "powerless" for a long time; it was painful and terrifying for me to turn anything, much less my life, over to God; I relapsed and spent several years trying to get abstinent. But through it all, OA remained the focus of my life ≠ I *never* left. I kept going to meetings, sometimes skirting the issue, sometimes telling the truth. I kept on trying because I knew that there was no other answer for me. It was either OA or a slow, painful death (like my mother, who died of complications from this disease).

And today I am abstinent, living one day at a time through the blessing of menopause, working constantly on my relationship with God and learning to love me, my body, my self, one day at a time.

If you have worked the steps before, you get a chance to take another look. If you have not worked the steps before, you get a chance to gift yourself with love. If you have a sponsor, use that person. If you donít have a sponsor, get one ≠ fast. OA is not a program that you can do by yourself. In fact, we were never meant to go it alone, especially when it comes to recovery from compulsive eating/food addiction. Go to meetings (on line or f2f [face-to-face, aka "live" meetings]). Share your thoughts on the steps as you go through them.

With the blessing of peace,


Hereís a checklist of sorts to consult periodically as you go through this step study.

Are you abstinent? If youíre still eating compulsively, working the steps ≠ even just talking about them ≠ will become progressively more difficult. Some people believe that you can work the steps and working the steps will get you abstinent. Iím not one of those. Working the steps will remove the *obsession* for food; only abstinence/refraining from eating compulsively will remove the craving and allow you to work the steps, which will remove the obsession for food. So the question "are you abstinent?" is really a serious one. If youíre not ≠ if youíre still turning to excess food to get through your day, your problems, your life ≠ then what are you willing to do today so that you avoid eating compulsively, so that you avoid the compulsion?

Do you have a food plan? A plan of eating is a wonderful tool that helps give structure to food and helps us put down the foods that cause us to binge (called ≠ obviously enough ≠ binge foods). Work this out with your sponsor! Which brings me to ...

Do you have a sponsor? If you donít, get one. Find someone who has what you want and ask that person how s/he is achieving it. Do you want thin? Then find someone whoís thin. Do you want serenity? Find someone whoís got it. Do you want serious structure in your food? Find someone who weighs and measures everything s/he eats. Do you want someone who can answer the phone or respond to an e-mail immediately? Make sure the person you choose can give you what you want ≠ itís really important to be as up front as possible. If you find someone, and it doesnít work it, you can change sponsors as you wish; just let the person know. You can work with more than one sponsor (although that can be tricky).

Are you getting to meetings? It really helps to be with other people who have also eaten out of garbage pails, have eaten frozen food, have eaten boxes and boxes of whatever, have eaten to the point of vomiting and then have eaten some more, have starved and then binged. You know ≠ other people who are like you! You can find people on line or at a F2F (face-to-face AKA "live") meeting.

Do you have OA literature? It really helps to have a copy of the OA Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (the OA 12&12), "Alcoholics Anonymous" (the Big Book) and maybe even the AA Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (the AA 12&12). You can order them via Overeaters Anonymous at their website

Hugs ≠
Penny (compulsive eater/food addict)

Hi, friends. My name is Penny, and I am a compulsive eater/food addict and leader for the WTS 2nd Quarter Step Study.

This step is such a relief. Why did I binge when I wanted to eat moderately? Because Iím powerless over food. Why did I eat this or that when I had sworn that I wouldnít? Because Iím powerless over food. Why did I think about food all day long? Why did I eat when I was sad or tired or bored or happy or wide awake or busy? Because Iím powerless over food. Why wasnít being thin my antidote to gaining weight back? Because Iím powerless over food.

To help you work Step 1, I want to give you some definitions (from Merriam-Webster):

1. Compulsion: 1 a: an act of compelling: the state of being compelled b: a force that compels; 2: an irresistible impulse to perform an irrational act.

2. Obsession: a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling.

3. Craving: a: to want greatly: need (craves drugs) b: to yearn for (crave a vanished youth); to have a strong or inward desire (craves after affection)

Now I can continue. There are different kinds of food powerlessness.

One kind of powerlessness is the physical kind ≠ this is the easiest one to understand. Simply put, there are some foods and some food/eating behaviors that I cannot eat without developing the craving for more. Being physically powerless over food doesnít have anything to do with moral values or ethical behavior or being a good person or a louse. It has nothing to do with being intelligent or dim, street-smart or naÔve. Itís not personal, itís not moral, itís not a matter of intelligence. It just is. Being physically powerless over food means that if I eat certain foods, my body is going to crave more. I can use all the will power in the world, and if I eat some of these binge foods, my body is going to demand more. There arenít enough of these foods in the world to satisfy me once Iíve started; I want more.

I compare it to my allergy to cats. I love and adore cats. Iíd kill to be able to have a cat, especially a nice furry one that only wants to cuddle. Iím also allergic to cats ≠ I break out in itching and asthma when Iím around them. Without help, I am powerless over this reaction. Some people are allergic to certain foods or plants; their faces swell up and they develop hives. Without help, they are powerless over these reactions.

Surrenderís another Step 1 word. Back to the dictionary: to give up completely. Working Step 1 requires me to give up completely all the attitudes I had towards diets, weight loss, body size ≠ in short, everything related to food.

It took me a long time to get over my defiance and denial of this truth. I wanted to be able to eat whatever I wanted; I just wanted to eat those things in moderation. Iíll tell you a secret: I canít eat these foods in moderation. When it comes to these foods, my "moderator button" is permanently on "off." I knew other OAís who said they avoided certain foods; I was going to be different. They were into control; I was into spirituality. Well, guess what? They were losing weight and feeling serene and content around food; I was not. Clearly my way wasnít working, but it took a few years for me to surrender.

A second kind of powerlessness is mental. I used to think about food all day long: when, where, how much I was going to eat and how I would feel afterward. When I was on a diet, I made weight-loss charts and thought about when, where, how much I was going to eat and how I would feel afterward. Itís called obsession, and no matter what the perfume commercial says, itís not a good thing for a compulsive eater. Even in OA recovery there are times I think a lot about food; itís one way I can tell that I need to connect with my Higher Power ≠ the Power thatís a lot stronger and bigger and better than I am that can take away the obsession. While I certainly thought about eating when I felt negative emotions and thought negative thoughts, I also thought about eating when I felt happy and thought about the people I loved. Holidays, family gatherings, social events, even lunch with a friend brought up obsessive food thoughts: Iíd have this or that, I couldnít have this or that. How come I had this obsession with food? Because Iím powerless over food; Iím a compulsive eater. Again, itís not moral, ethical, intellectual, religious, whatever. It just is. Alcoholics think about alcohol, drug addicts think about drugs, compulsive eaters/food addicts think about food. Thatís the nature of the beast.

True story: several years ago I took my car out of the garage and smacked the side-view mirror on the garage door. My first thought? There was this stuff in the refrigerator that I could eat. Thereís a saying that when normal people get a flat tire, they call the car club; when addicts get a flat tire, they call suicide prevention. When overeaters like me get a flat tire, we call take-out. Thatís the obsession ≠ and Iím powerless over that, too.

Part two of Step 1 talks about our lives being unmanageable. Letís see what I was like before OA: I was being led by the nose by my emotions. If you were my friend, you were my friend for life, like the saying, "I didnít make friends, I took hostages." I was either the lowest form of life on the planet or I was the best thing in the world. I was never good enough, and I was too good for people who wanted nothing to do with me. I tried to control every one and every thing ≠ even (sort of) believing that I could control the weather by worrying about it. Unmanageable? Yup. I was, and I knew it.

One challenge with admitting unmanageability is that it is so hard for others to know what youíre talking about. Thatís probably because we donít like to think of ourselves as not being able to take care of our affairs. And if *I* canít control/manage my life, then what? Not to worry ≠ help is on the way!

With the blessing of peace,
Penny (compulsive eater/food addict)


1. Whatís the difference between being obsessed with food and being compelled to eat it?

2. How do you see food obsession in your life? Describe the emotional/mental aspect of your powerlessness over food.

3. How do you food compulsion in your life? Describe the physical aspect of your powerlessness over food.

4. What does it mean for you to be powerless over food?

5. Do you think that you can "eat normally" like other people? Do you really want to?

6. Can you identify with the "allergy" response to food(s)?

7. Are you powerless over all foods or just some?

8. Itís said that Step 1 is the only step we can do perfectly. What does that mean to you?

9. How is your life unmanageable?

10. Are you powerless over food? Is your life unmanageable? Are you willing to surrender what you think you donít know that you think you know about food, weight, body image, etc.?


Step Two

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