Step One of the Twelve Steps, as they are written in the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous, reads like this (for our purposes, we are going to change “alcohol” to “food”):

Admitted we were powerless over food -– that our lives had become unmanageable.

What does it mean to admit we are powerless over food? Here’s a dictionary definition of the words:

Admit: to grant as true or valid; a voluntary acknowledgement of the truth; to acknowledge, confess or avow the existence of the truth of <something>.

Powerless: lacking strength or power; helpless; ineffectual; unable

How do I know I am powerless over food? If I have enormous (literally) amounts of evidence, (i.e., facts) that I cannot control my eating. If my experience is that once I pick up sugar and/or flour, (or whatever the addictive food), I am unable to stop. Then I am helpless.

The lie I tell myself is that if I can find the right food plan, the right ingredients, the right sponsor, and develop the right eating habits, then I’ll get abstinent. This keeps me in the same vicious cycle of trying and failing to fix myself. My best thinking is ineffectual.

This is Step Zero of the 12 Steps

I spent over a decade in Step Zero, even though I was sitting in the rooms of a food-based 12 Step program. I never made it to Step One, because that would have meant doing things I didn’t want to do. (Like give up flour products, “sugar-free” candy and gum, letting someone else be in charge of my food plan and committing my food.) I saw people with long-term abstinence doing those things, but in my diseased thinking, it wouldn’t work for me.

The essence of surrender is to give up trying to do it our way. To do fully, willingly, and with no reservation things we don’t want to do, that we may think are “stupid, ridiculous and will never work.” It means giving up trying to make the program work for me and to start working the program.

Often, when we say we are “trying” to …, what we really mean is that we are trying to do it our way.

So, at Step Zero, we haven’t admitted we are powerless over food. We don’t want to give up control of our food. We work away at writing our own food plan, finding a sponsor who has a food plan that will enable us to eat what we want, sponsoring ourselves, and just generally continuing to run the show.

Ironically, we don’t want to give up control over something we don’t have control over! That’s how I finally realized I was at Step Zero.

The Three “A”s

There’s a saying in the Twelve Step rooms: Awareness, acceptance, action.

I was aware that I couldn’t stop eating, but I was in a terrible cycle of trying, over and over, to find what would enable me to eat without the consequences that food addiction inevitably brings. I wanted to believe that even though I couldn’t control my eating, I could “manage” my food plan. It makes as much sense as an alcoholic trying to “manage” their drinking.

Awareness starts with being willing to look at facts. Try answering a few questions with a simple answer of yes or no:

  1. Has my problem with food always gotten worse, never better?
  2. Have I ever worked all the tools of a food recovery program and followed all of a sponsor’s suggestions wholeheartedly?
  3. Is there a food I am not willing to let go of?

People in Step Zero can spend a lot of time (I spent years) not accepting that they are food addicts. If you have read other documents on this website that have helped you identify your problem, then you may have come to this conclusion: I have a problem that I am unable to solve.” If I can’t control my eating, it stands to reason that I can’t manage my recovery, either.

Just like alcoholics, we must accept that we cannot eat like “normal people” (I didn’t really want to eat like them, I just wanted to eat what I wanted to eat and look like them) and that we’re not going to be able to. At some point, if you put a cucumber into alcohol, it becomes a pickle. Taking the pickle out of the alcohol doesn’t turn it back into a cucumber! We have lost control and we will not regain it. That doesn’t mean you won’t be happy, joyous and free.

Read Chapter 3 of AA’s Big Book, change the word “alcohol” to “food,” and see if you can relate to how hard we try not to be who we really are. When I could accept I was a food addict, I began to get free of food.

I needed a lot of help to see through the web of lies I told myself that kept me eating addictively. I got abstinent 11 years ago at an ACORN Primary Intensive©. I had attended many other Intensives, retreats and events over the course of ten years, in addition to my recovery programs, but something finally clicked. I understood that I was powerless over food and that I could not manage my own food.

Now it’s time to take action. The word “admit” is a verb. If we admit that we are powerless over food, then we must have outside (of our heads) help, or the addiction will kill us. Surrendering to structure and support around your food means taking concrete actions, regardless of whether you want to do them, think they’re insane, dumb, embarrassing or just won’t work. Remember, the people who are helping you have thought the same way, but they took the actions because they were willing to work the program. They became abstinent by accepting help and following through. So can you!

Read on about Step 1 of the 12 Steps for Food Addiction