Abstinence First, Absolutely

Beginning the Process of Abstinence

There are two schools of thought about the strategy for surrendering to a food plan. One says that it is best to proceed incrementally. The other says that it is best eliminate all dangerous food and triggers at once. There is an abundance of experience that both of these strategies work well for some people, and many “true believer” arguments that their way is the only way among those for whom their food plan or their strategy has worked.

There are many old–timers who will say very truthfully and helpfully that their abstinence evolved. Maybe they were only willing and able to give up “junk food” or eating between meals at first, but they did, and this showed them both that abstinence worked and that there were further issues of abstinence to which they needed to attend.

Also, there are people who were able to use certain foods in early recovery, e.g., diet drinks, but later the caffeine or the NutraSweet or some other ingredient was something they could not handle; as they would say the disease progresses even while we are in recovery. On the other hand, recovery is also progressive; what we could tolerate physically in early recovery becomes a problem as we recover more mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

There are also old-timers who will say that until they put down all their major addictive foods, they were not able to maintain their abstinence from any of them. They found that when they put down ice cream, they eventually picked up bread, and bingeing on bread brought them back to the sugar. Others found that though they appeared to have control regarding a particular food, e.g. wheat or a sugar-free desert, it was giving them low-level cravings which in the long run made it impossible for them to sustain their abstinence over their major binge foods, or they started overeating with volume.

To the newcomer, all these details frequently appear very confusing. This is especially true because for many compulsive eaters, there are food plans and approaches to food abstinence that work for them but not other food addicts. And, of course, there are often food plans which will not work for them no matter how much other food addicts say that this is the only way. It is clear that while recovering food addicts have a lot to share with each other, we are only human, and this means that we all need a Power greater than ourselves.

We have this piece of advice: action is usually better than inaction. After consultation with those we most trust – and, if we choose, a period of prayer, it is always useful for the food addict to practice surrender. Even if there are ways that we are unwilling to surrender, it is helpful to practice going to the lengths that we can. Even if a particular surrender plan is not exactly the one that will work, it is worth exercising our spiritual muscles. In the matter of food plans, act boldly that learning and grace may abound.

© Phil Werdell, M.A.

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