A Plan of Eating
A Tool for Living One Day at a Time

By Scott Mc Cann

    Most assuredly, Eating Disorders is a disease of addiction, just like drugs and alcohol. There is a difference and that is in the priority of the disease. With the alcoholic and drug addict, it is first physical. Just try to stop drinking or using for 24 to 48 hours and see if you do not get the shakes or cravings. Second, it is mental. Alcoholics and drug addicts use to get rid of the "committee in their head". Third, it is emotional, most use drugs and alcohol to avoid all emotions. Finally, it is spiritual. Many alcoholics and drug addicts continue to go to church or synagogue on a regular basis.

    For people with eating disorders, the first order of priority is emotional. We eat for excitement, love, celebration, loneliness, escape, pleasure, and comfort. We devour food, purge, or abort eating to anesthetize ourselves. We eat out of anger, resentment, envy, jealousy, fear, pride, guilt, and grief. Second is spiritual. People with eating disorders seem to have lost that conscious contact with their Higher Power. This has a lot to do with self-esteem. Finally, it is physical. To give an example, place an alcoholic and a compulsive overeater on an island for a week with only a three-day ration of food and a six pack of beer. See which one goes crazy first. (Of course, you would not want to be part of the rescue party)

    Unfortunately, many people with compulsive eating disorders use drugs and alcohol to moderate their eating patterns. Some are given prescription appetite control drugs that are either opiate or amphetamine based. When it finally comes time for treatment the Eating Disordered are treated for drug and alcohol addiction and their eating problem is ignored. After all, it is much easier to treat physical ailments than emotional ailments.

Defining a new way of eating is important

    We are not like normal eaters. Obviously, there is something wrong with our current eating patterns. Compulsive Overeaters, Anorexics, and Bulimia's are different from normal eaters. Normal eaters stop eating when they are full. We do not. Normal eaters do not hide food and plan how they will secretly get to it when no one is around. We do. Normal eaters do not-use food to comfort their insecurities and fears, or to provide a fleeting escape from worries and troubles. We do. Normal eaters do not feel guilt and shame about their eating. We do.

    We discover that our problem is not weakness or lack of willpower. We have a disease. When food is in front of us or calling to us, we cannot trust our best intentions or willpower to guide us in making good eating decisions. We have made hundreds of resolutions to ourselves and others tried every diet, therapy, hypnosis, shots and pills yet we could not stop eating compulsively.

Developing a plan of eating

    Using a plan of eating is the beginning of freedom from compulsive overeating, bingeing, or food cessation. Instead of depending on resolutions and willpower to help make good decisions in front of the refrigerator or in the restaurant, we develop a sensible plan of eating in advance. Initially, many of us use a daily plan of eating which includes what, when, where and how much. This daily plan serves to separate our eating from our emotions and relieves us of making the decisions we formerly had to make throughout the day. Reducing the time we think about food clears our heads of the ongoing conflict between our self-will and the disease. We also find that we are more likely to stick to our plan if we commit it daily to a sponsor. As in the rest of the program, we do this one-day at a time. We do not have to think about doing it forever.

    If possible, plan to eat at least one meal a day with another Eating Disordered person. The camaraderie and the sharing of that day's thoughts and emotions can make the Plan of Eating an enjoyable experience.

An eating history

    One of the first steps in developing our plan of eating is to take an honest and courageous look at our eating history. What is our past relationship with food, from childhood to the present? We took with rigorous honesty at our eating patterns. When did we begin eating compulsively? What was going on? What did we overeat? What do we overeat now? What foods do we think about most? What foods do we crave? When do we overeat? What is the relationship between our reactions to life events and our eating patterns? We find it necessary to examine our current and old eating patterns in order to begin building a new set of healthy eating habits. The questions in Step One of the Twelve-Step Workbook of Overeaters Anonymous are an excellent starting point for this inquiry.

Binge foods

    When we honestly look at our eating patterns, we discover that not only do we habitually overeat, but also we have a very strong preference foods or food groups. What we find is that certain foods—as well as overeating in general—seem to set up the craving for more. Sometimes, we intend to have only one of something, and end up having ten. Other times the craving may be subtle. Have one today, two or three tomorrow, and suddenly it is five or ten. We emphasize the importance of not taking that first bite of a personal binge food. Because these foods differ among individuals, we must each determine which foods trigger this craving behavior.

Overeaters Anonymous can help, but it is your plan

    Overeaters Anonymous, does not promote, endorse, recommend or distribute any specific food plans. For nutritional guidance, we seek advice about healthy eating from a qualified health care professional, such as a doctor or nutritionist. In addition to professionals, 12 Step Sponsors understand your challenges. They are working and living the Compulsive Eating Twelve Step program to the best of their ability. Their purpose is to support us in our program and help us gain insight into our eating patterns, not to give specific medical or nutritional advice. Most importantly, they can share what does and does not work for them.

    For a checklist of indications of Overeating, please see Self-Test for Compulsive Overeating

Anorexia and Bulimia

    Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia are eating disorders that have manifested themselves in a different way. Anorexia Nervosa is the partial or complete cessation from eating. Many Anorexics report a "high" from starvation. This high is referred to as "Ketosis". They feel sharper, more analytical, become an over achiever. The common comment that "I'm to fat" or "I'm not that thin" is a denial of their problem, much in the same manner an Alcoholic states "I don't have a drinking problem."

    Bulimia is a process of binge and purge. Bulimia's report a "rush and relief" from the purging process. From the outside, most Bulimia's appear very normal and healthy. The only external indication may be the faint smell of vomit. However, the internal organ damage from the purging process can be severe, including ruptured esophagus, ruptured heart and peritonitis.

    For a checklist of indications of Anorexia and Bulimia, please see Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia

Overeaters Anonymous is Compulsive Eating Disorder 12 step organization for all.

Taking it one day at a time

    After clearly defining an overall vision for our new eating behaviors, many of us then plan the day-to-day specifics. For example, just for today, we will eat these foods for breakfast; we will eat these foods for lunch; and we will eat these foods for dinner. Some of us might eat three meals a day. Some might plan snacks. For medical reasons, some might need to follow other plans. Maybe some must simply avoid junk food, second helpings, and bingeing. For many of us, specific planning is important, such as deciding exactly what amounts of each food we will have. We may need to write down the plan every day, or write it once and refer to it daily. We share the plan with (or commit it to) our sponsor. Making a plan of eating and committing it to a sponsor helps us to honestly see what we are eating and get objective input. Committing strengthens commitment.

Overeating, Anorexia or Bulimia is a symptom, not the problem

    Developing and practicing a new way of eating is the beginning of a physical, emotional and spiritual journey to the place where we no longer need to eat in excess. Learning these new skills is part of the internal transformation we need to achieve long term recovery. We define a plan of eating that leads us to abstinence. However, if we focus only on our eating behavior—which is merely a symptom of the problem—to the exclusion of the rest of the program, we are using OA only as a diet program and eventually will go back into our disease. To sustain our plan of eating for any length of time, we must embrace the whole program: the Steps, the Traditions, and the other tools.

    It is your decision. Most OA members enjoying long-term recovery made the decision to use a plan of eating. Now this decision rests with you. The tool of a plan of eating offers the compulsive overeater a solution for dealing with food on a daily basis. The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous say, "the Steps, Traditions and tools are the vital difference between OA and all the other ways we have tried to stop eating". Now is the time to stop eating compulsively and use the Twelve Steps of this Fellowship to gain freedom from the power of food in your life.

The following are answers to questions you may have about a Plan of Eating.

If I am powerless over food, where will I get the power to follow this plan?

    Our Higher Power gives us the power, providing we do the footwork. Working the Twelve Steps, committing our daily plan of eating to our Higher Power and a sponsor, going to meetings, making phone calls, studying the literature and using the other tools bring us the power to do what we have not been able to do before on our own.

How does having a plan of eating help me work the Steps?

    The act of continually overeating and the never-ending attempts to hide our abnormal behavior squander great quantities of mental energy. Overeating clouds our thinking. Most newly abstinent people talk about the clarity and increased productivity that comes after a few weeks of abstinence. The inner-change process of the Twelve Steps requires clarity and painstaking self-honesty. A plan of eating leading to abstinence puts food in the proper perspective, so we can devote our clear-headed energies to working with our Higher Power on changing those things in us that need changing.

What is the difference between a plan of eating and abstinence?

    Abstinence from compulsive overeating is the objective of working our program. At the physical level, its simplest definition is to refrain from eating compulsively, and a plan of eating helps us to achieve this. At the emotional and spiritual levels, abstinence is a state of mind characterized by freedom from the food obsession; this comes because of working the Steps and surrendering to a Higher Power.

Isn't this just another diet?

    OA is not a diet club. We treat our food obsession as a physical, emotional and spiritual malady. A plan of eating is the beginning of learning a new, healthier way of eating. It is a way of life, not a temporary solution. Unlike dieting, a plan of eating is not about deprivation. Choosing to follow a healthy plan of eating is a positive choice for life.

Why is it so difficult to eliminate excess food?

    There is no question that food often takes the edge off uncomfortable emotions. When we are abstinent, we begin to experience the feelings that food has kept us from facing. Recovery is about learning to face these feelings without seeking comfort in food. This is what we learn in our emotional and spiritual growth in the program. Excess food keeps us from "feeling and dealing", and we must put food down before we can get the full benefits of the program.

It seems like all I do is think about food. How can a plan of eating stop that?

    A plan of eating allows us to minimize the time in the day that we have to think about food. We plan once a day, write it down, commit it to our Higher Power and a sponsor, and then don't think about food until it is time to cat. Committing the plan to our Higher Power and a sponsor allows us to clear our minds of food thoughts and improves our focus on the rest of our program and on our lives. Over time, our plan of eating will become a new, positive pattern.

Following a daily plan of eating seems too hard. What if I don't have the discipline?

    Our willingness to do something about our compulsive overeating is a product of two things. The first is pain. The pain became so great that finally we were willing to take action. Second, we changed our minds about self-sufficiency. Most of us suffered from the delusion that self-sufficiency is one of the objectives of life and that not being self-sufficient is a defect. Beginning the OA program means giving up this illusion and acknowledging that we are powerless.

    To use the plan of eating tool, we have to be willing to accept that the disease is stronger than our willpower. We must be willing to try a way other than our own, which includes planning our meals and committing them to someone, letting go of problem foods, and learning to recognize the difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger. We must be willing to begin again if we make a mistake. Moreover, we must be willing to put the pursuit of abstinence from compulsive overeating ahead of everything.

When the urge to eat is driving me crazy, how do I stick to my plan of eating?

    Thinking of eating is not overeating. We do not have to act on our feelings. The worst thing we can do is try to talk ourselves out of it. Our unaided willpower will usually lose. Taking some short-term action—any action other than eating—will usually help alleviate the urge. We can do a few things. Ask our Higher Power to remove the urge, call another member and explain what is going on; get to a meeting; write about our feelings; read a piece of OA or AA literature to help us focus on our recovery; and remind ourselves that we can abstain, no matter what. For more suggestions, see OA's brochure, "Before You Take That First Compulsive Bite."

What is the biggest danger to watch out for in trying to follow my plan of eating?

    Mostly our thinking. Our irrational thinking may make us view a plan of eating as a loss of freedom, when in fact it leads to freedom. This illusion can keep us a slave to food forever. In addition, we remember not to focus only on our plan of eating. The OA recovery program is a three-part program physical, emotional, and spiritual. Focusing only on physical recovery usually does not result in abstinence. We have to work all three parts of the program if we hope to achieve and maintain long-term abstinence.

What is the connection between food and emotion?

    For a compulsive overeater, anorexic or bulimic, eating is attached to emotions. We are never fully satisfied, no matter how much we eat or avoid eating, because we are eating for emotional reasons rather than physical reasons. We eat for excitement, love, celebration, loneliness, escape, pleasure, and comfort. We devour food, purge, or abort eating to anesthetize ourselves. We eat out of anger, resentment, envy, jealousy, fear, pride, guilt, and grief. As the problem worsens, and it always does because this is a progressive disease, the self-destructive impact of overeating begins to far outweigh the temporary pleasure or comfort that eating once brought. For the Anorexic, starvation becomes a way of obtaining that "emotional high" The Bulimic feels that "rush and relief" of the purge cycle. Eventually, some of us do this for so long that we become addicted to an eating pattern for no apparent reason, even when the pleasure has turn to pain.

What happens if I go off my plan?

    Relapse is not inevitable. However, you should take every precaution to avoid it. If you make a mistake and go off your plan of eating, it does not make you a mistake. We admit our mistakes, learn whatever is to be learned from them, and move on. There is no value in feeling shame, guilt, and self-hate. A slip reaffirms that we continue to have a disease that we cannot control on our own. We are not failures because we have a failure. Failure is being unwilling to start over.

What about my family? How can I do this to them?

    What we have found is that if we do not take care of ourselves, we cheat others out of our best. The best thing we can do for those we love is to recover from the disease, whatever it takes. Those who love us want us to be healthy and happy.

Will I be following this plan of eating the rest of my life?

    You need to remain flexible and honest about your plan. A change in a plan of eating is not a break in abstinence, as long as you are not eating compulsively. Eating plans may change over time as you gain more experience or your body changes. You may think a particular food is not a trigger, and later find that it is. Alternatively, you may find that you need to lose weight, but are not doing so with your current plan of eating. If you have been in the program for awhile, you may find that you need either less food or more exercise to maintain a constant weight. You may even switch trigger foods. For awhile, you may have no trouble refraining from a particular food, and then one day wake up in the morning obsessing about it. When you think a change is in order, it is wise to consult a professional and notify your sponsor about changes in your plan.

What happens if I conscientiously follow my plan of eating?

    The accomplishment begins to make us feel good about ourselves and grateful to our Higher Power. Our feelings of self-worth begin to grow when we see the results of working all three aspects of the program. We come to understand that our self-esteem comes not from others, but from within. Chaos and cloudiness are replaced with a new clarity. Our accomplishments reinforce that we are going in the right direction and motivate us to continue our journey through the Twelve Steps. This is what will ultimately lead to the food obsession being lifted. Moreover, becoming abstinent also puts us in a position to help others who are where we were.

You can do it

    The fundamental truth is that you have the choice, if you are willing, to do something about your eating problem; regardless of your circumstances, regardless of what you have or haven't done in the past, regardless of how weak you think you are when it comes to food. You no longer have to be a prisoner of your eating disorder. You can, at this moment, begin a personal journey of recovery and transformation.

    This article is based on the Booklet, "A Plan of Eating, A tool for living—one day at a time" prepared by Overeaters Anonymous. If you believe you or a loved one has an eating disorder, we encourage you to contact your local Overeaters Anonymous office. If you believe that your eating disorder or that of a loved one has become life threatening, we strongly recommend seeking medical assistance immediately.

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