Celebrating 25 years of food addiction treatment and recovery!

Step 2: The Lies I Tell Myself

“Came to believe that a Power greater than myself could restore me to sanity.”

My food addict’s mind is endlessly creative. It will tell me that changing my diet, arguing with my sponsor about food amounts, thinking I need to lose more weight, and impulsively trying a new food are all perfectly reasonable.

My thinking is my problem.

I used to “think” that if I just found the right diet, the right sponsor, the right medication, did enough therapy, lost enough weight, that I would stop having “problems with food.” I didn’t want to be a food addict. I lived my life by what I wanted, or didn’t want to do; what I felt like doing, in the moment. If I think it, then it’s right.

I would plan to eat abstinently, and then change my mind.

Because I thought all those things, I believed I was right. I would run ideas by myself, and of course “my self” would agree. I spent endless hours counting calories and planning what I would do when the weight came off. Meanwhile, being fat was depressing, so I told myself it was “OK to have just a little,” which would invariably lead to a binge.

I tell myself a lie, and then I eat.

I spent 10 years in and out of relapse with food addiction. I didn’t “think” I needed to stop eating flour and sugar. I didn’t “think” I should have to ask another food addict for decisions about my food. I didn’t “think” I needed to commit my food on a daily basis, and keep my commitment. And I certainly didn’t “think” I needed to do those Steps exactly the way they were written. I did them “my” way, the way I thought “worked for me.”

I utterly believe my own lies.

I felt vaguely offended by Step Two. “Restoring me to sanity?” I wasn’t insane! I told myself “I just have a problem with food.” Insane people are those drug-addict homeless people lounging on the street talking to themselves, not me. As a therapist, I told myself that “insane people” have fixed delusions and problems with reality. I didn’t “think” I was anything like them.

And yet I kept eating. My best efforts would provide me with a day or two of “abstinence,” clenching my teeth all the way through. What was I doing wrong? I tried everything, I “thought.” But I didn’t want to admit what I wasn’t willing to try. Which was most of the program.

I (the big I) was trying to do it by myself, my way.

Finally, I gave up. I gave up trying to do it my way and became willing to follow directions. I committed my food every day to a sponsor and ate only what I committed. Another food addict “held” my food plan, and I agreed not to make changes without talking to her first. If she didn’t think it was a good idea, I didn’t do it.

I stopped lying to others about my food.

But after 2 1/2 years of clean abstinence, I was still obsessed with food. Candy in the drugstore would “sing” to me. I knew everything that was in the vending machines at work, even if I didn’t want to. I knew what everyone else was eating, all the time. Going to the grocery store was still torture. I had to stare at the floor when I walked down the aisles. Hearing others talk about food could trigger a food obsession I would have to talk about for days in order not to eat it. I hated watching normal eaters have dessert and other things I told myself I “couldn’t have.” I was still lying to myself about food.

Food was not my problem.

I wasn’t eating compulsively any more, I was a normal weight, but my thinking about food was making me crazy. I started to wonder if I hadn’t always been this crazy. I still believed that food would make me feel better, even though I had enormous evidence that it never had. That actually qualified as a “fixed delusion,” now didn’t it? I believed I had to do food a certain way, with very strict rules, in order to stay abstinent. I “thought” it was my abstinence.

My thinking about food is fatally flawed.

I finally knew I really was insane. It was my thinking that kept taking me back to the food, over and over. But how could I possibly change my thinking with my thinking? Simple answer: I can’t. But God can. I didn’t believe that God (or whatever) cared about me or my food problem. I was so busy living life my way, “thinking” that my way was the right way. Finally, I heard the question: “What if my way is wrong?”

Being “right” and doing it “my way” is playing God.

I didn’t think I was egotistical; I just had to do it my way, and things would be fine. Except that it never worked out. I finally understood about the actor in the Big Book of AA in Step Three, the one who keeps trying to be a director and get everyone to perform his way. I was selfishly chasing after what I wanted all the time.

What if abstinence was a gift from God? A gift I could take really good care of and return, with thanks, at the end of each day? I didn’t have to be “in charge” all the time. I could practice trust. I could turn my thoughts and my actions over to the care of God.

Making that Third Step decision meant I was no longer running my life based on what I wanted; the four-year-old inside of me was no longer in charge.

According to the dictionary, what does restore” mean?

  • To return to its original or usable and functioning condition;
  • To regenerate: return to life; get or give new life or energy;
  • To give or bring back
  • To repair: restore by replacing a part or putting together what is torn or broken

After doing the work in the 4th and 5th Steps, I could truly see how insane my thinking was, not only about food, but about life. The lies I told myself built an enormous tower of resentments I could have never dismantled without the help of God and a wise sponsor. Before every slip or binge was a resentment. Under every resentment were lies and fears.

I have only one “problem:” being separated from God.

If I am practicing rigorous honesty and a daily spiritual life (Steps 6-12), I am not obsessed with food. It no longer calls to me, or bothers me. I can focus on being of service, being happy, joyous and free. This freedom is more wonderful than I could ever have imagined with my limited thinking.

The problem has been removed.

© Arian Eigen Heald, M.Div.

Step 1 Writing (12 Steps of Food Addiction)

© Phil Werdell, M.A. (This is a portion of a much longer essay)

“We admitted we were powerless over food, that our lives had become unmanageable.”

First Step writing is about admitting powerlessness over food. If there was something else that a person could do in a particular situation to have control over their eating, then they would not be powerless. That is obvious.

So, First Step writing is subtly but importantly different than inventorying a situation in which one was not food abstinent and figuring out what could have been done differently. In the arena of food addiction recovery, this distinction is fundamentally important because most food addicts who have gone over the line of biochemical dependency are not able to find long-term recovery without completing the First Step 100 percent.

When a food addict puts down their binge foods completely – and goes though a period of detoxification, she/he finds that their physical cravings are greatly diminished or completely removed. If the progression of the addictive disease has advanced to seriously affecting the mind, however, they are still likely to eat addictively again. Put most simply, they are in exactly the same state of mind in which they began eating out of control in the first place. They still have euphoric recall, still have and believe a rationalization for eating, still have a tendency to minimize the seriousness of the disease, and still are prone to “mental blank spots” where they simply don’t remember that food is a problem for them at all.

It is the inherent nature of the food-addicted mind that it cannot be changed by understanding or by force of will. These efforts sometimes work in the short run, but inevitably, diseased thinking and/or lack of thought returns so powerfully that the food addict is eventually back in the food and bewildered by how this could have happened again. Not seeing that this is a biochemical disease that has taken over the mind, the food addict is typically filled with guilt and shame.

If food addicts are this powerless over their disease, what can they do? Well, food addicts are indeed powerless, but not helpless. There is one thing that they can do, and that is to work on a spiritual basis to become more willing and able to fully accept their powerlessness. This is truly paradoxical: in seeing more completely how powerless they are food addicts become open to the only answer possible – a power greater than themselves.

The most immediate and practical question of a food addict in this position is: just exactly what can I do to pursue taking a food First Step? Here we have a lot of experience, and we think many readers will find it quite valuable.

To put the material of this essay/chapter in proper context, it is important to say that there are many different ways to do First Step work on food and other addictions. Each of these is effective if done as a spiritual practice. That is to say, as with the more commonly known spiritual practices of prayer and meditation, the food addict needs to do the spiritual practice of First Step work without an expectation of when or how these efforts will bear fruit.

We offer the ACORN approach to doing First Steps because it is a process which has been very effective for food addicts who have not been able to take a spiritual food First Step alone, with the help of a therapist, or even by pursuing one of the many routes offered in food-related Twelve Step fellowships. This is the most rigorous approach to food First Step work with which we are familiar, and it compliments an experiential educational process about food abstinence and learning alternatives to food as coping mechanisms for dealing with difficult feelings.

Food First Step Preparation Assignments

There are eight basic questions which can help a food addict better write a rigorous story of their powerlessness over food.

  1. What are your secrets about food? Be as specific as possible.
  2. What are other secrets? Again, be specific.
  3. What is it that convinces you that you are powerless over food? (Some find it helpful to also write about what convinces them that they are not food addicted.)
  4. What convinces you that your life is unmanageable? (Also, possibly, what convinces you that that it is not unmanageable.)
  5. Make a list of all the foods you have binged on, and any other out of control eating behaviors. Be specific.
  6. Make a list of all the diets you have tried, and everything else you did to try to control your weight or eating.
  7. Make a list of 15 specific times when you were powerless over food.
  8. Make a list of at least 30 negative consequences of being powerless over food – some physical, some mental-emotional, and some spiritual.

It helps to read each of these assignments, one at a time, to another food addict in recovery and get feedback. It is best to read to a whole group of recovering food addicts including ones who have done this type of rigorous food First Step work.

Secrets

The first two assignments are about secrets – the first about food and the second about the rest of one’s life. From a worldly perspective, this is just a way of getting rigorously honest. If you are willing to self-disclose information that you don’t want to share, then you are on the track to being rigorously honest.

There is also a spiritual dimension to telling “secrets” in food First Step work. Secrets tend to be the information that we are unable or unwilling to tell others. It is information about which we lie to ourselves, and is information we often want to try and keep from God. The primary spiritual problem of addiction is often named “self-will run riot.” This is just as true for chemical dependency on food as it is for alcoholism. Telling secrets is thus a spiritual practice in which a food addict develops the spiritual muscle of willingness by telling others exactly what he/she doesn’t want to reveal.

Twelve Step spiritual fellowships put a great deal of emphasis on “rigorous honesty.” In practice, this means, at least in part, being as specific as possible. What follows is a list of increasingly specific ways of reporting one particular break in abstinence:

  • “I had some problems with my food.”
  • “I wasn’t abstinent – ate something not on my food plan.”
  • “I ate some sugar.”
  • “I ate some ice cream.”
  • “I gulped down a quart of ice cream.”
  • “I ate two separate pints of Haagen-Das Chocolate Chip. I ate so fast the cold of the frozen ice cream gave me a headache, and I kept eating anyway and dripped ice cream all over my shirt and pants.”

A food addict can often tell if they are being sufficiently specific by noticing if sharing that the details cause embarrassment. Embarrassment is one of the many signs of false pride.

Response to Secrets and First Step Writing

In responding to secrets – and any First Step work – the most helpful information is often when other food addicts share ways that they have done the same or similar things with food. This type of sharing begins to relieve some of the original food addict’s embarrassment. As these feelings bleed off, it also has a way of breaking denial.

A food addict often sees themselves as guilty, shameful or just a “bad” person because they are not in control of their food. When they learn that someone else – who they do not see as shameful or bad – has done the same thing, they can often see the other person was actually powerless, and this helps them begin to separate themselves from the disease of food addiction.

Read on about Step 2 of the 12 Steps of Food Addiction.

Step 0 (12 Steps of Food Addiction)

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

“Food Slip” Inventory Worksheet

DOWNLOAD THE WORKSHEET HERE

A “food slip” begins with a spiritual disconnection (from being in “fit spiritual condition”) followed by emotional disconnection (trying to be the “director” and control events) and then the obsession (false craving) with food, which leads to addictive eating.

Recognizing that a slip begins long before the food is eaten, this tool will help you identify what happened at each stage, so that you can learn to back out of relapse.

Of course, if you don’t do your 12 Step work, the food slips will continue to happen until you are in full relapse. This is not a program of slip inventories!

If you are in full relapse, you need to do First Step writing, not a slip inventory.

It’s important to do this within the first 24/48 hours of the slip.  Otherwise, details that are already difficult to recall will disappear entirely into the food addict’s thinking. This is part of a food addict’s “strange mental blank spots.” It’s easier to slip into denial when we don’t remember what we were thinking and how we felt.

ACORN FOOD SLIP INVENTORY

DATE of slip _________________ DATE of inv.  _________________

  1. Select lined paper and write on every third line.  You will be putting in other details later. Write a story of what happened leading up to your slip, starting at least four hours before it happened.
  1. Write about the slip as if you were holding a movie camera on yourself. Your actions, thoughts and feelings should be included, right up to “and then I ate…”
  1. Identify where the “emotional relapse” happened.  When did you get angry, start obsessing, try to control a situation, feel overwhelmed by fear. Write the feelings on the empty lines. You may need another food addict to help you with this.
  1. What were the lies you told yourself so that you could eat? “It’s only one bite.”  “I’ll start tomorrow.” “It’s my last chance to eat something yummy.” “Oh, screw it; I’m going to have what I want.”
  1. After that, identify the spiritual disconnection. Did you have a connection to your Higher Power that morning? How long ago did you lose it? That’s when your slip really began.
  1. Read this inventory to two other abstinent food addicts, in addition to your sponsor. You need abstinent people to help you through the blank spots and denial. People that are still in the food are not clear enough to help you.
  1. Write out your plan for how to address the situation the next time it happens (AND IT WILL.)
  1. Finally, what is the spiritual lesson in your slip?

Sample Weekly Menu Planner

DOWNLOAD THE WEEKLY MENU PLANNER HERE

Weekly Abstinent Menu for the Week of ___________________

SUNDAY MONDAY TUESDAY WEDNESDAY THURSDAY FRIDAY SATURDAY
Breakfast  

 

 

 

 

 

Breakfast Breakfast Breakfast Breakfast Breakfast Breakfast
Meta  

 

 

 

Meta Meta Meta Meta Meta Meta
Lunch  

 

 

 

 

Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch
Meta  

 

 

Meta Meta Meta Meta Meta Meta
Dinner  

 

 

 

Dinner Dinner Dinner Dinner Dinner Dinner

 

Flour: Addictive Substance for Food Addicts

Many food addicts are willing to give up sugar, but not flour. Paradoxically, because we believe it makes us appear “different,” and because flour has been embedded in so many foods, we may have more difficulty surrendering flour than the more obvious issue of sugar.

We fear appearing “different” when we already appear very ill with food addiction. Normal people think we are “just fat.”

Unfortunately, the food industry is willing to cater to “flour-free” advertising. It is considered a niche market in many health food stores that cater to people with celiac disease (a wheat allergy) and gluten allergies. Some food addicts have these medical issues, but specific to food addiction is the issue of bioavailability.

Bioavailability defines the ease with which something is absorbed from the digestive tract. The higher the bioavailability of a food, the greater the total absorption and rate of absorption. The faster a food is absorbed, the more quickly it turns to glucose in the body.

Whole grains have been in the human diet for thousands of years. Milling and grinding grains is a relatively recent. Whole grains take much longer to be digested that refined flours. The more refined a flour is, the more bioavailable it becomes. And the more quickly it turns into a spike of blood sugar followed by a drop in blood sugar.

The perfect recipe for triggering a binge.

We may initially be persuaded by “faux foods,” i.e. “whole-grain bread,” “flour-free bread,” etc. The fact is that such breads are all made from refined grains. It is a matter of definition on a nutritional label. Reading the glycemic index of such foods tells us the truth about their composition.

Many food addicts find that flours made from other grains are just as bioavailable. Rice flour is likely to trigger the same reaction in a food addict as rice syrup: both are highly refined.

How do you know if you are addicted to flour or sugar?

Check out our self-assessment questions on Am I a Food Addict?  Also read about different types of eaters so you can come to your own conclusions.

The Food Addiction Institute has an extensive research on food and the impact to the human body.

If, despite your best efforts, you are not able to control your intake of flour products, you are not alone.

© A.E. Heald, M.Div.