On approaching the subject of ‘Food in Recovery’, my first instinct was to start to draw on material from topics such as the latest scientific reports on nutrition, environmental sustainability, the prevalence of food ‘fads’ over the years and the gifting of moral choices. However, this is such a vast subject and, most importantly, also an intensely personal experiential journey through our lifetimes. So as I considered some more, I decided to write more about my experiences and understanding as someone who has been addressing my own challenges with food throughout my life but, more specifically in the nearly 18 years of my own recovery. During that time food has, at times, been a medicine and, at other times, a poison. My own path in recovery has seen me eat for long periods the most healthy and balanced meal plan with a reasonable amount of protein, carbohydrate, fats and vegetables/fruits, eschewing trigger foods. During other periods I have binged on foods full of sugar and low-nutritional value carbohydrates. When in periods of healthy eating, I’m connected, vital, positive and always looking for ways to be a net contributor to society at large. When in periods of unhealthy eating, I am sluggish, isolated, fearful and self-focussed.

The vision held out by 12-Step programmes helping people suffering from “compulsive overeating, under-eating, food addiction, anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, or overexercising”[1] is that their members can find ‘freedom from food obsession’. One of the tools of recovery to achieve this goal is abstinence. Unlike the other substance-based addictions, abstinence for compulsive eaters of whatever type is a more nuanced choice than simply refraining from eating food altogether, with the inevitable result that this would bring. My experience of listening to people talking about food in recovery is that the range of versions of abstinence are as varied as the people addressing their problem.

So the challenge of maintaining long-term abstinence from using food as a tool for “ritualised compulsive comfort-seeking” (Dr Daniel Sumrok[2]) is how to define one’s abstinence? Recognising that this definition can also change over time, what seems to be a common factor in those maintaining ongoing recovery is that they began the process by setting some clear bottom lines with the help of a trusted guide (sponsor and/or other professional). This may also include a structured meal plan with guideline amounts of various food categories for each meal or can be as loose as No sugar, No white flour. Whatever the abstinence chosen, usually what is subsequently required is a daily method of accountability around the decisions made. Again, this varies hugely from person to person, but variations can include: sending the day’s meal plan daily to a Sponsor/Professional first thing every morning; taking a picture of every meal before eating and sending it for comment/approval; using scales and measuring cups & spoons to get precise portions of protein, carbohydrate, salad/vegetables and fats. Most importantly, any subsequent changes to the bottom lines or a meal plan need to be checked out with someone other than myself, in order to guard against a slide back into compulsive eating.

For people whose addiction manifests itself most strongly in their relationship with food, the simple act of sustaining oneself on a day to day basis can be the greatest of challenges. Of course there are often (sometimes very severe) physical consequences but reversing these is not the only goal of recovery from compulsive eating. Apart from the aforementioned ‘freedom from food obsession’, what is also on offer is a life of “serenity…peace…our whole attitude and outlook on life will change”(for the better!) and a healthy relationship with food that permeates the other relationships in our life.

Meeting List for OA here: https://www.oagb.org.uk/find-a-meeting/