Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A 12 step apologetic

I've been doing some thinking since Monday about the nature of food addiction.  Actually it's always on my mind at some level, but Monday I read Karen's post that included her review of Diane Carbonell's  just published book, 150 Pounds Gone Forever, as well as a very good series of questions that Karen posed to Diane about the weight loss process.  I was really struck by Diane's answers to questions, and how she was able to slowly but surely drop so much weight without a rigid program with rules, sponsors, etc.

I guess my mind gets twitching because I've done 12 step food programs a few times, and every now and then I think I should try to go back.  Except.

First of all, I will say that when I attended 12 step food programs, I lost weight.  Because I stopped overeating.  Not because of loving support, working the steps, following a magic food plan.  Simply because I stopped what I was doing that made me gain weight in the first place.  Guarantee that works every time, unless one has a medical condition or a biochemical imbalance that prevents one's body from responding to eating less while moving more.  Truly no magic. Support, yes; but in a way that always felt a little barbed to me.  I acknowledge that the barbed edge I felt was likely in my head, but I've experienced it every time I've tried the 12 step food meetings.  As long as I was following the plan to the letter, all was okay.  But if I even asked about adding in another fruit a day (for example), I felt the vapors of judgement and frustrated sadness from the sponsor du jour.

I've never felt at home or even really honest in either Overeaters Anonymous or Food Addicts in Recovery, which is 12 step based and very regimented about their requirements for what they consider abstinence.  Not feeling at home is one thing.  It took awhile for me to feel at home in AA, but once I did, a few months in, I've always had a safe haven at any AA meeting.  I never felt (or feel) judged in the AA rooms - to the contrary, I've always been aware of fellow recovering alcoholics reaching out to give to me, and all who come into the fellowship, what they have found as they worked the program.

But not feeling honest is a different thing altogether.  Especially given what I've come to KNOW from AA.  Honesty with oneself and others is vital.  Yet each time I'd get going for several weeks or months in an anonymous food program, I'd be thinking the whole time that I had no desire to have what the other members had, other than the ones who'd lost weight and improved their health.  I didn't want a requirement of making 3 phone calls a day to different members, to have to call a sponsor every day at a certain time to talk about feelings, to have to attend at least 3 meetings each week or else "lose my clean time", or to someday have 10 years worth of every tracked day written down stored away in a closet (to name a few).  And also, I don't want to have a goal (or a prayed for desire) to never eat a piece of cake or some other treat again.  But I could not say that to anyone in those programs without being met with looks of shock and dismay.

So all that I've written is background for where I'm going with on this thought train.  Reading Diane's answers to Karen's questions (and hopefully I'll read D's book shortly), I started thinking about what is different about Diane and me, that she was able to get a grip and begin a steady forward moving journey to leanness and fitness without a rigid program telling her what was okay to eat and what wasn't.  Then I thought, "Well, maybe Diane isn't/wasn't a food addict", but it seems that any of us who get into the upper 200s and beyond in the weight realm probably have more than an occasional bad food choice driving our eating habits.

I don't know - I think I might actually email Diane and ask her her thoughts on this.  Because when asked if there any foods that Diane simply avoided, she named Snickers, Goldfish Crackers and Oreos, as they still had the power to induce her to overeat.  Besides those three, other treats occasionally find their way into her diet.  And this is where my inability to be truly honest, and I said a couple of paragraphs up, manifest.

I'm not sure if this is making any sense...I sometimes think I must have been humiliated or shamed in the food fellowships.  My experiences in them - 3 separate times where I really stuck with them for several months, always felt like temporary respite.  I had no desire to stay there.  Maybe I just encountered the wrong people - I know they exist in AA, so why not in one of AA's spawns?  But the nature of the rigidity of food programs felt very dysfunctional and uncomfortable to me, and other than weight loss, I don't want what they have.  And I'm convinced I can find weight loss and fitness without having to attend their meetings.  I can use what I learned there, as well as what I always get from AA, and navigate this damn twisty turny bumpy HARD road.


  1. Hi Leslie! Well, I do understand what you're saying. If a person hates the group for some reason, that's never going to work well.

    I hated WW's point system. Also, they always talked to me about responsibility. I don't hate responsibility itself, I just hate the idea of it shoved down my throat.

    I'm in TOPS now. No prescribed diet. No forced food exclusions. You're supposed to come up with your own solution. We spend more time chatting about what is working or not working for members than anything else. I like the people.

    So I there are kindly people somewhere in a weight management group for you. There was for me.

    :-) Marion

  2. Anonymous02 May, 2012

    That is a very excellent analysis of your own needs and desires in a program. I like to think of each program that doesn't work for me as information gained - now I know what DOESN'T work!
    Best of luck in your journey!

  3. My very good friend has been in FA for over a year now, and has done wonderfully. But every time she tells me about the program and the requirements, I start to bristle and seethe...and I think you hit the nail on the head - it's the judgement that comes along with it. There is no judgement in AA (well, there can be, but it's not condoned like it is in FA). I have been quite proud of myself in that I was able to tell my friend that while I was happy the program worked for her, it wasn't for me, and mean it. I think you absolutely know what does not work for you - and that's a huge part of this process. Now just to figure out what DOES work. You're getting there, though - I can see it happening.

  4. I am also a 12-step food program drop out. I tried--I really did, but in my heart, I knew it wasn't for me. Like you, I didn't really want what they had. It seemed like a prison of sorts, and the judgment, the slogans, the shaming all went against my grain. I also can't bring myself to drag my food scale to restaurants and banquets to weigh my food, nor do I think it is necessary.

    I guess we're all different, and what works for one, may not work for others--and that is OK. But like many OA HOW dropouts, I have had a hard time moving completely away from the program. From time to time, I still get the idea that I should be able to live like that--even when the truth is that I can't. One of my goals is to understand that I can't be a member of such a group. I really wish that I would have never been a member, because I think it has held me back in my quest for weight loss. I'm getting closer to breaking completely away, but like a bad penny, those OA HOW thoughts pop up from time to time, and if I try it, I always fail. Thanks for writing this.

  5. Diane always seems like someone who just got carried away with food, someone who had a minor weight problem (to read her) but not a food addiction/eating disorders problem.

    But I agree her highest weight/the amount of weight she lost belies that. She is a tried and true because of her duration and also her pregnancies during maintenance.

    I love definitions:
    be·lie (b-l)
    tr.v. be·lied, be·ly·ing, be·lies
    1. To give a false representation to; misrepresent: "He spoke roughly in order to belie his air of gentility" (James Joyce).
    2. To show to be false; contradict: Their laughter belied their outward grief.

    I have been to OA meetings. Food was NEVER discussed in any way. Plans were never discussed in any way. Are you talking about what goes on after/outside the meetings or during the meetings? I did not have a sponsor, just went to see because Frances had talked so much about that time of thing in Passing for Thin. And to be very honest, the people at the local meetings were maintaining at a higher weight than my starting weight. So it was not a good fit for me. But it was interesting.

  6. First, thanks for the mention and I'm glad that the post was thought-provoking for you.

    Second, I am sure Diane would be very happy to "talk" with you:)

    Now, moving on...

    Do you read Cammy's blog? I was struck when I read Diane's book and her responses to my questions with how similar the two are in their approaches. Cammy has described her approach as "beginning at the end." My words - both women took a long-term perspective on what they could eat for the rest of their lives, as opposed to what they could (or couldn't) eat short term to get to a goal. And both seem to have found success not only with that approach to losing, but maybe more importantly for me personally as a yo-yo dieter, to maintaining. Their paradigm is different, IMO, from that of many classic dieters.

    As for the food addiction, this is something that I wonder about a lot, with all my struggles in the past years, with what I know happens when I eat certain foods like bread, from what I've read on your blog that rings so similar for me. I don't know if I am a food addict, but I do think that I have become "disordered" with eating or my relationship with food, probably brought on by myself with all my years of yo-yo dieting.

    Where am I going with this long ramble. I have no idea! Sorry. But I do think there is a lot we can learn from the experience and wisdom of others and that also, one size does NOT fit all with dieting/maintaining as with all things. So what works for someone one necessarily work for us. Be it OA or calorie counting or low-carb or whatever. Wish this wasn't so darn hard!

  7. I wandered over here based on a comment you made on Waisting Time's current post. I'm glad I did - I'll go read Diane's and Cammy's posts but I enjoyed your post because of its blunt honesty.

    One of the things you said that hit me: "...(I) lost weight. Because I stopped overeating. Not because of loving support, working the steps, following a magic food plan. Simply because I stopped what I was doing that made me gain weight in the first place." Do you realize how profound that paragraph is?

    A year or so ago I had the epiphany that the only reason EVERY program I "tried" & failed at failed simply because I quit doing it or began finagling and changing the program. Everytime. Something would happen (i.e., someone's birthday, dinner out, a binge, etc.) and I'd slowly give up and quit.

    I found a program awhile back, Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle, that you download the ebook, blah blah - but his first chapter deals with something I found vital - the words of our mouth. If we keep saying "I can't" or "it doesn't work for me" or "I always blow it" - we will be manifesting self-fulfilling prophecies. Our words dictate our actions.

    He believes strongly that our words need to be positive, never negative. He states that we will talk ourselves right out of success and that no program will work until we get that down, anc that it is important to not talk our failures. And he has a website full of successful people.

    Of course I have the "talk" part down - I just need to get onto the "walk" or doing part!

    So LONG comment shortened (ha) - reading your post today really helped me and I am going to get off my bootie and go sweat to the oldies today and get back up on my weight loss wagon. To just do what I know to do.

  8. This is a great post...and I can relate very much to what Shelly said in her comment. I also wonder if there's a difference because in AA you stop drinking alcohol but with OA you can't stop eating...but I guess you could say that you stop eating some very specific foods. But you can't say, for example, "I will never eat sugar again" because that would be close to impossible. I know for me, the minute someone says, "you can't have that" (even if it's me saying it), the minute I say, "F you...I'm having it."

    I am going to be asking Diane my own set of questions, as I was also sent a copy of her book. Mine will be a bit different from the other Karen's :-)

  9. I really got your post. yes yes yes. I have been in and out of OA. Initially, when I was in my late 20's and early 30's it made a big difference for me and I went probably 3 or 4 times a week for over a year. I developed a group of friends in the program, went to frequent meetings, had support systems, shared at meetings. There were always things that just didn't feel right to me and I always had to "spit out the bones" of so many things that I heard or read in meetings.

    When I've tried OA off and on over the years since it has never really stuck. Something about the fact that many of the members had been abstinent for 5 or 10 years yet were super morbidly obese, just didn't make sense to me. I could say more but you said it already and better in your post.

  10. Thank you for your honesty and posting your thoughts. I always learn so much from you. I continue to learn and figure out what is going to work for me long term. I am a work in progress and doing well right now and I hope and pray it continues.

  11. I must be very blessed to live where I do (and where I used to live, too). In any 12 step meetings I have attended for food addiction over the last 6 years there have never been any requirements or statements about what I could or could not have by anyone other than myself. Early on it was suggested to me to run from anyone who told me what I MUST DO when I have not asked. Only I can decide if I am free of the obsession - no one else. In every place there are people who are human and some people will develop he attitude that they know better or best over the others. That is their problem. If I am judging others it is my problem. At least, that has been my experience. What I eat or don't eat, what I do with a scale or a food plan - none of those are the point. It is not for everyone but neither is everyone's experience the same. However 12 step meetings that call themselves HOW or gray sheet - they are the nazis of food plans and judgement. They scare me - yet there are people who are happy with that. I cannot judge them either. But I can admit they scare me and stay away from their particular meetings. :-)