This is a lifelong question for me. For two years, I joined Overeaters Anonymous thinking it would help me stop my emotional eating craziness. Here’s what I learned.
For the uninitiated, OA is a twelve step group that uses the same abstinence-based approach popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous. The way a lot of OAers practice it, binge foods are the narcotic that brings them to their knees.
OAers think of themselves as food addicts. They consider their relationship with food “diseased.” Their solution? Abstinence.
Sound pretty Christian and all purity and moral goodness to you? Me too! Abstinence is touted at all the meetings. Plus, people with abstinence get to do things like hold service positions, become speakers and sponsor others. It’s like they walk with halos. On the other hand, people who don’t have abstinence are constantly confessing their food trespasses. They act like they’ve sinned big time.
While it is up to you to define your binge foods, almost everyone cops to sugar as the devil incarnate. This gets said a lot by the old-timers: “Anyone who doesn’t give up sugar will never achieve lifetime abstinence.”
A life without sugar. A life of weighing and measuring your food. A life of eating according to a pre-ordained food plan. A life of reporting your food intake to a sponsor. That’s OA.
For two years, I got way more obsessed with sugar than ever before. A crazy cycle of bingeing and purging took root that I’m still trying to break out of now.
I don’t know about you, but when I hear I absolutely cannot have chocolate chip bread pudding anymore, I suddenly want chocolate chip bread pudding more than life itself. And since one bite of bread pudding lands me in OA judgment jail, I figure I might as well break abstinence in a glorious tub of bread pudding with some ice cream on top. And, hell, why not a starter of fried chicken too?
OA got me believing I was an addict who couldn’t be trusted around food. That food was the star around which I spun. There it was in their first step: “We admitted we were powerless over food.”
The problem was that when I believed that, I stopped being able to regulate my eating like a normal person. The part of me that used to listen to my body’s hunger and fullness signals vanished. I started eating like I answered to a hyper-critical food nazi. Or else I became a total diet rebel. Neither extreme felt good. In fact, they were just the new faces of an old eating disorder.
That’s why I had to quit OA. Good intentions aside, OA began to feel like the diet police.
I want to stop freaking out around food and weight. To do this, I’ve decided to follow in the footsteps of my anti-dieting heroines Kelsey Miller and Geneen Roth. Like them, I’m taking mindfulness as my first step. This doesn’t mean I want to binge on sugar. It does mean I want a life that’s sweet. With a scoop of Chunky Monkey on the side.
What about you? Have you ever hit a rough patch with eating and body image? What’s worked for you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!