I am a compulsive eater and your WTS Step Study leader this quarter.
This is a practical Step Study. It is designed to use what Iíve been taught are the directions from the Big Book to recover from compulsive eating, and to maintain that recovery on a one-day-at-a-time basis for the rest of your life.
Donít forget to go to www.oabigbook.info to download (for free, of course) some forms and documents Iíll be referring to in this Step Study, as well as a book Iíve written, based on a 2005 Step Study I did for WTS, which provides the theoretical background for this 2008 Step Study.
If youíre offended by anything I write, please donít be critical until you have read the book Iíve written to see where Iím coming from. In this Step Study I am deliberately getting to the nub and not trying to justify and explain everything Iím saying.
STEP ONE, PART 2 -- THE MENTAL OBSESSION:
The first part of Step One is the admission that we are powerless over food.
In that part-discussed last week-we understood that our bodies are abnormal in that, unlike normal people, we develop uncontrollable cravings when we start to eat something. Normal people get a sense of unease and discomfort when they eat too much; we get a sense of ease and comfort. Last week, as well, we started to develop a plan of eating based by figuring out what foods, food ingredients, and eating behaviors, cause those uncontrollable cravings in us.
The second part of Step One-this weekís topic-is the admission that we cannot manage our food-that we cannot stop from starting to eat those things, or indulge in those eating behaviors, which cause uncontrollable cravings in us. This is a mental obsession-an idea that overpowers all other ideas.
The first part of Step One is that we canít stop once weíve started because of our allergy. The second part of Step One is that we canít stop from starting because of our obsession.
This is a double whammy, a vicious circle. We are defeated. We are powerless.
Does anyone really need a lot of convincing on this issue?
If it were clear to any normal person that a particular action would put that person into mortal danger, that normal person would simply abstain from that action. It wouldnít require a great deal of effort or thought to keep that person from doing that action.
If I knew that peanuts or shrimp could kill me, for instance, I would never eat peanuts or shrimp again, no matter how much I might like their taste. But my history of eating and dieting and eating shows clearly to me that, even though I intuitively knew what I shouldnít be eating, I constantly gave myself excuses for going back to eating.
There would be two parts of my mind. One part would say, ďPlease, donít eat this. Youíre on a diet. This is not good for you. Donít eat this.Ē The other part would say, ďCome on! Just a bit. You can have it.Ē And suddenly the second part would click in, and the first part would disappear-maybe just for a second-and I would eat it.
This is my story of yo-yo dieting. This is the story of my relapses in OA in the first six or seven years of the program.
All around us people are trying to convince us that we can eat all the things that deep in our hearts we know we canít. Every diet, every magazine, so many doctors and dietitians and nutritionists-they all seem to say that once we lose our weight we can eat everything in moderation. Some diet programs these days actually tell us we can eat anything we want during the diet, so long as we eat it in moderation. Many of them also tell us to indulge our eating behaviors-that we should keep chewing, keep our mouths occupied, all the time.
Thereís a simple reason for that. They donít accept what is intuitively obvious to us-that there are foods and eating behaviors that cause us uncontrollable cravings. We are in the situation that a lot of alcoholics were in the times before Alcoholics Anonymous became well-known, when many people said to alcoholics that it was all a matter of will-power (or ďwonít-powerĒ!)-just stopping when they had enough. Although there may be some people saying that these days, the vast majority of people agree that an alcoholic canít ever touch alcohol. But the vast majority of people arenít saying that about food-they say we can eat everything in moderation.
(One of the reasons for the difference might be that alcohol in any form is still one particular substance, and itís easy to be universal about that. Each compulsive eater, on the other hand, has his or her own individual list of substances, or combination of substances, or eating behaviors, so that thereís no universal experience. You can eat something that I canít eat; and I can eat something that you canít eat. So because there doesnít seem to be a universal substance that affects all compulsive eaters the same, itís hard to pinpoint the sense of addiction.)
I know perfectly well that I can never eat butter or ice cream or french fries, for example, without developing uncontrollable cravings. Now that I have recovered through the Twelve Steps, I know that all the time. But before the Twelve Steps gave me recovery, I kept going back to butter and ice cream and french fries, trying to eat them in moderation. Of course, the reasons for returning to the food never turned out to be good ones.
Is this your story? Have you given yourself reasons for giving in to food or eating behaviors that you knew would send you back to uncontrollable cravings?
If so, you should be able to make a list of reasons you have returned to food that you knew you shouldnít be eating, or to eating behaviors that you knew you shouldnít be indulging in. Iíll begin with part of my own list. You add your reasons.
Emotional reasons for returning:
- Iím very depressed. What will make me feel better?
- Iím very happy. How can I celebrate?
- Iím lonely. What will make me feel better?
- Too many people love me. What will make me feel better?
- Add your reasons . . .
Stupid reasons for returning:
- Itís natural, organic, and has to be good for me.
- Iíve never had this taste before.
- Iíll never have another chance to have this taste again.
- They made it especially for me.
- Iíve been really good for a year. For six months. For one month. For one week. For one day. For one hour.
- Well, I didnít eat the bun, so I can have the dessert.
- Add your reasons . . .
Notes on the lists:
Note that there are two lists. One list emotional excuses; the other lists ďstupidĒ excuses. These stupid excuses are different from emotional ones. We may be in a great emotional state of serenity, but suddenly something clicks and we begin to eat stuff we shouldnít be eating-because itís there!
This obsession that overpowers us is insanity pure and simple, whether itís emotional or stupid!
From the Big Book perspective, we have two problems: (a) a physical problem-we canít stop once weíve started; and (b) a mental problem-we canít stop from starting again. This vicious circle shows us clearly that we as individuals are powerless over food.
If only we could constantly be sane. If only we could look at our binge foods and binge eating behaviors and know, I mean really know, that eating that stuff or indulging in that eating behavior, will return us to the hell that we have experienced.
On our own, however, it is clear that we can never be sane. We need help from a power that is greater than us. Thatís what weíll be discussing next week.
A plan of eating:
A lot of people have sent in their responses to the questions I asked in last weekís posting, and they sure seemed honest to me. Whatís most important, of course, is whether theyíre honest to you! Beginning next week, we will have to adopt a plan of eating that eliminates those foods, food ingredients, and eating behaviors, that deep in our hearts we know cause us uncontrollable cravings.
Now developing a plan of eating is a matter of practicality. How we abstain is a complete matter of choice.
Some people choose to make a list of those foods, food ingredients, and eating behaviors, which they will abstain from. Other people choose to make a list of those foods, food ingredients, and eating behaviors, which they will allow themselves to the exclusion of any others. The former is direct, the latter is indirect, but they both end up in abstaining from those things that cause uncontrollable cravings.
Abstaining from your problem foods and food ingredients should be carefully done. I suggest that you think carefully before adopting someone elseís plan of eating, or some diet bookís concept of the problem. Their problem foods may not be your problem foods. Our Dignity of Choice pamphlet makes it clear that our plan of eating should be an individual one, not one that conforms to other peopleís experience. Learn from their experiences, but make certain the plan works for you as an individual.
Abstaining from some eating behaviors (like needing to be full, eating everything on the plate) may require adopting new eating behaviors (like eating only one plateís worth and not going back for seconds, weighing and/or measuring food, counting calories, eating only up to your belly-button, having someone else dish the food out, leaving something on the plate) or may simply require eliminating old eating behaviors (eating after 7:00 p.m., not reading while eating, not watching TV while eating, not chewing or sucking between meals).
Summary of assignments:
1. Complete your list of excuses youíve given to break a diet or start eating foods or indulging in eating behaviors that you knew deep down caused you problems and uncontrollable cravings.
2. Begin to figure out what youíre going to do to abstain from foods, food ingredients, and eating behaviors that you know cause you uncontrollable cravings.
3. Accept that if you're like others in OA, you are powerless on your own. This has to be a sense of absolute powerlessness. If you don't feel that powerlessness, then consider why you're in OA. Maybe all you need is a support group. OA is in the "business" of the Twelve Steps, the first of which is absolute powerlessness over food. Although it does provide support, it does that in the context of providing support while people work the steps.
See you next week!
Your Step Leader