Tuesday, January 24, 2012

So, abstinent me?

Following up on some of the comments about my post on abstinence from yesterday, I have to say I also was under the impression that the concept was different than it was actually adopted to be in the OA program.  It was surprising to me that it really referred just to the eating only at mealtimes, and with a specific metabolic snack if deemed necessary.  The notion of omitting certain foods - like sugar and all white products, or wheat, or anything at all, came in later and was never intended to be lumped into the concept of abstinence.  That much more rigid definition grew out of some people finding that unless that absolute leaving out of certain foods was done, real recovery was unlikely or impossible.  I say poo-poo to that.

Before I say more, I want to note that not everyone is truly a food addict or compulsive overeater.  Plenty of folks really can handle moderate amounts of "forbidden fruit" (that is never just fruit!) and not get triggered into eating a whole cake.  And plenty of folks can nibble and graze over the course of the day and lose weight just fine when they want to.

For myself, I think eating 3 meals a day plus a snack (obviously a healthy one, like protein and fruit) either right after work (~ 2 hours before dinner) OR the snack after dinner by 8 pm is reasonable and sane.  I get that popping something into my mouth whenever the notion hits, as long as it's "healthy", can be feeding my compulsion to eat endlessly.  As my AA sponsor says - the next meal is only 4-5 hours from the last one...surely I can wait until then.  If it's hard to resist popping something into my mouth and I feel anxious and/or obsessed with eating something, then waiting those feelings out and exploring them is a better choice. Another meal is coming soon- relax, Leslie!

My impulse to shove something into my mouth is so automatic that I'm not even aware that my stomach isn't empty, or even hungry at all.  The eating is a way of defusing inner anxious energy that could maybe tell me something about myself if given the chance.  When I chew and swallow it down, I miss the opportunity to know why I'm wanting to eat when I'm well nourished and not hungry

I totally agree with a couple of folks who said that the absolutely rigidity of OA and related 12 step food programs is really over the top.  I've mentioned many times about how I just can't find a safe place in OA, no matter how hard I've tried.  Shelley mentioned how it's strange that the abstinence seems to be dealt out according to what food plan your sponsor gives you, based on what "worked" for them.  Unless someone is a nutritionist or an health professional trained in dietetics, they really aren't qualified to tell people what they must and must not eat.  Suggestions and advice are one thing - unqualified prescribing of diets is another.

I am striving to devise my own plan that will include 3 meals a day plus an after dinner "snack" (metabolic meal).  I know that sugar is a problem for me, so leaving that out will be important.  But for today, (and the last few days) - I'm working on the 3 meals and the metabolic meal after dinner, which has become my perk of the day!  Who'da'thunk a cup of Kashi GoLean and a 1/4 cup skim milk could make me so happy? 

Also - again I want to note that there are many really wonderful people who work a 12 step food program, and seem to get that abstinence is not a food plan.  They understand that the content of our food plans must be established by each individual, with or without guidance from another, and modified as needed over time.  There are no absolutes, no never agains regarding certain foods, and perfection is impossible.  We strive to do the best we can each day, and if there is/are other/s along our path who can help, much the better.  This blog community is certainly one of my biggest inspirations, motivations, and supports.


  1. Once I calm down about food, the one thing that always amazes me is how good food really tastes when I'm actually hungry. Once I get myself into the "it's OK to feel hunger" mode, I'm good and I really do enjoy my food more.

    Striving to do our best each day, and knowing there will be some imperfect days - and allowing that to be OK, really is key.

    At our dojo they say "Plan your work, work your plan." Sounds like you are doing just that.

  2. I loved this post, Leslie. You said it well, and I agree with everything you wrote--and that is based on my own experiences. Sounds like you have a good plan!

  3. You said this, but wanted to mention it again - food plans are never discussed at a meeting. Specific foods are never mentioned at a meeting.

    The only way this food thing comes up is if one has a sponsor.

    I wonder if anyone has gone to meetings (on a regular basis) and just never had a sponsor?

    I went to several locally but did not find a good fit.

    I think it was because I live in too small of an area. In a larger area with lots of people at meetings, I think I might have felt more at home. (there were several really pushing men and I do not do well with men, and when there were only 8 people at meeting, it was difficult).

    1. Hi Vickie - What a great idea to attend OA meetings and quietly NOT get a sponsor! I guess that notion would be equivalent to sacrilige within the OA program, but you're so right that the specific food stuff doesn't come up at group level.

      So much of OA's principles and tools are excellent, and I am trying to use them. But I run scared from vigilante recovering people who think they know my body and my addiction better than I do.

    2. You can totally go to an OA meeting without getting a sponsor. If you want to hear some wonderful archived meetings from the comfort of your own home http://www.coffeeshopbb164.com/ is a great place to start if you want to hear recovered peoples stories or into the special recordings tabs and listen to the speakers meetings. In the special recordings there are also recording of Absentance panels where people talk about how they came to figure out what absentance worked for them.

  4. Well, as you can imagine or might have guessed, I am similar in this. I tend to eat for reasons that have nothing to do with physical hunger. Much of mine I think is boredom. Which I once blogged about as to whether that counts as emotional eating or not. If I only ate when I was physically hungry I would probably be "done." Well, you know what I mean. Right? Since I'll never be "done."

  5. I am learning so much from you Leslie - thanks for the education about AA and OA.

    I am an emotional eater and find all of this fascinating.

  6. Amen to everything you said, Leslie. The voice of reason and sanity on so many levels. :)

  7. Hi Leslie!! I am so far behind on my blog reading with everything going on - just wanted to say a quick hello and that I LOVE YOUR HAIR! The cut is super cute too - love it! (and I think it makes you look younger!) Hugs!

  8. So how do you feel when a non AA says that AA business of giving up all alcohol is so restrictive! Why not just drink in moderation? why not switch to beer or wine only? in the AA big book it says The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed.

    I am not affected by alcohol I can have one drink and put it down and not care.

    In my first OA meeting I heard a fellow say if you are wondering if you are a compulsive eater use the same test they use for AA. Go to the store and figure out what your FAVORITE binge food is... do you like cupcakes? get 7. Do you like Oreos buy the box . cannot stop eating priggles ot popcorn. What ever it is get some. Then go home put out what ever it is and put out one serving size for 7 days on your dining room table and have one every day for 7 days. If you are able to do that Congrats you are not a complusive Over eater. For me I knew that I would need to buy 8 cupcakes... one to eat on the way home and that all of the cup cakes would be gone by the next day at the lastest. They would have called to me until they were all gone. I am a sugar addict.

    1. I really appreciate your comment, Wishful. I've read your blog occasionally, esp. back at the beginning and am delighted that your program works well for you.

      I hear what you're saying and totally agree. It's up to each individual, striving to be ruthlessly honest with him/herself about what is safe to put in their food plans. I'm with you - sugar is my poison. I can choose to be abstinent from sugar, but that is not the same thing as the concept of abstinece from compulsive eating of limiting myself to 3 moderate meals along with a metabolic snack. That is what abstinence was originally established to be in OA.

      The actual food plan of each individual is different. If I put cupcakes into my foodplan at a meal and still stay within my 3 meals and one metabolic a day, technically I'm abstinent, but dollars to donuts it won't last. That's why a food plan is as important as limiting eating to 3 meals or 3+ according to medical/nutritional needs. IMO, a non-medical person or non-nutritionist is not qualified to define what exactly I eat. Pasta doesn't interest me at all and never has so it would likely not fall into my foodplan. If it did, it would not trigger my compulsive eating. Cookies would. But a sponsor once gave me such a rigid food plan that didn't allow things I know I can handle - like brown rice and dried beans. When I told her that she told me I couldn't have them. Period.

      Members of 12 step programs have volumes of experience, strength and hope to share and SUGGEST. Suggestions are immensely helpful. And lets face it - it is possible to have 100% abstinence from alcohol. It is not possible in the food realm. The post before this last one talks about that. Tell me I'd likely do well leaving out all sugar/white flour/wheat/whatever. But don't dictate it to me. That isn't helpful.

    2. Oops - one more thing - I never felt that giving up all alcohol was restrictive or rigid. Alcohol is not necessary to live. Food is. Not hard for this alcoholic to get the difference.

    3. Well every one's food plan is different and according to the original OA definition what you are say I am not abstinent as my nutritionist deems it necessary for me to eat 3 meals and 3 snacks a day. All of those are committed to a sponsor and none contain sugar in the 1st 5 ingredients. I would also agree that if one said 3 platefuls at meal times and one snack is their abstinence they would be within abstinence putting a cupcake on that plate. < With such a food plan they would not be in the program I work as we do have the requirement that no foods where sugar is in the first 5 ingredients> The issue is not the cupcake or the extra green bean as people in my program say. It is the decision to eat it.

      The point I am making about the Alcohol is that a NON AA does think giving up drinking completely is too restrictive. The way I see it is that you only gave up drinking alcohol because if you drank that it would create a craving to drink more alcohol even when you know better even when you don't want another you cannot stop drinking alcohol. No one tells an AA to also give up drinking water and pop and coffee and juice. You have to drink to stay alive as much as you have to eat to stay alive. You do not have to eat sugar to live. To me sugar is the alcohol. To others great volumes of food is the alcohol so they weigh and measure. I think that the 3 meals+ one snack is a great place to start. I have heard it said that being in AA is like keeping the tiger in the cage and with OA we have to take the tiger out for a walk for every meal. I would liken eating a cupcake in one of those meals would be like walking that tiger in lady gagas meat dress.

  9. Leslie, I think you're onto something. When you think about it, you're automatically going to be eating fewer calories if you have fewer eating opportunities and are at least somewhat mindful when you do eat. I do better without the snack, even: three squares works for me, but I don't have a job and I tend to go to bed early, so I'm not hungry after dinner.

    When I follow this very loose plan, I find I truly am hungry when it's "time" to eat. Honestly, though, I bet there are very few of us who experience true, gnawing hunger.

    All that said ... I'm staying away from sugar right now. Don't know how long this will last. The first time I abstained from sugar (in OA, and that was their rule) it took three weeks before I actually felt all right. I was weepy, moody, crabby. This time I've been a little moody, but the emotional swings have been few and far between, and no so dramatic in their ups and downs.

    I hope you figure out what you need ... I hope we all do!

  10. Leslie, you are a gem. :) Just sayin and with no explanation. Deb

  11. Leslie, as you know, I've been in OA for a very long time, abstinent 11 1/2 years by my own definition and based on my own definition of abstinence that has to do with abstaining from my old binge foods. I've also been on a food plan that I devised for myself all those years ago with some tweaking as tge years have gone by, mostly of eliminating foods I can no longer tolerate. The best thing that helped me in formulating this program of mine, which I feel is truly connected to my Higher Power, was reading the book Beyond Our Wildest Dreams, the story of OA written by the founder, Rozanne. Reading this the week before I became abstinent explained to me what OA really was and what the difference really was between principles and personalities and how to "take what I need and leave the rest." I've been fortunate enough to be able to do that for all these years. I wish the same for you.