Posted by: innerpilgrimage | January 15, 2010

What is “Losing Abstinence” (And Other Leading Questions)

Abstinence from Compulsive Eating: 3 Months, 1 day (93 days)

I just found out pressing [ENTER] at the wrong time with the cursor in the wrong place can post an empty entry. Sorry, and I will try to be more careful in the future.

Well, I was looking over a few questions that led people here, and I think answering them is what I want to do today with my blog. Also, I just realized something a bit surprising about my breakfast. I thought perhaps a 12 inch flour tortilla was approximately 250 calories. Turns out it is 396 calories. That’s 2/3 of my starches calories for the day in the breakfast wrap I had this morning. I knew it was a lot, but looking it up, it’s quite surprising. With that, flour tortillas have entered the “not worth it most of the time” category.
What’s scary to think is that I sometimes ate 4 of them daily as a snack. With butter. That’s amazing to think that I would have 200 calories of butter on top of 1600 calories of tortilla. Plus, I would eat regular meals on top of it.
Awareness is just about the most freeing tool I have in my food plan. I have been considering getting a breakfast wrap for a month or so, and I decided today was the day. I don’t regret it, because I knew it would be half of my daily starchy foods calories. I just didn’t know it would be 2/3 of them. I’m not going to entirely abandon flour tortillas, but I certainly will treat them with the same caution I had before.
On to questions!

What is losing abstinence?

Well, for me, losing abstinence would be binging outside of my food plan. My current food plan really is one which encourages moderation. I can’t binge on salads or fruit or dairy or protein or even breads without breaking my food plan. Though I have 450 calories to spare, the types of fun foods I like won’t allow me to get too far. For example, I can have eight chocolate sandwich cookies (they’re estimated between 53 and 55 calories apiece) and I’m done for the day (427 calories for 8 cookies). If I eat a ninth cookie, I broke abstinence.
That said, by using the definition of abstinence from OA, itself (“[The] action of refraining from compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors.”), it means that if a person eats in a manner they themselves consider is compulsive (including starvation for anorexics, purging after a binge for bulimics, and even binging on “safe foods” like salad for compulsive overeaters), they have lost abstinence.
However, one has to establish the parameters of abstinence first. If A has a food plan which is defined at “3 meals and one snack”, A has theoretically broken abstinence if s/he gets two snacks. If B has a food plan which is defined as “reasonable portions”, if B knowingly redefines a portion size to what s/he once considered unreasonable just to eat more, s/he has theoretically broken abstinence. If C has defined abstinence as “no refined flours or sugars”, if C consciously eats sopapillas with powdered sugar for dessert one night, C has theoretically broken abstinence.
In other words, a person has to define their personal abstinence to break it. In my definition, it is a combination of eating within my food plan and not succumbing to full-on binges. Though I might eat four or six cookies in a day on one day, it is by portion. I might have a third slice of a small pizza if my food plan allows me, but I don’t eat a half-pizza or whole pizza any more. If I am super-hungry one day, I choose foods that will help me reach satiety. If I’m not really feeling exceptionally hungry, I can choose foods which are more calorie-dense for the satiation value. The most important thing is being conscious of what I put into my body on a daily basis–something I was not before I attempted abstinence. For me, that consciousness is part of my abstinence, and I know I’ve lost abstinence if I consciously choose to misrepresent what I ate that day.

How do you feel when you have chocolate abstinence?

I eat chocolate. Not daily, but I do.
For me, abstinence with chocolate is the awareness that I might want the stuff but I’m not going to give into the binge cravings (that gnawing yearning that brings me near to tears sometimes). If I am in a mood to have a little chocolate, I’m fine. It means I am not approaching chocolate with a binge mentality.
I can tell the difference between the feelings. When I am wanting to compulsively overeat chocolate, I get a chocolate high when I start eating. It’s like a rush, and I know I probably have the same look on my face like a heroin addict who’s been jonesing for days. My binge state of mind gets me focused on that one thing. I’m easily annoyed, uptight, anxious. I will search the house for money to pay for my addiction, if I don’t have any in the house. If I’m alone and can buy it, I feel intense guilt combined with conflicting “I deserve this” and “This is the last time” self-reassurances. When I use the chocolate, I take that first bite and pleasure literally washes over my body. Chocolate, in that user mentality, was better than sex because it not only took the edge off, it left me feeling light and blissful and a little dizzy. My focus was detailed on my taste buds of the slight bitter vying with the cloyingly sweet and sensations of the creaminess of the chocolate. My eyes would be closed and I would eat slowly for that first “hit”, reaching euphoria.
The second bite never reached the delirium from the first. Soon, I would be huddled somewhere like a starved animal, numbly curled up and overstuffing the chocolate into my mouth until nausea set in. The high was long gone with the first bite, but I had to get back there or I felt I would die of sadness or loneliness or whatever emotion I was trying to hide from in the chocolate.
When I was done, I hated myself.
When I eat chocolate abstinently, I probably eat it faster than I should, but I certainly don’t get the high I used to. It’s just chocolate. No delirium, no drop. Sometimes disappointment if the chocolate is so-so. But it’s not euphoria followed by despair.
And if I feel that urge coming on, chocolate goes on my “not worth it” list until I’ve gotten sane again.

1630 calories per day.

Well, using a standard, moderately active person’s 12 calories per pound model, that maintains a 136-lb person. If I were scaling down my own food plan, my daily nutritional breakdown would be:

500 calories of starches (trying for 250 of those as whole grain)
300 calories of dairy products
90 calories of fruit
100 calories of vegetables
375 protein calories
265 discretionary calories

However, since I’m only trying to get to about 175-180 lbs., my current daily 2007.5 calorie intake maximum maintains a 168 lb. moderately active person. If I’m not active whatsoever, my calorie needs drop sharply because of my basal metabolic rate (how many calories it takes to maintain a person if they’re in a resting state all day). It takes about 1800 calories to maintain my current weight if I’m bedridden for a day. BMRs are individual based on several factors, and the math behind them can be found all around the web, if one’s interesting in figuring it out. My scale calculates it for me, however.

How do I get a “Dignity of Choice” Pamphlet?

Four ways:
(1) Go to a meeting. They’re part of the newcomer packet.
(2) Find your regional office. They usually have a bookstore inside with nearly every OA book and pamphlet currently available. They supply the meetings, generally, so they tend to be stocked up on everything.
(3) Twelve-step addiction recovery bookstores or gift shops in the area. There’s one about 25 miles away from me. My regional office is closer by about a mile or so.
(4) Go onto the OA website bookstore and order the pamphlet by itself or the newcomer packet.

[I want to] Look inside the Overeaters Anonymous workbook.

I checked, and the Overeaters Anonymous workbook does not have the Look Inside feature activated. Like the Dignity of Choice packet, if it’s really that important to see before buying, you have to try a meeting (mine currently has three, though we usually sell them quickly and are out the rest of the time), find the closest OA regional office, or find a 12-Step addiction gift store. I’ve looked in some of the big chain stores, and they rarely have 12 Step books–and the two I found when I was lucky enough to find them were AA and NA books.
However, it is in the format of questions which are connected to the OA 12&12 by chapter.
To be honest, I would suggest the three books to have if you’re unable to get to a face-to-face meeting are The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous (to get an understanding of individual 12-step recovery tailored to people with eating disorders and the 12 traditions OA is founded on), Overeaters Anonymous (recovery and abstinence stories from people who know what it’s like to be powerless over a food addiction which let the reader find comfort that s/he is not alone), and The Twelve-Step Workbook of Overeaters Anonymous (a workbook which allows the individual to learn more about themselves while seeking spiritual recovery from compulsive overeating). Following the 12 Steps changes the head and heart together and clears the bracken from the soul. An eating disorder is not just about not having the willpower to stop eating or purging or starving–it’s about having the self-will to use a personal relationship with food to obfuscate the real problem. Recovery is a spiritual journey that sets a firm foundation for abstaining from compulsive overeating. While one can start abstaining before recovering or vice versa, together they bring a sense of physical, emotional and spiritual health.
And no, I’m not happy every day. I just don’t build a wall of food between me and the world any more. And because I have no fortifications, I need recovery to adjust my attitude and live the life I’ve wanted to live since I was a child.
Now, a life of service isn’t exactly most people’s dreams, but OA ended up being the program for me because it encourages my end goal of serenity and service. And no, it’s not slavery-disguised-as-service (submission) as much as the freedom to help others without needing to be recognized as a stand-out for doing what everyone else is doing. And the people who will always appreciate others will always act appreciatively; I want to recognize them instead of strive to get the kudos from the people who will never express appreciation (one of the reasons I need recovery more than a diet).

[What are the] paths to recovery?

Oh, there are many ways to get to recovery. I use the 12 Step program because of the reasons I listed above: my goals as a person align with their goals.
I think any program that systematically changes the way a person approaches life would work. I sincerely believe that every program out there has a person who will recover using it because the message speaks directly to them. One can use therapy, therapist-led groups, self-led groups, self-help books, religious ministry, or anything that will cause a change in how one approaches the world.
OA is funny because I keep reading that people did like I did–came through the door the first time hoping for a diet miracle. While I understood the 12 Steps (I went to AA meetings for a few weeks in college, when I was binge drinking) and was aware of it through codependency groups, I did not internalize that the 12 Steps really were worked in OA. The word “recovery” was forefront at my mind. To me, “recovery” meant weight loss.
Well, now abstinence means weight loss and recovery means attitude adjustment. Body, heart, soul are unhealthy and need to be healed. The body is healed by abstinence; the soul is healed by recovery; the heart is healed by both. That’s my take on it, though others will probably answer differently where the emotional state finds healing. Our emotions, to me, rely on a physical wellness to avoid chemical imbalance and a spiritual wellness to avoid perception imbalance. On an even keel, emotions can be assessed rationally and realistically. In tragedy, it’s fine to cry; in delusion, it’s dishonest to one’s self and wastes the tears. That’s just me, again. Others will say something different, and that’s totally good, too.
After all, this really is, in the end, about my recovery. If I say something that speaks to another person, then I am happy I put my hand in theirs for that brief moment.
My name is Jess, and I am a lifelong compulsive overeater seeking abstinence and recovery one day at a time. My hand is outstretched, ready to have your hand in mine or mine in yours. It doesn’t matter whose hand holds whose . . . as long as everyone involved knows we’re not alone in this.

And if I only leave the house once this week, let it be to an OA meeting. That’s how I started living beyond the walls of my home and the grocery store again.



  1. ugh! i hate finding out that something i ate had way more calories than i had thought. you just have to re-group and work it into your day because you can’t change what you already ate. sounds like you did just that, so good for you for not beating yourself up about it.
    great job answering the questions! i’m sure you helped people.

  2. Yesterday was a closer-to-my-limit day than I usually have. Today I’m committed to drinking more water so I don’t get the hunger things.

    Thank you for liking how I answered the questions–I remember how worrisome it was when I started. I had the same anxieties and questions most people appear to when starting out. I’m by no means an expert, but I hope maybe what I write plus what others write will give others starting in OA a chance to build their own abstinence and recovery out of our experiences–as I’ve done from the stories of recovery and abstinence I have been lucky enough to hear.

  3. You are so awesome! I don’t suppose I’ve read something like that before.
    So wonderful to discover somebody with original thoughts on this
    subject. Really.. thank you for starting this up. This site
    is something that is required on the internet, someone
    with a little originality!

    • Thank you so much for the compliment. It’s just my personal experience with addiction and recovery. If you’re interested in others working through their own addictions, please feel free to click on the links under the Blogroll sidebar. Also, you can peruse the August 2010 article from that medical coding site here: for 49 more blogs to look over.

      Your voice is a huge boon to the online fellowship. Together we get better. Thank you for speaking out, and I look forward to reading more from you.

    • Well, you are awesome, too, and thank you for the compliment! Right now, I am having a little codependent friction over being complimented so generously, and I thank you for the opportunity to sit with the discomfort over a compassionate act that a normal person would appreciate in a healthy way. This isn’t bad at all, since the friction means I get to take a growth opportunity. But yes, I do appreciate very much that what I share here catches your imagination and provides an individual’s experiential perspective on recovery which is approachable. I hope that if anything, what I write about sends people out to reveal the amazing being within we sometimes suppress to fit into society.

      Again, thank you for the compliment and the recovery progress opportunity to peel back the layers of what I think I am feeling, what I am really feeling, and what is the source of this fear of being complimented at all. To be open enough to sense this means I must have let go or accepted what was blinding and binding me in the last couple of weeks.

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