This is a subject not discussed nearly enough, yet I have a feeling it will resonate with so many of you. I’m thrilled to welcome Maya to Our Hen House today to share with us her candid thoughts on her experiences with Overeaters Anonymous, and how and where her veganism fits in. (As a bonus, don’t miss a recipe for Maya’s favorite simple, tasty, and affordable lunch — which you’ll find beneath her article.)
I Am a Compulsive Overeater … and a Vegan
I am a compulsive overeater. Saying that for the first time in an Overeaters Anonymous (OA) meeting was, surprisingly, a huge relief for me. For years, I had struggled with overeating to the point of feeling sick, wearing the extra calories on my body. Despite many expensive visits to nutritionists, I could never find a solution that worked for the long term. I would lose weight and then gain back more than I’d lost. I fell asleep almost every night promising myself I would eat healthily the next day – and then the morning would find me drowning in food, which I consumed obsessively and uncontrollably, yet again.
About two years before walking into my first OA meeting, I was inspired to go vegan – not for my own health, ironically, but for the sake of the animals. I had aspired to become vegan for a while, but was convinced that it would be too difficult for me. In one great spiritual moment, I realized my disconnect – I loved animals, but was hurting them. In their interest, I was able to go vegan immediately. I recognized that when I was focusing solely on the interest of my own health, I was not able to exclude any foods, but when I shifted that focus to saving the lives of innocent beings, I was easily able to refrain from consuming products derived from them. I felt a connection with the animals, and an inner peace knowing that I was making choices in my daily life that were preventing their suffering.
I would soon learn that these concepts of being of service and in a better spiritual place were at the heart of OA, and they were also how I would stop compulsively eating, one day at a time.
My second OA meeting was a “Big Book” meeting. I learned that the Big Book is basically the textbook for OA. OA is based on Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and this generic-looking book, titled Alcoholics Anonymous (available for free online), outlines how members of AA have overcome alcoholism, using 12 steps of recovery. By studying this book, I learned a number of things about my compulsive overeating. I learned that selfishness and self-centeredness were at the root of my problems. I learned that in order to recover, I needed to be of service to others. And I learned that to get better I must have a spiritual experience – not necessarily a sudden, overwhelming one – but, possibly, a slow and steady process. I needed the help of others, and in OA I received it. I would eventually “release” approximately 50 pounds, but more importantly, I would find serenity and peace.
It didn’t occur to me that coming into OA as a vegan would be different for me than for anyone else entering the program. I was surprised to find that, despite a great deal of acceptance, more than one person confronted me about my veganism, suggesting it might be a means of “restricting.” Restricting is a term used among members of OA to describe when one is compulsively eating less food than what is nutritionally sound. I was shocked and surprised, and felt somewhat alienated, that members of my OA family, a spiritual fellowship, would question such an important ethical path that I had taken in my life. However, as I delved deeper, speaking with other vegan and vegetarian members of OA, I learned that I was not alone. Not only were there other recovering compulsive eaters living a veg life, but some believed that refraining from causing harm to animals supported the philosophy of being of service, which is so important in OA. In being of service to the animals, in respecting and loving and caring for them by not consuming them, I was having a positive spiritual experience.
Still, I sought a safe space within OA to speak openly about my veganism – a place where I would not be criticized or questioned. I learned of an OA phone meeting with a vegan/vegetarian/raw focus and began to participate. Just as there are LGBT-focused meetings in OA to offer more comfort for LGBT members, my fellows had created this meeting to offer a safe place for members eating plant-based. The phone meeting was a gift to me. Not only as an opportunity to speak openly about being vegan in OA, but also as an inspiration to begin an in-person meeting with a vegan/vegetarian focus in New York City, where I lived. The NYC meeting was well attended for some time. In OA, we don’t talk about what we see and hear in meetings, only of our own experience. My experience was, and is, one of gratitude for this safe space. It connected me with other vegans in OA. The meeting felt peaceful, and the people there were filled with love for each other and for the animals. Service to the animals is what enabled me to become vegan, and what nourished my spirituality, just as service to other members of OA allowed me to become abstinent from compulsive eating; it is a vital part of my spiritual experience. I believe that these are not just coincidences – but important parallels.
Just as in my compulsive eating, selfishness and self-centeredness were at the root of my problems when I was unable to switch to a plant-based diet. In order to become vegan, I needed to be of service to others, the animals. Also as with OA, I required a spiritual experience to make that change. What I learned in going vegan was what I saw in the black-and-white writing of the Big Book: being of service to others was the answer. Once my focus was on making the world a better place for other beings, and I was open to a spiritual solution, my personal blocks lifted, and I was able to make progress.
The vegan/vegetarian meeting eventually lost its space, and we ran into roadblocks when seeking a new one. In the process of trying to find a new home, it occurred to me that perhaps now that I and other vegans in OA had found our safe haven, it was time to bring that sanctuary to other meetings – serving the greater OA community. With that in mind, I went to the regular meetings with renewed confidence to be open about my vegan lifestyle. I could share that – unlike restricting – veganism puts me in a better spiritual space. Because I have freely discussed being vegan in OA, others now know that they can come to me with their own questions about being a vegan in the program.
The Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous states, “Each group has but one primary purpose – to carry its message to the compulsive overeater who still suffers.” And by attending meetings as an out and proud vegan, I am doing just that.
If you suffer from compulsive eating, either restricting or overeating, there is help: http://www.overeatersanonymous.org
As a vegan who leads a busy lifestyle and follows a food plan as part of my OA program, my lunch is most serene when I have a meal that fulfills my nutritionist’s recommendations but doesn’t take a lot of time to prepare. I’m also always trying to be as frugal as I can. This easy and yummy recipe has become my go-to lunch! I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
[print_this]Maya’s Standard (Cheap & Easy) Tofu Lunch
- 2 cups fresh broccoli, cut into florets
- water for steaming the broccoli
- approximately 8 ounces of extra-firm tofu, cut into strips (about half of a 15-ounce container)
- 1 cup cooked quinoa
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
For the Dressing
- 1 heaping tablespoon barley miso
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
- 4 tablespoons brown rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons water
- Cut broccoli into florets. Bring approximately 1 inch of water to boil in a covered saucepan with a steamer basket. Add the broccoli, reduce heat to medium, cover, and steam for 5 to 6 minutes.
- When you put the water for the broccoli on to boil, heat the toasted sesame oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat, add the tofu strips, and cook on both sides until they are golden brown.
- In a small bowl or jar, mix the dressing ingredients together until smooth (adjusting measurements to taste).
- Pick your favorite lunch plate and arrange the quinoa, broccoli, and tofu however you like, drizzling the dressing over everything. Top with the nutritional yeast. Enjoy![/print_this]