What is a “food plan” and where can I get one?

A “food plan” is a written list of what you can and cannot eat.  It is what you will use to decide if you are abstinent or not.  Food plans can come from a doctor, a nutritionist, a book, a “diet club,” or from your food sponsor.  Some sponsors will tell you that they will only sponsor people who have the exact same food plan as they do because that is the only experience they have to share.  Other sponsors are not so rigid and will work with you to develop your own food plan.  I prefer this second approach.  I think it is much more meaningful if you take the time to go through the trouble of discovering your own binge foods, finding what does and doesn’t work for you, and then working with your sponsor to stay on that plan.

Although there are obviously many different types of food plans, there are a few things that most of the good ones have in common:

A list of “binge foods” to avoid.  In my opinion, this is the most important part of your food plan.  It also is the most difficult to come to terms with, IF you are trying to do it without the help of your Higher Power. (Luckily, in program, this is not the case).  Unfortunately, unless you are on a food plan for medical reasons, it will take some time for you to experiment in order to find what works for you, but it is well-worth the time and effort.  For example, in the beginning, because I knew I could not control the amount of chocolate I ate, I knew had to give it up.  But did that mean I couldn’t have anything that was chocolate flavored?  How about sugar-free chocolate?  Over the years I have learned that, for me, it is just so much easier to eliminate all forms of chocolate.  But that’s just me.  Another example is potato chips.  I have never been able to eat “just one.”  But what about popcorn?  Or nuts?  They’re healthy, right?  Not if you eat the whole jar or can, they’re not!  Through trial, error, a whole-lot of praying, and a whole-lot of pig-headedness, I came to the same conclusion with all of these…for me, it is just easier not to eat any salty snacks or any nuts at all.  You will also hear many people in OA talk about how they have given-up sugar and flour.  At first glance, this may seem like an impossible tasks, since that would eliminate almost every form of bread, pasta, cereal, and dessert.  But again, if you seek the help of your Higher Power, you just may discover (as I did) that, once you get through the withdrawal symptoms (which last about 2 weeks), you no longer have any physical cravings for these things, which makes staying abstinent a whole lot easier.  There are also degrees of “no sugar/no flour” eating.  Some people read the labels of every single bite they put into their mouths, never putting any form of these two things into their systems.  At restaurants they make sure these items are not in the ingredient lists.  They may even call ahead when dining out to be sure sugar/flour-free foods are available.  Personally, I don’t do any of that.  In fact, I allow myself to eat “breaded” items and some salad dressings that contain sugar, even though I do consider myself to be on a no sugar/no flour plan.  My rule of thumb is this: if I can’t stop eating it, I can’t have it.  So far, so good on these two items.  Other than that, I have not eaten bread or pasta in over 2 years and I don’t miss them at all.  And YOU can do the same, if that appeals to you!  But you need to go slow, and you need the help of your Higher Power in order to do it.  Ask Him/Her/It for help, and then get rid of the one food item that you have the most difficulty controlling and see what happens.  Try not having it for JUST ONE DAY.  Commit to your sponsor (or someone else in program if you don’t have one yet) what you are doing – this will make you accountable.  Then try another day.  And another…  See if you can make it to two weeks, if for no other reason than to see if you can feel a difference in the intensity of your cravings after the withdrawal period has passed.  (Reminds me of a program saying that goes something like this: “If you are not completely satisfied with recovery, you can always have your misery back.”)  Then, if you want to try eating a controlled amount of that food, go ahead and try it.  Do you start obsessing over eating it all over again?  Do you binge on it right away?  If so, this is probably something you would be better-off eliminating entirely.  If not, it can probably stay, in controlled amounts.  Ask your Higher Power what He/She/It thinks.  You WILL get an answer.

A list of eating behaviors to avoid.  As all food addicts are well-aware, there are certain behaviors that just “set-us-off.”  For example, maybe eating fast food triggers you to eat too much.  Maybe eating in your car does.  (For me it was both.)  How about waking up in the middle of the night to eat?  (I think that was the absolute worst one for me!)  Or hiding food around the house?  Or eating items out of the freezer that were not meant to be eaten frozen?  Or eating out of the garbage?  Or vomiting, using laxatives, or over-exercising to compensate for bingeing?  Or, or, OR!  You get the idea.  All good food addicts have a few (if not all) of these skeletons in their closets.  Make a list  of these behaviors and take a good, hard look at all of them.  Then, with he help of your Higher Power, eliminate that one, most-bothersome behavior, JUST FOR TODAY, the same way you did with that one food item.  Again, commit this decision to someone in program.  For me, I had to give-up eating in my car and all fast food drive-thrus for quite some time.  Now, however, I am able to do those things occasionally, but I have a list of specific items that I can order and I now recognize that there is something very unsatisfying about not eating at a table.  It is a true miracle…I actually RATHER NOT eat in the car nowadays, whereas before, I couldn’t stop!  And that horrible night-eating thing is gone, too!  I will NEVER miss the nightmares and the early morning indigestion THAT would cause!

A description of the portion sizes you are allowing yourself.  Whether you use measuring cups, a food scale, “scoops”, “bags,” “half-a can,” “one piece,” the amount that fits on your plate, or the serving you are given at a restaurant, you are going to need some guidelines here, since most compulsive overeaters have problems with quantity.  As with all the other topics listed above, there are those who are loose about measuring, and those who take it to the extreme.  Some OA’s bring their measuring cups to restaurants with them.  Others refuse to go out to eat at all because serving sizes in restaurants are almost always bigger than what a measured portion would be at home.  Still others ask their waiters to split the meal in half before it comes out (so they are not tempted to keep eating) and take the rest home in a doggie bag for another meal.  For me, if I am at home, I use measuring cups (but not a food scale – – too many bad memories!).  When I am at a restaurant, I allow myself to eat the amount that is put in front of me.  (Ironically, since I have given myself permission to do that, there have been many times in the past 2 years that I have decided NOT to finish it!  Now if THAT’S not a miracle, I don’t know WHAT is!).  But when I am eating at someone else’s house or at family-style/buffet-type restaurant, I don’t measure with cups, but I do try to eye-ball what looks “right.”  I have actually started to develop a “gut-feeling” about what that amount is for me.  If I get a twinge of a sick feeling inside, I put some back.  That feeling usually gives me just enough time to remind myself that the extra mouthful or two is no longer worth my peace of mind.

A statement of how many times per day you can eat.  Many people in program follow the “old-school” approach of eating “three balanced, moderate meals a day with nothing in-between except coffee, tea, or low-cal drinks.”  The latest OA view on food plans, however, leaves them up to the individual.  Personally, I need the flexibility to eat snacks.  Besides a greater emphasis on spirituality, this was probably the most important difference in my recovery this time around.  And it is no coincidence that this is the time that I have been able to, not only maintain a 75 pound weight loss, but to do so for a year…even though I am not at my goal weight! That means that I have been following a food plan for over a YEAR even though I have not lost any more weight!  That is HUGE for me!  In the past, why would I even BOTHER?!  But this time, because I stay connected to my Higher Power, and because my snacks take away that feeling of deprivation/punishment that I always associated with “dieting,” I have been able to stay on my plan, “one day at a time”…for over 2 YEARS!  I eat every 3 to 4 hours and I never get hungry!

A plan of action for the times you go off track.  The best piece of advice I ever got in Overeaters Anonymous came from my latest sponsor.  Back in 2009, when I was just starting out on my current food plan, I overate at a meal and called her in a panic.  She said, “The first 24 hours are the most important.  The first thing you need to do is continue on your food plan.  Do NOT cut out any food that you still have left to eat for today.  That just starts-up that whole cycle of feeling deprived and punishing yourself.   The second is to call me or another person in program when you are done eating for the day and commit to not eating anything else until breakfast tomorrow.  Then, call me tomorrow and commit to me what you will be eating for the entire day.  By the following day, you will feel better.  For whatever reason, as soon as you get-in one really ‘squeaky-clean’ day of abstinence, you will feel better and be able to leave it behind you and move forward.”  As I have said before, I have been around OA since 1988, but I had never heard anything so powerful.  An actual WAY OUT!  And it worked EXACTLY like she said!  Ever since then, whenever I eat too much (and it DOES happen!), I follow this advice just the way it is written here and I am able to continue-on!  Remember: it is WAY more important that your abstinence be long-term rather than perfect!

March 7, 2012 This post was written by Categories: For Newbies Tagged with:
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