Top Menu

Defining YOUR Abstinence

I talked to a client today. She has been in one or another of the OA programs for a few years. She was really frustrated. For her, the programs she attended, defined her abstinence by their rules. Their rules did not fit her needs. And some times, she had to change the rules.

She had to get written permission from her doctor AND her dietitian to change the rules for the two days after her surgery in order to still be counted abstinent.

She had to call a certain number of people a day; she had to control her portions in a particular manner, and she had to commit her food in a particular manner, or ……..

She was not abstinent and not allowed to speak at the meetings. “I felt such guilt and shame if I did not follow the rules, she said. “But their rules just don’t work for me.”

Let’s talk today about abstinence…what it is and what it isn’t. What follows is my opinion, after 29 years of counseling food addicts. It is only my opinion. Why should you believe it? Use it?  I am not a food addict. BUT I have both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Nutrition from Drexel University and I am a Registered Dietitian and a licensed nutritionist. But I am not a food addict. However, I have been listening to food addicts and learning to help them for twenty-nine years. I have seen thousands of people succeed at getting free.

Now. The main OA program says that this is YOUR program and you get to run it in any way that works for you. Abstinence has been defined in a variety of ways, but the one I like best is “Abstinence is a state of mind characterized by freedom from the obsession with food.”

Now what do you need to do to be free of the obsession with food?

I think this is different for every person and may change over time. You get to define your own program. When others tell you about their recovery program, look at what it is doing for them; what do you want your recovery program to do for you?

When others tell you that you are “Not Abstinent”, you probably aren’t, by their rules. But you get to set your own rules with your trusted advisors as to what’s abstinent and what isn’t. Abstinence means you stop hurting your body, mind and spirit with your food behaviors, and you begin to create the life you always wanted.

I’m going to begin this series of blog posts with the guidelines I use in my office and my classes to help people define their own abstinence:  and I am going to write the next few posts on how to create your own concept of abstinence. There are a few principles I use, in my office, to decide how to write a food plan; here are some:

The first goal is freedom from self-abusive and self-destructive food behaviors: bingeing, purging, starving, restricting, obsession, and cravings.

The second is to take out all your drug and trigger foods, and all their friends and cousins. This will leave a hole in your food plan, so

Goal three is to meet the body’s nutrient needs. That means:

2 to 4 fruits a day

2 to 6 vegetable servings a day

Adequate protein for your height and weight

Adequate fats for skin, hair, nails, and hormones

A good source of calcium and other B vitamins and minerals.

Goal Four: ENOUGH food that the body isn’t hungry all day. You should feel hunger for about ten minutes before meal time and feel satisfied afterward.

Goal Five: Calories and nutrients in the right amount to maintain or lead you to a normal body weight and meet your other goals. If you are a nursing mom, for instance, I want you to have enough milk. If you are a long-distance runner, I want you to be able to do that effectively.

Goal Six: Have enough fluid to meet the body’s needs. Take your weight in pounds, divide by 2, and that is the number of ounces of fluid you should drink in a day. Sodas, milkshakes, and other sweetened or artificially sweetened beverages don’t count. Use water, seltzer, or herbal tea.

For our next blog, make yourself a list please – what are the foods that ALWAYS cause you trouble: Sugar? Flour? Fat? Sugar and fat? Salty? Caffeine? Alcohol? Chocolate? Volume, that is more? Salty/crunchy? Smooth/creamy? What are the things that consistently set you off?

I hope you will stick around to hear more specifics about these concepts, in the next few weeks.

That’s my rant for today. Hope you liked it. Be welcome to comment below.

Blessings to you;


12 Responses to Defining YOUR Abstinence

  1. Fiona April 3, 2018 at 10:37 am #

    Thank you Theresa , your posts are extremely helpful , insightful and above all else motivating for me . Looking forward to next post and in the interim ,I will draw up my list of problem foods

    • H. Theresa Wright April 8, 2018 at 9:27 pm #

      Wonderful. I am so glad to be of help.

  2. Liz April 3, 2018 at 10:51 am #

    Hi Theresa:
    Very good article and good tips as well.
    How long do you want me to share at the OA Mt.
    At Harvey Cedars ??

    Thanking you in advance,
    Liz LeGierse Holford

    • H. Theresa Wright April 8, 2018 at 9:27 pm #

      Liz, I am so glad you will be there to share! Plan to speak for 20-30 minutes, like at a regular meeting; the chair person will have a format. Hope you enjoy the retreat!

  3. Anne Osada April 3, 2018 at 12:06 pm #

    Thank you for this post. It was very helpful. I’ve come to realize over the past 6 months in OA that there are different philosophies in some meetings – even though they are all under the 12 Step program – which is an amazing and life-saving process if worked as written in the Big Book. I went to a lot of different meetings until I found two that were started by people with a philosophy I needed – that if you are a truly compulsive overwater, being abstinent and working the Steps (not just attending meetings) is the only way to truly find peace and health. Theresa – I totally agree that we need to feed ourselves properly (as you described) and in many cases, remain abstinent from sugar (and usually also flour) – but every person is different, as you noted, so work with your dietician or sponsor to find your own definition of abstinence. It may also change from time to time. Be flexible and be kind to yourself along the way.

    • H. Theresa Wright April 8, 2018 at 9:24 pm #

      I agree. Thanks for writing.

  4. Anne Haag April 3, 2018 at 1:21 pm #

    I am really enjoying these blogs Theresa! Thank you

    • H. Theresa Wright April 8, 2018 at 9:23 pm #

      I’m so glad. Thank you.

  5. Sandra K April 3, 2018 at 9:24 pm #

    OA defines abstinence as “the action of refraining from compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors while working towards or maintaining a healthy body weight…”. As regards to the client you spoke about, please suggest to her that she bring her issue with this group to the Intergroup. NO ONE is denied “a voice” (the right to share in a meeting) in OA. NO ONE! There can be abstinence requirements for leading, workshop or marathon speaker, and WSO delegate, to name a few, but NOT for sharing in a meeting. What her meeting is doing to her is cruel and uncalled for. And OA wonders why the numbers continue to dwindle.

    • H. Theresa Wright April 8, 2018 at 9:22 pm #

      Yes, you are correct. That is OA’s official definition of abstinence. The quote I used, “A state of mind characterized by freedom from the obsession with food” came from OA’s publication Dignity of Choice. I wanted to use it here to emphasize the need to be at peace with food. A well-known AA saying is, “And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone – even alcohol. For by this time sanity will have returned.” I used this definition of abstinence to emphasize the need for the client to find a food plan that works for her and leads her to some sort of peace and sanity with food.
      I will discuss with my client the option of bringing the issues to intergroup, though that may be scary for her. There are several different “branches” within OA, but I think we would agree that shaming and fear-based tactics rarely if ever work.

  6. Jamie April 6, 2018 at 5:10 pm #

    Thank you Theresa! Food is cunning, baffling and powerful. The rules like you say aren’t clear cut as they are with drugs or alcohol but when you get honest with yourself it is easy to see which foods are used as medication vs nutrition! That is the thing I will keep at the forefront of my mind today!

    • H. Theresa Wright April 8, 2018 at 9:20 pm #

      Wonderful! Keep it up!

Leave a Reply