I’m reading the book Cravings: A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image, and God; I like it, though don’t take that as a recommendation because I’m only half-finished. I would describe it as an amalgamation of Geneen Roth and books on mindless eating viewed under a lens of Catholicism. Good, though not new.
I had to put the book down when I felt forced to make a decision I want to avoid. Years ago I lost 50 pounds by attending OA meetings. OA is structured like any 12-step program, though unlike AA or NA, you determine your abstinence and your meal plan.
The definition of Abstinence is the same for all members but the details of the Plan of Eating for each member may differ depending on what compulsive food behaviors we engaged in while practicing our disease, such as overeating, under-eating, and purging. A Plan of Eating is a Tool to help the OA member to maintain abstinence, i.e., to refrain from compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors and to work toward or maintain a healthy body weight. There are as many “plans of eating” in OA as there are members and a plan may change over time for each member. Dignity of Choice has samples of some of the many plans of eating OA member’s use.
I joined because a reader emailed me and suggested I try it, with her sponsoring me via email. It was the most unexpected and intimate thing I have ever done with a stranger. To this day, I have no idea what possessed me to go so outside my comfort zone. I did well for the first six months. I followed her abstinence and plan of eating, which meant no sugar or flour. I was taught to believe that I was aaddicted to both. A part of me wondered if that was true, but I soldiered on. I had a goal–a 6-month chip–and I earned it and the weight I lost. I felt healthy and in control for the first time in a long time.
Then, two things happened simultaneously: I achieved my 6-month chip and I lost my sponsor. I am nothing without goals and a to-do list. It’s after I reach my goals and cross off every item on my list that I flounder. I walked every day for a year until the year was over.
Being in a 12-step program is like mountain climbing with a group; you are tied together by a rope and if your partner falls, there is a possibility you will, too. I fell. Very, very slowly. It took me 6 years to hit the bottom, but here I am.
It took me a long time to fall because I tried other programs (CEA-HOW, wasn’t the same) and started reading more books on mindless eating. For a while met regularly with a nutritionist who believes in intuitive eating. Going back to work, first as a volunteer and then the following year as an employee/volunteer, put a stop to that. The last two years I was truly on my own. The bottom came up on me right quick.
We listened to podcasts on our way home from Lake Tahoe, and one of them featured Gretchin Ruben and her new book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday. I took her quiz and discovered I was an Obliger (as if there was any doubt).
Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet inner expectations. They’re motivated by external accountability; they wake up and think, “What must I do today?”
Obligers excel at meeting external demands and deadlines, and go to great lengths to meet their responsibilities, so they make terrific colleagues, family members, and friends. Others rely on them tremendously. However, because Obligers resist inner expectations, it can be difficult for them to self-motivate—to work on a Ph.D. thesis, to attend networking events, to get their car serviced.
Obligers depend on external accountability, with consequences such as deadlines, late fees, or the fear of letting other people down. In fact, Obligers need external accountability even for activities that they want to do. Behavior that Obligers sometimes attribute to self-sacrifice or lack of self-esteem—“Why do I always make time for other people’s priorities at the expense of my own?”—is often better explained as need for accountability.
The weight of outer expectations can make Obligers susceptible to burnout, because they have trouble telling people “no.” They may describe themselves as “people-pleasers.” They may, in fact, reach the point of Obliger rebellion, a striking pattern in which they abruptly refuse to meet an expectation. They may rebel in symbolic ways, with their hair, clothes, car, and the like.
Hearing that description made my OA/dieting/walking “failures” easier to understand. I wondered if I should give OA another shot. I contrasted the idea of believing I have an incurable addiction with the intuitive eating/eat whatever you like approach. Obviously, the latter sounded more appealing. I decided I wouldn’t make any decisions until I finished reading Cravings. (Rubin talks in her book about our ability to make loopholes–I suspected this was one.)
Which brings us full-circle to the moment I put down the book. The author just had to share a story of a woman who went to OA, stopped all sugar and flour, and has maintained her 150 pound weight loss for 15 years. She shared other stories, and I’m not sure she believes in sugar or flour addiction, but that story is still in that book. Taunting me.
I’m still not sure I believe in food addictions. The science goes both ways, much to the dismay of my INTJ heart. I’m thinking–always thinking–considering all my options and trying to retain my objectivity as I inch closer towards a decision. I have all the meeting times and dates memorized, if that says anything.