Abstinence and a Plan of Eating

Workshop Summary from the North Shore Marathon

In 2013, World Service Office (WSO) conducted a census survey of OA members.  Two of the findings from that survey indicated that, among the over 60,000 OA members, there was a lack of abstinence and a lack of working all 12 steps.  As a result, WSO developed a strategic plan with three goals.  The goals were to increase awareness of the importance of:

  • Abstinence (2014)
  • Working all 12 steps (2015)
  • Carrying the message (2016).

Resources were developed and can be found at oa.org.  One of those resources is a workshop titled “Difference between Abstinence and A Plan of Eating” which was presented at the North Shore Marathon on May 23.

At times it may seem that the meaning of abstinence varies among OA members, but WSO has defined abstinence as “refraining from compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors while working towards or maintaining a healthy body weight”.  Abstinence is the same for each of us.  Our compulsive behaviours may be overeating, binging, purging, and/or under-eating.  When we are abstinent, we are not engaged in those behaviours.  When we are abstinent, our body size moves towards or stays at a healthy weight.  If you are wondering if you are abstinent, ask yourself if you are:

  1. Practicing your compulsive behaviours, and
  2. At a healthy weight or moving towards one.

If the answers are “yes”, you are abstinent.  If one or both of the answers are no, take a look at the practices that have been shown to help members achieve and maintain abstinence.  We have many practices that may help keep or build our abstinence.  Prayer and meditation, having an action plan, phone calls, asking for help, sponsorship, and practicing gratitude are some examples.  Two practices that are fundamental to strong abstinence are a plan of eating and working the 12 steps.

Plans of eating are designed so that each of us may eat in a way that eliminates our compulsive eating and returns us to or maintains   health.  Because we may differ in terms of our compulsive behaviours or foods that trigger those behaviours, our plans of eating may differ from member to member.  What is important is that we look honestly at how we’ve eaten in the past, and develop a plan of eating that supports our abstinence.  Sponsors or health professionals may be helpful in developing our individual plan.  We may find that many of us react similarly to certain foods, and there may be many similarities between our food plans.  OA has sample food plans in their pamphlets, “Dignity of Choice” and “A Plan of Eating”.

My perspective on the term “abstinence” has changed as I have worked this program.  If you were to look in a dictionary for a definition of the term “abstinence”, you may find a meaning similar to “the practice of not doing or having something that is wanted or enjoyable” (Merriam-Webster). It may be in our nature to want something more when we are told, even by ourselves, that we cannot have it.  I have found that it is important for me to not think superficially about abstinence as an act of deprivation or imposed restrictions.  Abstinence is not staying away from something, such as “desirable” food, so much as moving towards something better, a life lived in the “sunlight of the Spirit” (p.66 BB).  I look at abstinence as a platform upon which I can reach and live in recovery.  In recovery, I live “happy, joyous, and free” (p. 133 BB).  Abstinence propels me into recovery, and therefore is not negative, but positive and desirable.

~ Cindy, North Vancouver