Monday, January 23, 2012

Abstinence finally

Hi guys - Thanks for the positive comments on my gray locks, which are really too short to be locks.  I have to say that had I known my natural color would be so not awful (translate:  decent) I'd have done this long ago.  I swear I'm even having men tell me they think it looks great!  (I'm around more than the average amount of men very often with my frequent AA mtg attendance... :))  Yowza!

I need to write about the whole abstinence thing I've been alluding to for awhile.  And more than needing to write about it, I need to adopt it, at least for the present today, which I'm in the process of.  Keep fingers, arms and toes crossed. 

I had ordered a used copy of the OA book where members of that fellowship share their experience, strength and hope about abstinence as a tool for reining in compulsive overeating.  I've had it lying around for over a year, and about a month ago actually picked it up and started reading a few of the entries.  The first one I read jumped out at me and has been the point of departure for me as I ponder and hopefully institute this for myself.

Before I go any further, I have to say that I am not attending OA meetings.  I've tried them countless times over the years; sometimes I've attended as long as 6 months consecutively, so it's not like I've only dropped in once or twice.   Bottom line for me is that I find it a generally unattractive fellowship compared to AA.  I won't say more than that, because I don't want to offend anyone.  It's a great program, with great principles and suggestions for beating the binge beast.  I just haven't found what feels like a real home there, the way I have in AA.

I want to keep this as concise as possible as I've read how shorter posts are easier for readers to digest (endless food metaphors, yes?).  The first entry in the book was written by the founder of OA, Rozanne S., and explains how the concept of abstinence in OA emerged.  OA began in earnest in 1960 with the shared conviction of attendees to lose weight and stop overeating, but with many different ideas about how to achieve their common goals.  Having observed how the 12 steps of AA had helped suffering alcoholics in such a profound way, the founders knew they could benefit from those principles.  Yet each member had her/his own methods or ideas of how to lose weight, which back then was almost entirely about counting calories. 

Rozanne wrote, "We'd been taught that as long as we kept within our calorie count, we could eat all the barely caloric foods we wanted between meals.  Our problem was that while many of us had lost weight, even more were nibbling their way back to obesity.  Others were sticking with their diets but crunching all day on the low cal foods.   Many just stayed fat, insisting they were only eating allowable foods between meals.  Something crucial was missing.  What was it?  The 12 steps worked for our AA friends; what were we doing wrong?"

She went on to say that she attended frequent AA meetings, not because she was alcoholic, but because she believed she could learn best about the 12 steps and traditions by being in the fellowship where they began.  At one particular meeting in early 1962, she heard several folks share about "abstinence" from alcohol.  She'd attended for 2 years and had never heard that term (and neither have I in my 20+ years), but it became a revelation for her.  She realized that most OA folks were not abstaining from food at any time during the day.  She noted that it would be beneficial to stop eating after a meal, and then not eat again until the next meal.  "Sometime during the day, we had to 'abstain' from eating; otherwise we're feeding our compulsion.

She went on to describe the earliest days of trying to bring this up at meetings and finding a lot of opposition to it, along with others who "got it" and supported the notion.  Within months, she sent out information to all the OA groups in existence at that time (19 of them) sharing the concept of abstinence as it could apply to food and eating - noting that in her home group, the members were finding the concept very helpful.

She wrote, "Abstinence means simply 3 moderate meals a day with absolutely nothing in between.  It means also no 'meals' while we're preparing a meal and no 'meals' while we're cleaning up the kitchen afterward.  In other words, total abstinence from compulsive eating!"  She went on to note that if their are medically necessary reasons for a different configuration of eating, then of course one could plan accordingly, and any thing outside that plan would be breaking abstinence.  Also, "black coffee, tea and noncaloric beverages of any kind are the exception to between-meal nibbling."

So that's how the concept of abstinence came into the 12 step fellowship of OA.  It's not a requirement - no 12 step program has any musts; their ideas and recommendations are but suggestions.  But as it says in the Big Book of AA, the suggestion of not drinking one drop of alcohol a day at a time as a means of getting sober is a suggestion in the same way that it's suggested that a skydiver pull the ripcord after jumping from a plane!

Seems many folks think abstinence includes the content of a food plan, like 'no sugar or white flour', low fat, low carb...but abstinence actually just refers to eating at meals and not at all in between.  The contents of one's diet is a different thing all together.

That's enough for now.  I'm going to continue talking about this and how I'm applying it to my own eating.  The key thing is that the content of our food intake can change over time according to our needs - but abstinence means not eating at anytime other than mealtime.  Interesting - a whole lot broader than someone telling you that if you eat 2 fruits at a meal instead of one, you've "lost your clean time"!  Crazy, but it happened to me.  At that didn't make me want to go back to the OA fellowship.


  1. Okay - major eye-opener for me. I had always considered food abstinence to be cutting out "something." Like peanut butter:) Of course I would never think of it as you describe it because it is almost beyond my imagination to consider living without eating between meals. In fact I am almost shuddering just reading this post. So I found this most interesting, Leslie.

    I am curious to see where you go with this.

    It really has me thinking now. Eek. Wow. Okay... this is one of those posts for me. Powerful in how it makes me feel and think and ...

  2. Ah-HA! for so long, I felt like a lone voice and here I was singing the right tune after all. :D If I had read some OA, I may have saved myself the "reinventing the wheel" and "wondering if I was wrong", stanzas.

    Thanks, Leslie.


    1. Hi Deb - Yeah - I knew you were right about that and almost mentioned it in my post today but I'd run on long enough. So now that we know this, how can we make it work for us without attending their negative Nancy meetings??

    2. Ha. That's the good news and bad news for me with this post. :} Now that I've had it confirmed that I'm right in what I developed---uh-hmmm----I probably need to do it for more than a day. sighhhhh.

      I have to tell you, Leslie, I'm having a really hard time with eating only at mealtimes. I keep wanting to tell myself that I'm just being too rigid...too something. You've taken away my ability to waffle...cause, you know, I could have been wrong about all of that so no sense bending myself out of shape to do it.

      I had a looonnng post written for today. Part 1 was the numbers thing, but there was a part 2. I erased it, it was so long. But it was about the Brain over Binge thing and how it worked wonderfully r/t not BINGEING. The problem was that it didn't generalize over to following Abstinence and my food plan. No binge--but I ate whatever I darned well pleased, and when I wanted to eat it. Therefore, no felt need to binge. sigh.

      My conclusion was that I had to DECIDE to follow my Abstinence and food plans just as I had decided not to binge. That great thought was today. I'll let you know when I make the decision. It won't be today... The resistance is fierce.


  3. I have also read the OA literature, and I'm so glad that you shared the original concept of "abstinence." Different groups have changed it to be a rigid program. I like the original concept, but I also have to add one snack per day to it, because of some blood sugar issues. Eating in the way you describe is so helpful, because our bodies adjust to eating three (or four) times a day, and as a result, our insulin production settles down. That is important, because when insulin is constantly provoked by food several times a day, it makes us feel hungry. It also promotes fat storage. You are definitely on the right track.

  4. I have a good friend who has done OA for just over a year how and has been successful - her major issue is sugar, and her OA sponsor does not let her have any sugar or "whites" at all. I think this is what SHE needed, but it's not for everyone, being quite that stringent. And I think it's a bit odd that the diet varies depending on who your sponsor is. She lost her original sponsor a couple months ago as apparently she broke her abstinence - in that aspect, OA seems harsher than AA.

    I think the idea of stopping eating, of only eating at mealtime, is a good one. And it sounds like something is clicking for you, and that makes me glad. :)

  5. Late to the party - love the hair - I think it looks great on you.

    Finding our own way through this maze is tough - the longer I keep at it, the less I realize I know. I don't know that I could deal with being that harsh or perfect. Having to be "perfect" is always a recipe for disaster for me. I prefer "progress, not perfection" - I hope you get to a place/program that brings you peace.

  6. very interesting and news to me. I too had always thought it talked about the whites (flour, sugar) or other specific types of foods. Good post.

  7. I am in OA and I am in the strict variety. However I do not think that it is what everyone one needs. I know that compulsive over eating is a progressive disease. I know that the strict nature of the concept I work works for those people that nothing else has worked for. Most of the members that have 10 years ect were in the traditional rooms for years with no recovery. You can be absentant and not recovered. Absentance is step zero because once we put the food down you find out why you were picking it up in the first place. You use the tools of OA to have a plan of living for that. Some people are triggered by sugar. I know I am it is because I am allergic. When I put sugar in it creates a craving for more sugar. That allergy of the body creates a obbsession of the mind. Period end of story. Some people I know have that same allergy to foods like bacon and chicken skin. I don't like bacon or chicken skin so I do not have to abstain from them they do not call to me but I wouldn't eat them any way. If when you put a substance in your body and it does not create an obsession you are not addicted. My group requires you to work with a nutritionist to come up with your personal food plan. A sponsor is not allowed to change that. A sponsor is not allowed to play God either.

    1. While I understand your point, I think that labeling abstinence as simply a first step is off base. It can be the first step, I suppose, for those who have never practiced the art of introspection r/t their overeating, but for many of us, it is not that at all. It is the culmination of a growing awareness that we are using food addictively and need to stop.

      I have known for years that I use food as an alcoholic uses alcohol, so it finally seemed to make sense to stop compulsive overeating as a recovering alcoholic stops drinking alcohol.

      While stopping compulsive overeating means to stop eating compulsively, we can't swear off food. An artificial construct is needed. As with all artificial constructs, it has flaws.

      My original purpose for deciding to follow abstinence in the form of 3 meals a day was to use it as a structure to catch myself when I wanted to eat for reasons other than hunger. A structure that would require me to pause and rethink that behavior.

      Quite frankly, after reading your comment, I've kind of had the wind knocked out of my sails. I need to rethink whether or not abstinence is what i need.

    2. Deb I am in no way trying to knock wind out of sails. It was not me that came up with Abstinence as Step Zero. You would not go through The 12 Step of AA with a drunk person... You cannot go through the steps of OA with a food drunk person. Willingness is a one person job and all it takes you work the steps in willingness. Are you willing to go to any lengths to get recovery. And what am I talking about as recovery.. The freedom from Compulsion to Overeat. The problem will be solved like it is for AA's they do not white knuckle it nor do they avoid places that serve their favorite drink.

    3. This is what you said, "Absentance is step zero because once we put the food down you find out why you were picking it up in the first place"

      I am aware of the facts you cited in your reply, but your clear intent in the above quote was that abstinence needed to happen so that people could get started on discovering why they overeat. It is that presumption that I challenged, not the need to be sober.

    4. Deb you are total right I miss understood. I am sorry that especially with the way I structured... or failed to structure the sentence that I would appear that I am saying that one would have no idea why the were eating in the first place. I do think putting down the food or rather creating an artificial construct is exactly what is needed. I do think that starting with three meals a day and a snack is a great place to start and if it does the trick to end the compulsive overeating that is exactly what was needed. I think the whole looking at the sugar in items really comes from the idea not the the program changed as much as our society has started adding sugar in places most of us would have never been looking.. Crab? Why do they add sugar to crab? Our grocery stores are filled with hidden sugar. I am sorry if I came off harsh. I think what ever anyone does to combat this disease is great. I do not think anyone has to have the same abstinence as me to get recovery. In the rooms I go to they talk a lot about "Do not water down the program" I think it is just as dangerous to concentrate the program so much that no one can recover. Beach in the right strength whitens your whites and disinfects Beach at the wrong strength eats holes right through the cloth.

  8. this post stuck with me. I came back and read it again. I am quoting a great big chunk out of the middle and putting a link back to your post later this week (in a post of mine), wanted to let you know.