Step One

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

Leader's Share and Step Questions

Welcome to the second week of Working The Steps (WTS). My name is SusanB, I am a compulsive overeater, sugar addict and emotional eater and this week we are going to study Step One.


Step One: "We admitted we were powerless over food — that our lives had become unmanageable."

Step One Prayer:

Today, I ask for help with my addiction.
Denial has kept me from seeing how powerless I am
& how my needing to manage life doesn't work.
I need to learn & remember that I have an illness,
and that abstinence is the
only way to begin to deal with it.

Principle of Step One: Honesty.

In this week's study I'm going to share my own experience, strength and hope on step one with you. Then we are going to look at the concepts of honesty, openness, willingness, abstinence, powerlessness, and a life that is unmanageable. Afterwards this week's assignment will follow at the bottom. Are you ready?

As shared in my introduction, my food history is filled with stories of new beginnings, dreams of a perfect body, a lot of white-knuckling and chattered dreams. After four years in The Recovery Group, mixed successes and failures I joined the HOW loop, because I realised that I was a hard-core addict. My sponsor was sceptic about my decision to change to a more structured way of recovery and warned me to not get caught up in "diet-mentality". She gave me the following prayer to recite every day to make sure that I won't set myself up for yet another failure:

Thank you for the healthy food God.
I acknowledge that I am looking
to the food for sustenance and
to You for serenity, support, love and strength.
And the power to do so comes from You
not any man-made program.

I listen to my sponsor (most of the times) and I wrote this prayer at the back of my Big Book and read it every day as I started to answer the first 30 questions and followed the suggested plan of eating (POE). It was hard, very hard. I was hungry and plagued with tiredness, lethargy and emotions that lingered just beyond the surface all the time. I learned in programme to pause, pray and do the next right thing. I often had to go and lie down and just sleep. For head aches I took two analgesics, for heart ache I buried my face in my pillow and cried my heart out, for hunger pangs between meals I had some water or herbal tea. It was hard. Did I share that it was hard? You bet it was hard. I shared this 'hardness" with my new food sponsor and she encouraged me to persevere. She assured me that she had similar feelings during the first 30 days. Because I had the Gift Of Desperation (GOD) I was willing, open and honest and looking back today, it was worth it.

After 30 days my POE was changed and two grains were added. I shared my Step One, Two and Three with my new food sponsor on Skype with a candle ceremony that deeply touched my heart.

I worked the first three steps, and for the first time I also worked step Zero (abstinence, aka putting the food down). The Big Book says in the chapter on the Doctor's Opinion, "Of course the alcoholic ought to be freed from his physical craving for alcohol and this often requires a definite hospital procedure, before psychological measures can be of maximum benefit" (page xxvii - xxviii) and also "We favour hospitalization for the alcoholic who is very jittery or befogged. More often than not, it is imperative that a man's brain be cleared before he is approached, as he has then a better chance of understanding and accepting what we have to offer." (page xxvi - xxvii). I had to be freed from my physical craving for FOOD! Of course I was jittery! I had head ache, struggled with sleep and had cravings for sugar and white starches like mad! Compulsive overeaters don't experience the same violent withdrawal symptoms many alcoholics do, therefore hospitalisation is not common among food addicts. My brain gradually became clear and I could hear the message of recovery and understand it. I could DO what was asked and get the maximum benefit and I did.

The symptoms of withdrawal gradually disappeared and I found increased sanity around food. My white-knuckling also gradually morphed into surrender to a Power greater than myself. I grew along spiritual lines and started to recover.

Did I stay food sober since I started the HOW way of recovery? No, I had my fair share of relapses and I was honest about it, answered recommitment questions, went back to my POE of the first 30 days and became abstinent again. The last of my most recent recommitment questions will be answered today, because two weeks ago I had to admit that I slipped and relapsed. Every time this happens I go back to the recommitment questions and every time I grow and become stronger, because I'm not alone. I have you and I have my HP. I also have my HOW sponsor and my primary sponsor. This brings me to the second part of today's share.



You work the steps with your sponsor. How you do it is up to you and your sponsor. That you actually do it is very important.

A.   Let's start with HOW = Honesty, Openness and Willingness:

HONESTY: Seeing ourselves as we are with both positive and negative traits. It's not easy for us to be confronted with our shortcomings, and we can hide them even from ourselves (DENIAL - Don't Even Now I'm Lying). Honesty means we allow others to see our soft and vulnerable side and we give ourselves permission to become part of the human race, warts and all. So we lose some of our terminal uniqueness and share our issues with another person. Honesty has the potential to open up some wounds, allowing the pus to get out and healing to start taking place from the base. We are only as sick as our secrets ~ once we allow others to see our true selves and get these secrets out, the light of God can move in to bring true healing.

    "For the first time in our lives, we recognized, acknowledged, and accepted the truth about ourselves. We are compulsive overeaters. We do have an incurable disease. Diabetics who need to be on insulin risk blindness and possible death unless they recognize the truth of their diabetic condition, accept it, and take the prescribed medication. So it is with compulsive overeaters. As long as we refuse to recognize that we have this debilitating and ultimately fatal disease, we are not motivated to get the daily treatment for it which brings about our recovery. Denial of the truth leads to destruction. Only an honest admission to ourselves of the reality of our condition can save us from our destructive eating." (OA 12 and 12, page 6)

    In Step One we learn the principle of HONESTY as we admit our personal powerlessness over food, and the fact that without help we cannot successfully manage our own lives. (OA 12 & 12, page 103)

OPEN-MINDEDNESS: Are we open to new ideas? Do we allow ourselves to feel the whole range of human emotions ~ even fear and discomfort? Abstinence brings a lot of stuff to the surface and sometimes we can feel as if our insides are turned to the outside, with raw, exposed nerves. BUT the good news is that not all emotions are painful, some help us to feel joys we never thought possible. The whole range of emotions include both painful and joyous ones. Being open helps us to uncover both. Can we be teachable like a child? Inquisitive, innocent and fearless? I loved what I once heard on an OA LA Podcast: "Sit still, shut up and LISTEN". If we put away our preconceived ideas and become teachable we can learn valuable lessons.

WILLINGNESS: Willingness is a mental attitude that can insure success in recovery from addiction. According to the dictionary it means we are eagerly compliant and do something out of choice and not because of coercion. Our minds become more open and receptive and we are willing to consider doing things that in the past may have appeared objectionable. Like the key they talk about in AA 12 and 12, willingness can unlock our hearts to be ready, to be here ~ willing that others show us, teach us, and help us to 'see','hear' and 'do'.

    “a door which to all appearances is still closed and locked. All we need is a key, and the decision to swing the door open. There is only one key, and it is called willingness. Once unlocked by willingness, the door opens almost of itself" (AA 12 and 12, page 34)

Things that can block our willingness are pressure from our family members, a physician, or friends to lose weight, while not really being ready to give up the goodies. We want to buy some time and will go right back to the food when the opportunity comes up. Another reason can be ambivalence where we want to lose the weight but are not willing to pay the prise. Sometimes we have unrealistic expectations and when things don't happen as expected, we become sloppy and return to old behaviours. Many of us start strong but run out of steam. The reason can be the pink cloud phenomenon that evaporates when we are faced with unexpected challenges. Forgetfulness is one of the biggies. We forget the Gift Of Desperation (God). We forget how miserable things were at the end of our food hell and only remember (romancing) the blissful food days.


HOW ABSTINENCE: "A COMMITMENT TO RECOVERY: Of course, to the new person this appears to be another diet. But we who have walked this path before you know that this program of eating is unique. First, you may not modify it to suit yourself. Any additions or subtractions you make must be with a physician's advice. Second, if you deviate you will find many of the other problems you have will come back also. Third, you must commit yourself to a black-and-white abstinence so you may deal with the gray areas of living."

OA DEFINITION OF ABSTINENCE: “the action of refraining from compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors while working towards or maintaining a healthy body weight. Spiritual, emotional and physical recovery is the result of living the Overeaters Anonymous Twelve-Step program.” ~

OA PLAN OF EATING (POE): As a tool, a plan of eating helps us abstain from compulsive eating, guides us in our dietary decisions, and defines what, when, how, where and why we eat... OA does not endorse or recommend any specific plan of eating, nor does it exclude the personal use of one. (See the pamphlets Dignity of Choice and A Plan of Eating for more information.) For specific dietary or nutritional guidance, OA suggests consulting a qualified health care professional, such as a physician or dietitian. Each of us develops a personal plan of eating based on an honest appraisal of his or her past experience. ~


  • Weighed and measured food. Email or phone food commitment daily to a sponsor. No refined sugar or white flour. Eat only whole foods.
  • Following a POE and not using personal trigger foods.
  • Simply sticking to three meals a day and nothing in between (301 = 3 meals a day, 0 in between, 1 day at a time)


With Step Zero in place, we will now move to Step One. The first part of Step One is an admission that there is a problem. "We admitted we were powerless over food and our lives had become unmanageable." Step One is covered in the Big Book pages 1-43.

When we eat certain food substances, I react abnormally. The Big Book refers to an allergic reaction in the "The Doctor's Opinion".

    "Then there are types entirely normal in every respect except in the effect alcohol has upon them. They are often able, intelligent, friendly people. All these, and many others, have one symptom in common: they cannot start drinking without developing the phenomenon of craving. This phenomenon, as we have suggested, may be the manifestation of an allergy which differentiates these people, and sets them apart as a distinct entity. It has never been, by any treatment with which we are familiar, permanently eradicated. The only relief we have to suggest is entire abstinence." (AA Big Book 4th Edition, page xxx)

My reaction to my 'allergic food items' is an insatiable desire for more. These cravings are beyond my mental control and the container becomes the serving size. I'm triggered and I cannot stop. Anyone else would become very ill if they ate those quantities. I binge and cannot stop until all is gone. Some of us purge to get rid of the ingested food and are called bulimics. Others starve themselves and they are called anorexics. Then there are others who become over-exercisers to burn off excess food consumption. Many of us have a mixture of some of the above mentioned compulsive behaviours. One thing we all have in common and this is the "phenomenon of craving".

To be POWERLESS is to be devoid of strength or resources, becoming powerless victims, with lack of authority or the capacity to act. We are powerless over the weather. No amount of desire, self-discipline, will power, self knowledge, self searching or anything else we can acquire, will influence the weather. So if we are without influence, we are without blame.

In a previous study I read "If we are not responsible, we also have to be without guilt. We do not feel guilty for being unable to do the impossible. If we want the sun to shine and it rains we don't take responsibility for it. We don't say, “If only I had made that phone call”, or “If only I had picked up that book, I could have caused the sun to shine”. Since we don't take responsibility for the weather we don't assume any guilt when it doesn't turn out the way we want. We don’t feel we failed. We can recognize we are powerless over the weather and not feel guilty." ~

My problem with food is not a moral issue. Many of us have been told that we were 'good' if we kept our diets and 'bad' if we did not. What a relief to learn that I'm not a bad person just because I'm fat. "We are not bad people that need to get good, but sick people who need to get well".

The second part of Step One refers to our lives becoming unmanageable. As a result of the craving of the body, an obsession of the mind takes place and we feel discontentment, restlessness, irritability, fears, and all kinds of negative feelings and actions. Obsessive thoughts can be described as insane and insanity is not seeing reality as it is. In programme insanity is defined as "repeating the same act and expecting different results." So our lives become unmanageable ~ out of control.

    "We were having trouble with our personal relationships, we couldn't control our emotional natures, we were a prey to misery and depression, we couldn't make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn't seem to be of real help to other people." (AA Big Book, page 52)

    "Selfishness- self centeredness! That we think is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self delusion self seeking, and self pity, we step on the toes of our fellows" (AA Big Book, page 62).

This disease causes us to be powerless over food (physical), the obsession with food (mind) and also the spiritual dimension of the disease.

    "Resentment is the 'number one ' offender it destroys more alcoholics than anything else, from it stem all forms of spiritual disease, for we have not been only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick" (AA Big Book, page 64, [my emphasis])

I have to be willing to be food clean for life, and apply the solution in the present, one day at a time. What is asked of us is to be willing (not able) to stay clean and abstinent. We apply the solution to recover (trust God, clean house and help others). We HAVE TO work the steps and do the foot work.

    "When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically." (AA Big Book, page 64)

When the spiritual malady is overcome, the obsession is gone and we recover physically and emotionally. This means that this disease does not only cause powerlessness over food but also over my obsession and over my spiritual disease.

Your assignment this week is as follows:

(i) Read the following literature:

(ii) After reading Chapter 2 in the AA Big Book, write on how you have lost the power of choice over food.

(iii) After reading Chapter 3 in the AA Big Book, write on the following ideas from the chapter as they relate to your personal experiences:

  • The belief that after losing the weight or being free of bingeing/purging/starving for a period of time, you can resume your compulsive eating patterns without your eating problems reoccurring.
  • The mental insanity that precedes the first compulsive bite.
  • The ability to control your eating using self-knowledge.

(iv) After reading Step 1 in the AA 12 and 12, answer the following questions: Is lack of power over food your problem; why or why not?

(v) Step One says, "We admitted that WE WERE" Why does the Step say, "WE WERE" and not "I AM"? Listen to the following Podcast to help you answer this question ~

(vi) Are you willing to give up your trigger foods for life? What are they? (remember we are not asking you to be able to do it, only if you are willing)

In loving service,


Step One

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