by Kay Sheppard, LMHC
A recovering alcoholic, an enlightened man, once said, “If you don’t pick up the first drink you will never get drunk.”
What a concept. It made so much sense. I’ve also heard it said that “all you ever give up is just one drink — the first one.” That really shrinks the task down to size. There is no way of bypassing the first drink in order to take the second one. That “first drink” philosophy is airtight.
When I came into recovery for food addiction, I heard a similar concept — “first bite.” The slogan was loud and clear: “We don’t pick up the first bite.” The same logic holds true for food as for alcohol. If you don’t pick up the first bite, you won’t trigger the food addiction process. Pick up the first bite and you are walking around drunk on binge food again!
Now that I have had a number of years to think about it, I can see there are a variety of “first bites” from which we abstain — the first compulsive bite, the first spontaneous bite, the first addictive bite. What does this all mean?
The compulsive bite
When we eat to soothe feelings, that is compulsive eating. The irony here is that we eat to feel better; that which makes us feel worse. Eating because of uncomfortable feelings never worked. It only numbed us for a while but never resolved the feelings. Those could be ignored for a while as we ate out of control, but they never went away. That, of course, increased the amount and frequency of food necessary to dull the pain. This is an example of progression — food addiction is a progressive disease.
We abstain from overeating or volume eating. This means we no longer eat two or three bowls of food. We use our scale, cup and measuring spoon in order to manage volume. Too much food will trigger active addiction — we just don’t know how many bowls of cereal will do it. If we eat the cereal according to our food plan, we are safe. If we stray, there is no telling what will happen. There is real security in maintaining the structure of the food plan.
The spontaneous bite
It has to do with “permission giving” — reaching out and eating what we want when we want it. We give ourselves permission to eat a bite of vegetable while we are preparing meals, or we allow an apple in the middle of the afternoon. Since abstinence is based on having a plan and sticking to it, spontaneous eating is obviously not part of our strategy for recovery. Spontaneous eating constitutes a breakdown of discipline and is part of the relapse process. An extra this or that today leads to total loss of control in the future. Like it or not, recovery is about discipline. Disciplined eating is a safe way of life in recovery. Planning what to eat, and eating what we plan, is our goal.
The addictive bite
Recovery ends with addictive eating. Above all, we abstain from addictive eating which is the act of ingesting addictive substances. This behavior puts us back into full-blown disease. We again know the meaning of powerless; our lives become unmanageable. This is the end of our happiness, joy and freedom. What are the substances that trigger the madness for a food addict?
* high-fat foods
* refined carbohydrates
* personal triggers
* high-sugar fruits
One day at a time, we can choose not to pick up the first bite of anything that will lead us back into the disease process. We have a choice when we have a program of recovery. There is help, there is hope, and there is a way out of food addiction.