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.
“My name is [Your Name Here], and I am a compulsive over eater. I weigh and measure three meals a day from the Grey Sheet, write them down, commit them to my sponsor or another qualified person. I don’t eat in between no matter what. Abstinence is the most important thing in my life WITHOUT EXCEPTION.”
I heard this refrain before every single share, from every single person, at every single meeting in GreySheeters Anonymous (GSA). It’s not a requirement of the program but it’s the thing you say because, you know, everybody does it.
I never did. I’m not everybody.
I was in GSA for approximately five weeks in 2018. I abstained for 19 days and then binged after my sponsor made me go back to Day 1 for measuring my lunch wrong.
I think the reason GSA never worked for me was because I was never on board with the premise, which is to weigh and measure our food … at all times … no matter what … under all circumstances: in front of my friends, coworkers, at wedding receptions and (the horror!) dates.
Plus, my sponsor was mean.
I’d known Vi from Alcoholics Anonymous, sitting in meetings with her and her husband for years. She was always lovely, with an easy smile and every word sounding musical in her soft Irish accent. When she told me she was a member of GSA, and I was interested in joining, I hadn’t hesitated to ask her to be my sponsor. She was so nice.
Except once she said yes, she turned into a fucking bitch.
The first time I called Vi, I was taken aback by her curt tone. Vi’s normally soft accent now had a hard, clipped edge, much like the Irish nuns I’d survived during my twelve years in Catholic school.
Vi got irritated when I asked questions about the confusing food plan and tended to reprimand me for things I viewed as harmless, like the time I put vinegar on my vegetables without asking her first.
“You need to not be makin’ decision by yerself now.”
The final straw came when I decided to do a “weighing and measuring in restaurants” warm up. I had plans to go to dinner with my mom and wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing so as not to bumble in front of her.
I chose a local health food restaurant and pre-selected a large tofu salad with Tahini dressing. I packed a small kitchen scale in my purse and drove there after work.
I hadn’t brought a “backup meal” – which is basically an entire dinner of protein, fat and vegetables, plus extra paper plates and utensils in your purse – as I figured, hey, it was a health food restaurant. How bad could it go?
As it turns out, very.
I ordered my food, asking for everything to be brought to me separately: salad in one bowl, non-salad vegetables in another, tofu on a small pate, salad dressing on the side.
This being Los Angeles, the land of food allergies, macrobiotic diets and intermittent fasting, the waitress didn’t blink an eye … until I asked for an empty bowl along with my meal. This, I’m sure, was something she hadn’t seen before.
When she brought out my meal fifteen minutes later, the bowls and plates took up the entire surface of the table and I was grateful to be alone as there’d be no room for anyone else’s food.
A day late and an ounce short.
I took out my kitchen scale, proceeded to weigh and measure all of my individual food items and then dumped them into the empty bowl. Then came the bad news: per the scale, I was 10 ounces short of vegetables, 1/5 ounces short of protein (the tofu) and 1 ounce short of fat.
Not eating the full amount of food – down to the literal half-ounce – was considered a GSA slip and I panicked. Ordering another salad would have left me with a surplus of food I couldn’t eat and cost me another twenty dollars. So I called my sponsor from the table.
“Did you bring back up?” Vi shrieked.
“No,” I said, so frustrated and embarrassed that I was almost crying.
“Then you need to pack it up and leave!” Vi barked. “Call me when you get home.”
I got containers and the check from the now-confused waitress, walked the short distance home and dialed Vi’s number.
By this time I was crying. Vi berated me for not having a backup plan and not asking a GSA member to go with me to the restaurant. She told me I couldn’t eat my meal as I had already put on the incorrect amount. myself. After a few minutes of this, I hung up and called her back.
“You need to back off,” I said through tears. I explained to her that while she’d been doing this for 20+ years, I was new to this whole process, which was complicated and confusing. She apologized somewhat and I stopped crying.
But GSA was over for me.
The evening contained everything that wasn’t working for me in GSA: the absolutely inflexible food plan, the over-dependence on a sponsor, the logistical, humiliating nightmare of weighing and measuring in restaurants, the financial impracticality of paying for a full meal and then having to supplement with either my own food or side dishes. I just couldn’t do it.
GSA Miracles did happen.
To be completely fair, I did see a lot of recovery in the rooms of GSA. Vi had been a hard core bulimic, bingeing and purging many times a day – and often in public toilets – before joining GSA. Now she’d been free from the illness for over twenty years and maintained a normal, steady body weight.
Barb and Jenni, two women whom I’d personally seen suffer for years with huge weight gains, had stopped destroying themselves in GSA and attained a level of recovery I’d not thought possible.
Even Judy Collins herself, who got me into this whole mess via her book “Cravings,” found that GSA was the only thing that stopped her epic, decades-long self-destruction by food.
I suppose my own miracle was that I realized that GSA was doing me more harm than good and left before any real damage was done. I just couldn’t accept that the only way out of my food addiction was becoming addicted to a food plan, no matter how good its intent.
I still see Vi at my AA meetings and she’s gone back to being the Nice Vi. But I don’t buy it. I’ve seen the shrieking evil nun that lives inside her. One day she may apologize. I’m ready for it.
“I forgive you,” I’ll say graciously.
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