Since it's a little unfamiliar term (Jon's practicing abstinence? does that mean he's not getting laid anymore?) the simple analogy is: abstinence is to overeaters what sobriety is to drunks.
Get it now? Ok, neither did I twelve months ago. For the last year (8,763 hours in fact) I have been abstaining from the behavior of compulsive eating.
Instead of eating when I'm angry, lonely, tired, scared, bored, happy, sad, anxious, eager, drunk, or "no reason at all" I eat 3 meals a day + 1 optional snack before bed, with nothing in between, one day at a time. It's 3-0-1 For at least the first month that was my basic rallying cry that I had to repeat like a mantra until I really came to hear it in my bones. three zero one! And some days, that's all I go back to: three meals a day, with life in between, one day at a time.
That's the basic formula I've been blessed to follow for a year now. That's not eating compulsively, but rather very deliberately. That's it. That's my abstinence, the equivalent of my sobriety.
To help keep that structure strong I have added some support elements in a fairly simple fashion. These things are not my abstinence, they are supporting tools :
First, I have a meal plan. I follow a doctor recommended food plan. So the structure of those 3 meals (+ snack) is quite proscribed by servings of starches, proteins, vegetables, and fruit and a little fat.
Second, To reinforce that structure, I weigh the amounts of those foods—usually in ounces. I've been weighing and measuring most of my food. In my case it's generally not enough to just say "eat three times and go to bed." I use my Escali scale and some measuring cups in order to help eliminate second guessing. So
2 protein (1 = 1 oz meat/cheese or 1 egg or 1/2 cup tofu) , 2 servings starch (1 = 1 slice bread or 1/3 c. rice or 1/2 cup oats or 60g cooked pasta or 3oz potato, etc), 1 fruit (1 = 1 piece or 12-15 grapes or 2 tbsp raisins), 1 dairy (1 = 8oz milk or 1/2c cottage cheese).
4 protein, 2 starch, 2 vegetables (1 = 3 oz. cooked or 4 oz. raw), 1 fruit , 10-12g fat
4 protein, 2 starch, 3 vegetables, 1 fruit, 10-12g fat.
2 from list of protein/dairy/starch/fruit.
Every. Day. Period.
Third, I've made a list of specific foods I avoid because they are very easy to binge on (that's the acute manifestation of the over and compulsive parts in the term "compulsive overeating"). These foods have a higher chance of triggering craving and binging: most crackers, potato chips, ice cream, dry or honey roasted peanuts, pretzels, candy, sweet chocolate, doughnuts and little debbie snacks, brownies, cookies, fried chicken, sweet-salty americanized chinese food (LeeAnn Chin, general tso's chicken, etc), all you can eat buffets (particularly Indian), sweet pies, fast food. These are things I can get carried away with easily. I've avoided them—I had some pretzel goldfish, and some triscuits—this year. I'm probably a sugar addict, which is why so much sugary stuff is on that list. A couple friends use a good shorthand rule for sugar in processed foods that I've adopted as well: fifth on the label or lower. In other words, I read the ingredients, if sugar is listed in ingredients 1-4, I don't eat it. (I apply this to most of the other sugar substances as well like hfcs, various -ose things like glucose and dextrose, and -in things like maltodextrin).
I do drink moderate amounts of alcohol and caffeine. I don't eat a ton of "fat free" things. I eat fruit preserves/jams that are "all fruit" (i.e., they've been sweetened with concentrated fruit) and fruit leather or fruit bars. I use artificial sweeteners. I don't avoid sodium. I put cream in my coffee (1 tbsp/cup). I cook with butter, ghee, and olive oil. I taste what I'm cooking (except if I'm making sweets for someone) while I'm preparing food. I eat steak sometimes. I eat out—I ate 8 courses at La Belle Vie for Christ's sake! (they were really helpful when I emailed my meal plan) I eat white flour—which a lot of people avoid. I sometimes eat a little bit of a meal at home—the veggies—before going out, so I can order from the menu without making a bunch of extra requests for vegetables.I don't always remember to bring my scale with me when I leave the house.
These things aren't "my abstinence." These are part of a constellation of tools that help me retain that abstinence.
When you're getting sober, the definition is ironclad: refrain from alcohol. When you're getting abstinent, the definition seems less clear because ...you still gotta eat to survive! But over time, it has become similarly ironclad: refrain from compulsive eating. It's a behavior.
So how's it working? My abstinence is the single binding thread that has stitched the last 365 days of my life together. It's an incredible treasure. After I got abstinent, I began to be able to work on my life. The work I've been doing has been framed by the 12 steps and 12 traditions of Overeaters Anonymous (yes, the same 12 Steps from AA). But I got abstinent first. See? I'm in a 12 Step recovery program, but it started with recognizing I was powerless and that in order to be realistic and honest about that powerlessness, I could no longer take part in those behaviors if I wanted to live. If. I. Want. To. Live.
Not everyone is like this. Not everyone has this, and I claim no monopoly on the truth or on identifying "the problems of the world." This problem is mine. To me, it is a fatal illness and if I don't recover from it, it will eventually kill me dead. No joke at all, I've looked at the abyss and I know it will kill me. But I'm recovering from the illness. I have a solution to this problem, and like the disease that not everyone shares, the solution that's been given to me is mine, for me. But it's working. That's for damn sure. And it started with abstinence, which has been my gift to retain every day for a whole year.
So it's working. What does "it's working" look like? Physically it's been quite helpful, as I've lost 130 pounds and have—other than an old back issue and this surgery thing—so many fewer health concerns than I did (I have not yet started an exercise program. I'm not kidding.) Spiritually and emotionally I've gone through a ton of changes—and I'm feeling so much better. I have a renewed outlook, new confidence, stability, and sanity. I don't eat to avoid or hide my emotions, I just practice feeling them, expressing them, and letting go. I don't eat for any reason other than hunger and that it's eating time (thankfully, these two coincide about 5 hours from the previous meal). I have a new lease on life.
In some ways abstinence has been the equivalent of four full time jobs (full time job = 2080 hours/year) and it's the bottom line thing for me. I know that sounds like a pretty narrow scope, a pretty short horizon but so be it. I'm alive and I'm getting better at living. And thank God too, not a moment too soon. I've been helped by so many people—I know I haven't done it alone. Which is why it's such an incredible gift: it's been done to me as much as something I've done. I've participated in it, but I sure haven't done it all—or really feel like I've done any of it—on my own. It's like the whole world, from the Creator on down to family, friends, and some near-perfect strangers all got together and said: let's give Jon a gift he's really going to love. And then gave it every day. Day. Day. Day. Thanks everybody, that's a tremendous gift and every day that goes by, I feel the reality that I'm worth it, and for that I'm even more grateful. One whole year gone by.