Behaviors—What evidence do you have that your life is unmanageable? What have you done that, seen from the outside, would lead someone else to consider you’ve got a problem?
Explore these categories with your responses, leaving off any that don’t seem to apply, and share with us if you will. I look forward to reading your answers!
Resources For You
Our recovery depends on our unity as a fellowship of those with a compulsive eating problem. With that in mind, I want to provide a list of various resources for you to consider. If one works for you, wonderful. If it offends you, let it go.
To find answers to all kinds of questions related to recovery from compulsive eating, go to this site map for The Recovery Group, the sponsor of this study: www.therecoverygroup.org/map/sitemap.html
To get some additional testimonies about the devastation of compulsive eating (over-, under-, or something else), consider the recordings at www.oalaig.org and www.avision4you.info (particularly the “Special” tab and “Step 1” talks).
To read the passages I will direct you to in the “Big Book,” Alcoholics Anonymous, go to www.aa.org/pages/en_US/alcoholics-anonymous, and to see the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, go here: www.aa.org/pages/en_US/twelve-steps-and-twelve-traditions. For a brief two-page document summary of the key passages of the Big Book from www.aabacktobasics.org, download here (or find the link about 2/3 of the way down on the previous linked page): www.aabacktobasics.org/Back%20to%20the%20Basics%20of%20Sponsorship/B2B%20of%20Sponsorship-2%20pg%20Summary-208.doc.
To learn about options for a plan of eating to support your recovery and help you define your abstinence, you should work with your sponsor and/or a health care professional who understands our particular challenges. This is a “hot topic” for many in our fellowship, but in my experience the ones most calm about plans of eating and abstinence are those who have real recovery. My own plan of eating has changed through my recovery, and I have found wisdom and healthy patterns for myself in variations on a whole foods plan: healthy vegan/vegetarian at one end of the spectrum and more primal/lower-carb on the other end. What’s amazing is that once we have recovery in our heads and hearts, we can actually calmly evaluate our plans of eating to find what works best for us, always willing to reconsider. If a food is a non-negotiable, chances are it’s a problem! With that in mind, consider these possible (and possibly conflicting) resources:www.anonymityone.com/faq102.htm, www.oa.org/newcomers/tools-of-recovery/, www.foodaddictsanonymous.org/faa-food-plan, and www.therecoverygroup.org/foodplans/index.html.
To understand your options for Step 4 inventory, explore these sites, from simplest to most complex. I find that using different approaches each time helps expand my idea of what should be in my inventory and what I need still to work on. www.aabacktobasics.org/, www.austinrecovery.org/Portals/0/Documents/RecoveryResources/12Steps/step_4.pdf, http://oabigbook.info/, 12-steps-recovery.com/library/12steps/4step/.
To get answers to questions about the Working the Steps study in particular, go here: www.therecoverygroup.org/wts/faq.html
Plan for the 12-Week Study
2—Step 1—The Food and the Mental Obsession
3—Steps 2 and 3—Hope and Decision
4—Step 4—Paperwork Part 1
5—Step 4—Paperwork Part 2
6—Step 5—Unburdening to Another
7—Steps 6 and 7—Another Decision
8—Step 8—Cleaning House
9—Step 9—Out on the Town
11—Step 11—Acceptance—Life on Life’s Terms
12—Step 12—Taking the Steps on the Road
Please write me privately at OneDayCindyM@embarqmail.com if I can answer any questions as you work through the study. I want it to be as helpful a study as it can be, and your feedback helps me do that!
TOP OF PAGE
2—Step 1—The Food and the Mental Obsession
Welcome to Week 2 of the Working the Steps study for the first quarter of 2015. I am Cindy M., a grateful recovering compulsive overeater, privileged to share with you my own experience with the Twelve Steps of recovery. If you haven't already, please go to Week 1 of the study to catch up with us.
It is possible for you to “work the steps” by following this study alone, and a simple approach to the steps is a good way to find relief from deep addiction. But eventually I think we all need to get back to the original source of recovery for many hundreds of thousands of hopeless drunks, gluttons, druggies, and other miserable people. That source is the book Alcoholics Anonymous (The Big Book), linked in Week 1 and always available online at www.aa.org. The companion Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (12-and-12) is also available online and provides much more than is possible for me to share here with you. Accordingly, each of these lessons will link to the most key elements of the readings in these books, though I encourage you, if you’re on the “mini-retreat” plan for this study, to take the time to read all of both books, as well as other 12-step recovery resources recommended by those you trust.
Now that you’ve completed a list of the ways in which your life before recovery is/was unmanageable (Week 1), we’re going to link that list more closely to the food, the substance you identify as causing you trouble. First, go to your response to Week 1 and, with each item, jot down how that particular bit of unmanageability connects to your problem with food. In each case you will likely find that the stress of the unmanageable thing leads you to comfort yourself with food, or causes you stress because it is accompanied by food (Thanksgiving Dinner, e.g.), or results from your problems with food. Yes, it’s possible for us compulsive overeaters (COEs) to have problems that don’t seem to have anything to do with food, but see what you discover.
Do that now—go to the Week 1 list of unmanageable things in life and trace out the connection of each one with food:
--What sends you to the food?
--What puts you in the environment of problematic food?
--What results from your problems with food?
What IS that thing, that gnawing hunger, that obsession, that makes me—and you?—eat like that? Or maybe your problem is eating more than is healthy and then obsessively purging or maniacally exercising. Or refraining from eating altogether, starving while obsessing. It’s all compulsion over food. And just as we need to change the language of the AA book from “alcohol” to “food,” perhaps you need to change it from “overeating” to “purging” or “starving.” And sometimes we’re a carnival of these behaviors—a little of this, a little of that, whirling around in a crazy nightmare.
And why has life come to such a place for us, that it seems unmanageable for us while others seem to cope pretty well, at least most of the time?
For me—for you?—the key is that second line of Step 1—“We were powerless over alcohol.” For us it’s food.
Lawrie C., of www.oabigbook.info and a leader of this WTS study several years ago, says that the problem we have with food is that “We can’t stop once we’ve started, and we can’t stop from starting.” In other words, we’re drawn to the food, and once we have a little, that’s not enough to calm the obsession but only makes it worse. Another way of putting it is that it is an “allergy of the body and an obsession of the mind.”
Lawrie mentions that some people can overeat and come to a point of saying, “Whew—that’s enough!” Some COEs joke that Thanksgiving is a COE-awareness day for normies—on that day they binge as much as we’re used to as a matter of course. I found that the “that’s enough” impulse really kicks in for me, as it does for Lawrie, with alcohol. A half a glass of wine, sometimes a whole one, or a whole beer or one mixed drink—that’s all I ever want. I don’t like the way alcohol makes me feel, and I know when to quit. Some people are like that about food, if you can believe it! If this illustration doesn’t work for you, think of something else you tire of that some people have real problems with – gambling, shopping, sex, video games . . .
Allergy of the Body
You can read lots of information about the COE experience with particular food substances, and it always seems to come back to carbs, fat, and salt in varying combinations. If someone seems to want to binge on protein, it’s probably not tofu and chicken breast, but battered and deep-fried, sugared, and salted. In the carbs area, sugar and refined starches (grain and starchy veggies) are most problematic; and things heavily salted and otherwise flavor-enhanced (MSG, e.g.) are particularly attractive to us. Some COEs find they have a co-sensitivity to alcohol and need to stay away from that. No matter what food it is, and even if we have discovered we can “binge on anything,” we can discern our allergy of the body if we find that having a little of the substance MAKES us long for more. It’s as if the substance is a catalyst to a chemical reaction, and in a way it is—dopamine, blood sugar, and no doubt other bodily reactions. We’re such sensitive people, don’t you know? :)
What foods do you find make you physically anxious, longing for more, so that you feel a deep need to keep eating them long past full, long past when you’ve had your share? Share a list here, trying to see patterns and commonalities in them.
--Your Problem Foods
Now, from those foods in that list, what do you see in common? Consider these variables:
--Concentrated sugar calories, far beyond what might naturally occur in fruit, for example.
--Concentrated fat calories, particularly in high-fat dairy or meat products, or in oil-added fried foods and snack foods.*
--Concentrated salt or other flavorings, like “intense” flavors of snack chips.
--Particular combinations of the above with other foods. For me, refined white flour is not a temptation on its own, but add sugar or fat and salt to it and it becomes a problem.
Of the foods you’ve listed above, is anything in particular your go-to sedative food, or energizing food or drink? Do you feel your mind alter when you take it in, or do you feel a real sense of withdrawal if you have only a little or if you’ve become accustomed to it and then lose your supply? I’ve heard many podcast speakers say it’s the thing that makes us say “Ahhh!” when we have those first few bites.
Puzzles—do you find that the circumstances make a particular food a problem for you? For example, can you have cereal for breakfast just fine but overdo it if it’s a late-night “snack?” Speaking of late night, do you have a particular time of day that is a problem for you?
--Time, place, circumstances?
For many of us COEs, it’s not just the food substance but the volume that causes problems, and that begins to cross over into the next aspect of our addictive problem . . .
The Obsession of the Mind
I do seem to have a need to feel full. I feel anxious if I don’t. Perhaps I still need more recovery on that issue, but I find that a carefully-structured plan of eating (POE) enables me to feel satisfied with the reasonable exchanges of foods that I live by. But how in the world am I able to live by this plan of eating that in the world outside of recovery is pretty much just another diet?
It’s because my mind has been calmed, my empty soul filled. We’ll get to that soon, but let’s look at what life is like before recovery, when we are ruled by both an allergy of the body and an obsession of the mind.
One of the most useful concepts in recovery for me has been the idea in the chapter “The Doctor’s Opinion”:
They are restless, irritable, and discontented, unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks—drinks which they see others taking with impunity. (Big Book, p. xxviii)
Have you experienced this? The sense of “crawling out of your skin” that you can quiet with a trip through the drive-through or through the kitchen? Some of that is physical, the allergy of the body, but much of it is psychic, the mental obsession. Once we’ve reinforced our relief by finding that yes, indeed, that ice cream does the trick, we are perfectly placed to fall for it again, and again. Because it’s not just a little bit that does the trick—it’s a lot. And then some more. And more. And then we’re pushing 300 pounds, or heart failure from exercising or starving it off.
We have a mental problem, one that we’re using physical substances to ease, and it works temporarily, so we keep going back to it. But in the end we come to the end of ourselves and realize it’s only working to take us to the grave, or to a life that is little better than the grave.
--Are you familiar with the mental obsession that gives you restlessness, irritability, and discontent, and you’ve trained yourself to “treat” it with food? Explain a bit about that.
--Is it a new concept to you that your problem with food is more than just a problem with food?
--Are you afraid you might have to give up something important, a food you can’t do without?
Once we see ourselves as having both an allergy of the body and an obsession of the mind, and as we look at the wreckage of our lives, the unmanageability of them, we are ready to acknowledge, to admit, that we’re powerless, that our lives are unmanageable. Are you there yet?
We were powerless over alcohol—
That our lives had become unmanageable.
--In your work this week and last week, you’ve been coming to the point of Step 1 above, a realization. Do you admit this powerlessness over food, and the resulting unmanageable life?
Answer honestly the bulleted questions in this lesson. Just copy/paste the material from the lesson into an email to the group or to your sponsor.
Congratulations! You’ve completed Step 1! Next week, Steps 2 and 3—Hope and Decision.
Please write me privately at OneDayCindyM@embarqmail.com if I can answer any questions for you as you work through the study. I want it to be as helpful a study as it can be, and your feedback helps me do that!
For Those Who Have Time: Reading and More of My Story
For Step 1, read in the Big Book all the Forewords and “The Doctor’s Opinion,” then move on to Chapters 1, 2, and 3. In the 12-and-12, read the Foreword and “Step One.” (Or try the smaller readings suggested by Back to Basics—also linked in Week 1.) Note that this is the longest reading assignment of the whole study.
My Unmanageability--For me, a particular event from about 2002 stands out in my mind. I was over 280 pounds and miserable, unwilling or unable to see the reality of my life that was reflected in a bad photo taken of our family at my husband’s workplace Christmas party. Was I really that big, that swollen and stupid-looking, that victimized by my own body? Were my children really that uncomfortable, my husband that ashamed-but-stoic? Christmas rolled around again and the tension was building because I didn’t want to be in a photo again, and my husband went to the party with the children and I stayed home, eating, no doubt. That’s unmanageable.
That evening would certainly send anyone to the food for comfort, wouldn’t it? Well, certainly it would do that for us COEs, making our problem worse! That’s the irony of the thing. And at the party all the seasonal treats would call my name and I’d either indulge because I was “allowed to” because it was the holidays, or I’d control myself and then compensate when I got home, dulling the aching need with food. And that way of coping over the years had gotten me into that situation in the first place. That’s unmanageable.
As I shared last week, many times I’d gone on diets or come up with new “ways of life” to solve the problem. In my particular case I avoided the diet pills (took one over-the-counter one once and got so jittery I never took another) and medically-supervised approaches (too much shame involved in going to the doctor for “that problem,” too much fear involved in contemplating surgery or drugs with nasty side-effects), and I was “too smart” to do dumb fad diets. Oh, I was SO smart—very knowledgeable on nutrition, sometimes tacking toward low-carb and sometimes low-fat, sometimes on the path of the vegans and sometimes heading primal. I calculated and charted and journaled and fasted and prayed and ground my teeth. And then I ate.
My Food--Always, in the end, I ate. Maybe it was the low-cal breakfast and lunch that didn’t nourish me enough by 3 p.m., so that I succumbed to real hunger and then the obsession kicked in and I fed my hungry soul. Maybe it was the healthy, satisfying way of life that was helping me take off a few pounds over a month or two, but then it was Valentine’s Day, or Easter, or someone’s birthday, or Halloween, and the special things are available a month or two ahead of time, so we might as well get started with the “season,” because all normal people need to feast, right? And once I had a piece or two, it was, as they say, “off to the races.” I couldn’t stop. I’ve always said that I can’t eat a single donut because the combination of fat and sugar and air always makes me hungrier than before I ate it, and no number of them will satisfy that inner emptiness.
My absolute favorite binge foods, the ones I couldn’t imagine living without, the ones that set me going so I couldn’t stop, were Oreos, malted milk balls, other chocolates especially with caramel/nuts/coconut, tortilla chips, potato chips with dip, artichoke dip in a bread bowl, a casserole made by the ladies in my church—“cheesy potatoes.” There were others, but these are the top of the list. My vulnerable time has always been mid- to late afternoon, and secret or too-abundant stashes of my problem foods gave me both security and temptation I could not resist.
Would you agree that for me sugar, refined carbohydrates, and fat—combinations of these, and sometimes with salt—are the food ingredients that cause me problems? As for textures—creamy, chewy, and crunchy seem to be the ones for me.
I can’t eliminate all carbohydrates and fats, of course, nor all foods that are creamy, chewy, or crunchy. Instead I need to figure out which of these are problematic for me. In part of my recovery I found that whole-grain versions of grains worked fine for me, or mostly-whole-grain versions; and if I used small amounts of fat (like butter in which to cook my eggs), I was fine. But if I added a little too much cheese to those potatoes, I was off and running. As my recovery has progressed, but my weight loss slowed, with the help of a new sponsor I began to realize that my plan of eating relied too much on carbs, and I started switching out exchanges of starch or fruit for protein. I’m still in process on that. I am currently (January 2015) just under 230, 60 pounds below my highest weight, and about 40 pounds below the weight I started recovery with in June 2013. I still have about 60 pounds to go.
My Obsession of the Mind-- Have you ever fixated on a particular food you haven’t eaten yet, but that’s in your future? What about that birthday cake waiting for your celebration? Or a family member’s? Or the birthday of the person the stranger next to you in line at the bakery is buying a luscious cake for? That’s a bit of the obsession. I used to buy two cartons of malted milk balls at Halloween time, or two bags of robins’ eggs (same thing) at Easter, so I could hide one in my closet and have all I wanted from that while doling out amounts to my kids from the public container, hoping no one would discover my stash. Sometimes I had to go back to the store and buy more. That’s an ugly obsession. And it was mine.
*Even raw nuts that have been pre-shelled are concentrated calories—have you ever tried breaking open a walnut in the wild?!
Blessings in Recovery,
The Twelve Steps
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