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

Help with Abstinence

The OA.org website offers these two aids to help you with your abstinence –

FREE: A Simple Abstinence Aid

Looking for a simple way to choose abstinence throughout the day? Then take a look at The Simplicity Project developed by the Board of Trustees’ Twelfth Step Within Committee. Find it on the “Twelfth Step Within” page under Members/Groups or in Documents. Or, just click here!

Have a Life Problem? Twelve Step Your Way to the Solution with This FREE Writing Exercise.

If a life problem is threatening your abstinence, try this FREE Twelve Step writing exercise to work your way to the solution. For future reference, you can find Twelve Stepping a Problem under Group Support and Documents.

Thanks, OA!!

Willingness and Abstinence

If I am trying to be abstinent, this is a state of great frustration. If I am willing to be abstinent, this is a state of great humility.

Trying to be abstinent implies that I should know how but can’t come up with the right formula. A willingness to be abstinent implies that I don’t know how.

Trying to be abstinent involves condemnation. A willingness to be abstinent involves acceptance.

If I am trying to be abstinent, I am closed to guidance. If I am willing to be abstinent, I am open to receive it.

If I am trying to be abstinent, I will fear failure. If I am willing to be abstinent, even “failure” may be used as a learning device.

If I am trying to be abstinent, I will fear failure, and judge myself a failure. If I am willing to be abstinent and consciously choose to do so, God will empower my choice, if I ask Him or Her to do so.

If I am trying to be abstinent, a set-back becomes problem that is the result of me relying on my independent nature. If I am willing to be abstinent, no setback becomes a problem for I know I will be shown the way.

Trying to be abstinent places the responsibility on me. If I am willing to be abstinent, the responsibility is placed on God.

Trying to be abstinent implies resistance and struggle. A willingness to be abstinent implies acceptance and surrender.

Trying to be abstinent is an act of separation from God. A willingness to be abstinent is in a sense, like a prayer.