“Abstinence is the action of refraining from compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors while working towards or maintaining a healthy body weight.” – Overeaters Anonymous’s official definition
Disclaimer: This blog is one of a series of personal explorations of my own experiences searching for a solution to my compulsive eating. Anything stated here is not a reflection of this organization as a whole. Please take what you like, leave the rest, and investigate for yourself.
| Overeaters Anonymous |
The first thing I tried was Overeaters Anonymous (OA). Why wouldn’t I?
OA is the Mothership of all food-related 12-step programs.
Founded in 1960, this fellowship estimates its membership at over 60,000 people in 6,500 groups meeting in over 75 countries. OA has its own literature, podcasts, Twelve Steps and Traditions; and in-person, phone, and online meetings.
| What Worked |
In OA I learned that “abstinence” is different from a “food plan”:
- My abstinence is my overall recovery. It is the commitment I make to myself. This is permanent, like a vision or mission statement.
- My food plan is my current diet. This can change depending on my health, medical, and social needs.
How this changed my life.
Although I am no longer in OA, I use this concept every day of my life:
- My abstinence as not binging.
- My food plan is the GraySheeters Anonymous (GSA) diet.
I may not be on the GSA diet forever but I can not binge forever.
The night I became a Jedi.
That’s why, when I had my “Soupiphany” (read here), although I had to go back to Day 1 in GSA because I blew the food plan, I did not blow my abstinence because I did not binge.
Separating the two changed the game for me: It made me responsible.
The reason I sit here today, abstinent and typing, is because OA gave me the gift of clarity and that has proven priceless.
| Didn’t Work |
In OA, food plans are suggested, not required. That means that I, with the help of a sponsor, get to pick what to eat and not eat.
In literature they would call this a “flawed premise.”
The whole setup is problematic. It’s like asking a five-year-old to select the weekly family menu – he or she doesn’t have the perspective or maturity to come up with a balanced, rational menu.
What’s worse is that you’re asking me – the person who gained 100 pounds in a year (welcome to my 1997) – to figure out what’s for lunch.
In literature they would call this an “unreliable narrator.”
So basically, when it comes to eating, I have a “broken brain,” a complete inability to make sane food choices. This is also defined as an “appalling lack of perspective,” as per the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.
“Appalling” being the key word.
My broken brain came up with some pretty wack ideas on what to eat.
I tried eating whatever sugar I wanted (binged); flour products such as pancakes, biscuits, and muffins (binged); limiting sugar to dessert at restaurants (binged later); fasting (binged the very day I was allowed solid food); and smoothies (binged because I was hungry).
I changed my food plan pretty much weekly and ended up five months later just as overweight and miserable as when I arrived.
| Mixed Blessing |
Because I could define my own food plan, I had the freedom to truly explore different foods to see if they worked for me. So basically I had a long rope.
And, well, I hanged myself.
But because I hanged my own self, I had nobody to blame for my inability to handle sugar, flour, dessert, fasting, and smoothies.
Since I realized that it was my own damn fault, I, again, took responsibility for myself and no longer felt a sense of deprivation or resentment that somebody or something wasn’t “letting me” eat those foods.
| Bottom Line |
I have a lot of respect for OA. I still read OA literature and listen to its podcasts, both of which are top-quality.
I don’t blame OA for “not working” … I just wasn’t able to make it work for me because my disease is too far advanced to not have structure.
OA helped me grow up and I consider my time there to be extremely valuable.
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