For close to half a century, I have been a champion of the idea that the program which has helped alcoholics into lifelong recovery can also help compulsive overeaters in their struggles with food. The tools that have helped alcoholics maintain sobriety can also be used to help the compulsive eater find balance and serenity. However, unlike the alcoholic, the recovering compulsive eater doesn’t see immediate results!
Often for alcoholics/addicts, after about three days clean, they start looking pretty good. Puffiness subsides, cleanup is quick, and congratulations start pouring in. They are presentable, even normal looking, and they set off toward a whole new life fueled with encouragement and momentum. Conversely, many overeaters following a rigorous program of surrender and discipline rarely display any outward signs of recovery after just a few days, or even a few weeks! Many recovering overeaters work their program for many months before their recovery is noticeable by friends and family members. In OA, it is a fatal mistake to measure recovery by externally visible changes (i.e. the scale).
Being sick and tired of being overweight is often the driving force of our initial surrender. We come to lose weight after all other programs have failed. Jenny Craig is on speed dial, Weight Watcher apps are active on our phones, or we may even still be paying off the deductible for our weight loss surgery—but we gain the weight back even when we succeed in losing it. Why? Because we are compulsive eaters. We take comfort in our sweet and salty morsels the way an alcoholic finds comfort in their wine or bourbon. The ability to control and enjoy our eating eludes us and we walk through the doors of Overeaters Anonymous gasping for breath as we drown in a sea of despair.
Unfortunately, instant gratification is an inside job. Overeaters don’t enjoy that three-day-sober glow that the recovering alcoholic or addict experiences. We cling to hope and a sponsor while we begin to build a different relationship with food because, after all, we can’t just give up eating. We lovingly let the tiger out of the cage every day and mindfully plan and purposefully eat for sustenance rather than comfort. We start accepting the idea that we don’t need to hide behind our fat and we begin loving ourselves with spiritual and nutritional sustenance.
The great gift our AA parent bestows on us is the spiritual power of the twelve steps. We focus on our spiritual journey, owning our choices of the past, understanding and letting go of our character defects and making amends. We become our best possible selves on the inside, and the fruits of our labor begin to show. We become aware that, without dieting, we are beginning to shed some pounds. Our friends and family start to notice, too. And ironically, it isn’t the weight loss that made life more enjoyable… it was the spiritual path and the self awareness that made a tangible positive difference in our lives.
Progress is not always apparent to the outside world as we traverse the road of recovery from compulsive eating. But there is a confidence that grows from within when we embrace the program of OA. When we find ourselves approaching a healthy body weight while not obsessing about what we ate, will eat, or want to eat, we will know peace. And gradually, our friends and family will notice—and that will just be the proverbial “icing on the cake.”