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


The Twelve Steps are guides to a journey. It is a journey that some never start. Others start, but falter. They may come back sometime. It is a journey that lasts a lifetime; there is no destination understood as some fixed point to be reached. Most truly, the journey is home.

The first thing we learn in order to begin the journey in recovery is about ourselves. We have to admit a horrible truth: we are powerless over our compulsive behavior with food.

Probably most of us eat too much. Others eat too little. Some eat too much, but use unhealthy means to do away with the results. Whatever, we have an unnatural and unhealthy relationship to food, to eating, to a desire for satiety, to an image of ourselves that is not sane.

I can well imagine that most of us have tried everything we could think of on our own to do something about our condition. Nothing worked, or it only worked temporarily. We probably know people who have died from the disease we have.

To make matters worse, there are so many health problems associated with compulsive eating that many of us suffer from other diseases brought on or abetted by compulsive eating. There is heart trouble, diabetes, malnutrition, acid reflux, rotted teeth, to name only a few. And far more compulsive eaters suffer from depression than the general population -- although it is difficult to know which came first.

The first thing we have to do to recover is to get honest. Honest with ourselves, with others, and with our Higher Power. Honesty is the first qualification. Without honesty, there is no recovery. As the Big Book says, even those with grave emotional and mental illnesses can recovery if they have the capacity to be honest.

The admission of the first step begins in defeat. We have to admit that we cannot control ourselves, and that as a result of our insanity, our lives have become unmanageable. We spend money we do not have to spend, we are often slovenly, messy. We do not take good care of ourselves. We sometimes steal, especially when food is involved. We like to think of ourselves as normal people with a little problem, when we are insane people with a life-threatening problem.

We often hear Lao Tzu misquoted, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step." Actually, he said, "...with the lifting up of the foot." There is a step before the first step. That step is to get honest. Only then, can we begin the journey. We don't even have to be completely honest all at once. We can progress! We just have to be honest enough to admit we are defeated.

Then we can begin the journey.

Be sure to have a sponsor to work with. I do.



1. What have you tried to do about your compulsive eating problem in the past? Did anything ever work? How many diets have you tried? Have you tried other methods than diets?

2. Have you ever starved, purged, used laxatives, stolen food, stolen money for food, taken food out of the garbage, eaten food that was spoiled or spoiling, lied about what you ate? Write down some instances that illustrate what you have done.

3. Do you believe you are ready to be honest, and admit that you cannot heal yourself alone? Are you ready to "lift up your foot"? What makes you think so?

4. Name several other ways in which your life is/was unmanageable? How are things with your finances? Your relationships, including sex? How neat is your house, your desk or office? How well do you keep your person, your clothes, etc.?

5. What health problems have you had or do you have as a result of your compulsive eating, or which are related to your compulsive eating?

6. Do you hope that the Twelve Steps may provide a basic means of recovery? Are you willing to deal with your own ego, and allow that there may be a Higher Power who or which may be able to help you as you take this journey?

-- Love, John

My Answers

1. I think I have tried almost all of the diets I ever heard of. Sometimes I even lost a lot of weight, but I was never able to keep the weight off afterward. It always came back, often with more added.

Once I considered surgery, and I understand that surgery helps some people, but I was afraid to try it.
2. I have vomited a few times so that I could eat more, but this was a rather rare thing. I have stolen money for food, when I was a teen. I have eating things and lied about it. I certainly have tried to conceal the evidence of how much I was eating. I could eat in one place and go on and eat in another. A meal for most people was more like an appetizer for me. I'm not sure that I ever ate spoiled food, but I have eaten food taken out of the garbage.

3. When I first came to OA, I had the feeling of having come "home." I became abstinent almost immediately, and could rejoice in the program, and achieved some good results. My path has not been straight. While I have not actually been in relapse, my eating practices have sometimes become sloppy. Fortunately, I have come to my senses before this got completely out of hand, and gotten back on the wagon. I think this shows that I have the capacity to be honest, whether I always manage it or not.

4. The last year I was in my illness, I got a year end receipt showing that on one credit card alone I had eaten over $5,000 in food. This was 1992. I had two other credit cards, all maxed out, mostly with food. When I lost my job in 1993, shortly after coming into the rooms, I was eventually forced into bankruptcy. Like so many compulsive eaters, I isolated myself. While socially the gregarious extrovert and hail fellow well met, I had few real friends. The one person who stood by me was my wife, who must really love me. Everything was a mess. I know now that a lot of this was due to depression which I was so skillful at hiding that I even hid it from myself and at least one psychiatrist!

5. When I first came to OA, I was suffering from the onset of diabetes, high blood pressure, and had breathing difficulties. I weighed so much it hurt me feet to walk. (I do not have small feet, either, they are considerably larger than average.) If I walked across the street, I would be breathless. Stairs were a horror to me. Everything has improved, or gone away since entering program.

6. I can testify to the hope of the Steps. So many good things have happened to me as a result of program that my life is radically different. I have health, friends, a nice house, a little money -- enough to retire comfortably on. And I have peace of mind.

When I came to OA I was for all practical purposes an agnostic. There was no God who could or would help me, no magic. In program, I have found a loving Higher Power who is concerned with me, my welfare, my happiness. I have stopped seeing the glass as half empty, and come to see it as half full but running over. This is a paradox, I admit. Not bad for an old man who has chronic depression, I would say.

The change came about forcefully one day a little into program when I found myself in a food court at noon. I wanted to eat so badly. The old compulsion was upon me. I remember something my sponsor told me, and asked God, whoever God was, to help me. And the urge to eat simply went away.



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