Before abstinence, our response to everything that happened to us and every feeling we had was to eat compulsively. Sometimes we had no other tools for coping. When we join GreySheeters Anonymous, we need to learn how to live without overeating, undereating, or purging. Instead of picking up the food, we pick up these tools to help us address the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of our disease.
Some of these tools will be familiar to you if you have experience in other Twelve-Step fellowships. Some will be new. Recovery from compulsive eating means interacting with food on a daily basis, and that requires some tools that other kinds of recovery don’t.
This list is not exhaustive or meant to be exclusive. Any activity that supports your abstinence can be one of your tools. You may even be able to turn some of the things you used to justify your eating into tools that support your abstinence.
The GreySheet Food Plan
Many food recovery programs include a plan of eating among their tools. In GreySheeters Anonymous, the food plan is more than a tool–it’s the foundation of our abstinence. In addition to the list of abstinent foods, the GreySheet provides some helpful guidance, such as a list of foods we avoid. It’s a good idea to carry the food plan with you when you go grocery shopping.
Weighing & Measuring
The scale, the cup, and the tablespoon are literal tools at the core of GreySheet recovery. Fortunately, they are easy to obtain almost anywhere, and you may already have them in your kitchen when you come to the program. (Because GSA has no opinion on outside issues, we cannot recommend any specific brands. Ask your sponsor for recommendations. GreySheeters love to talk about their scales.)
Although putting your food into the cup or onto the scale before eating it may seem like a chore at first, it’s a profoundly spiritual act of surrender that we perform three times a day. By weighing and measuring our food, we are freed from ever having to wonder whether we ate too much or not enough.
We say “The GreySheet comes with a sponsor” because the food plan by itself is only part of the solution. Many people have tried to use the GreySheet food plan on their own and ran into the same problems they did with any diet. Even without the physical cravings, the mental obsession eventually led them to make exceptions, add foods, and stop weighing and measuring. Sponsors not only help us interpret the GreySheet, they provide accountability. Becoming a sponsor reminds us what it’s like in the beginning, and can be just as rewarding for the sponsor as the sponsee.
"Meeting Makers Make It" is a popular saying in all 12-Step programs for a reason. Meetings are one of the most important tools for recovery in GreySheeters Anonymous, so much so that many sponsors advise newcomers to attend 90 meetings in 90 days. When you attend meetings, you hear the experience, strength, and hope of abstinent members and have a chance to share your own.
If you are new to GSA, and not sure this program is for you, we recommend you attend several different meetings before making up your mind. Even if you live in an area without in-person meetings, there are several meetings each day that take place on the telephone and through video conferencing.
Early abstinence is hard. Not only are we dealing with withdrawal symptoms, we have to spend time shopping for and preparing our abstinent foods, making outreach calls, and going to meetings. All this can seem overwhelming.
Sometimes the answer is to pretend you are in a hospital or rehab facility–where some of us have indeed landed as a result of our compulsive eating. In a hospital, your only job is to get better. Resting and keeping things simple by putting on our metaphorical bedroom slippers helps us focus on getting better. If you weigh and measure your three abstinent meals, you are a success.
“Number 10” Meals
As compulsive eaters, we are never going to feel neutral around food–not even when we are free from cravings. GSA tells us that it’s okay to love our food, as long as we write it down, commit it, and weigh and measure it before we eat it. You will hear many members talk about “Number 10” meals–meaning meals that are so good they would score 10 out of 10 in a competition.
Enjoying our meals is an important part of staying abstinent in the long term. Feeling deprived can set us up for compulsive eating behaviors. If you don’t know how to cook the foods on the GreySheet plan, don’t worry–your sponsor and other GreySheeters will be happy to share their favorite recipes. Members of your local GSA group can help you find restaurants and specialty stores where you can get delicious abstinent food.
The GreySheet “Mantra”
When you first attend a GreySheet meeting, you’ll notice right away that most people introduce themselves by saying something like
“I weigh and measure three meals a day from the GreySheet, write them down, and commit them to my sponsor. I don’t eat in between meals no matter what. Abstinence is the most important thing in my life, without exception, and a day at a time I work to put my program first.”
This is known as “The Mantra.” The words vary a bit from person to person, but most long-timers use some form of it. We say this to remind both ourselves and those listening to us what really matters, and that whatever is going on in our lives, we aren’t eating over it.
New GSA members are encouraged to share their “day count” (the number of consecutive days they have been weighing and measuring three meals a day from the GreySheet food plan) at meetings. While it may feel awkward announcing your day count in public—especially if you have had to start over on Day 1—it is also an opportunity for the whole group to provide support and encouragement.
After 90 days of back-to-back abstinence, a member is qualified to become a sponsor and do other kinds of service. Many groups or sponsors give out tokens (also called medallions or chips) when a member has reached a milestone: 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, 6 months, 1 year, and multiple years.
Many sponsors encourage their sponsees to make 3 outreach calls to other GSA members—in addition to their sponsor—every day. Making outreach calls helps us to “pick up the phone instead of the food” when we have a craving or run into a problem weighing and measuring. It also helps establish the sense of community and connectedness we need to stay abstinent.
GSA members who are open to receiving outreach calls share their phone numbers at meetings and on the GSA Phone List. If you don’t know what to say, you can always ask what the other member’s favorite GreySheet-abstinent food is. (Or their favorite travel scale. Or their favorite lunch bag.)
SMS, Internet and Social Media
The Internet makes it possible to stay connected with other GreySheeters in ways that longtimers in the 1970s and 1980s could never have imagined. We have email, text messaging, smartphone apps, and social media. Instead of using those tools to waste time or fantasize about food, we can use them to stay connected to other GreySheeters. You can find out more about the GreyNet online forum, GreySheet videos on YouTube, audio recordings from GreySheet events, and other resources here on the greysheet.org website. There are also private, unofficial groups for GSA members–ask your sponsor how to get connected.
We read GSA and A.A. literature to support our recovery. As our Group Purpose states, GSA was “founded and designed to discuss the utilization of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous in arresting compulsive eating.” The core of A.A.’s program of spiritual recovery is summed up in the books Alcoholics Anonymous (a.k.a. “The Big Book”) and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. These books help us to understand our spiritual disease and provide a spiritual solution.
GreySheeters Anonymous also publishes its own literature, focused on the specific needs of compulsive eaters. The book Living Abstinent focuses on the practical aspects of staying abstinent one day at a time, no matter what. Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of GreySheeters Anonymous provides a guide to working the Steps and Traditions in GSA.
Abstinence is a gift that we have to give away in order to keep. Doing service is one of the fastest ways to create a sense of belonging. Something as simple as helping to set up a meeting room or acting as timekeeper during sharing is a valuable contribution.
Many service positions require at least 90 days of back-to-back abstinence, to allow newcomers to focus on their own recovery first. Once you reach 90 days, your sponsor will encourage you to do service in a way that supports your own abstinence.
Round Ups and Retreats
Many GreySheet communities around the world hold annual events and invite members from outside their local area to participate. These can be especially valuable for members who don’t live near other GreySheeters. Retreats are usually smaller and involve an overnight stay, shared meals, and a spiritual focus. Round Ups are larger events with multiple speakers where participants provide their own meals and arrange their own accommodations. Some Round Ups and Retreats provide audio recordings of speakers or sessions.
Prayer and Meditation
Step Eleven reads “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood [God], praying only for knowledge of [God's] will for us and the power to carry that out.”
You don't have to belong to a particular faith—or any religion at all—to benefit from daily periods of prayer and meditation. Even if you’re not sure what you believe or are skeptical about the idea of a Higher Power, reading from a daily meditation book or taking time to sit quietly and ask for guidance can increase your serenity.
“AWOL” stands for “A Way of Life.” An AWOL is a group of GSA members with at least 90 days of back-to-back abstinence who meet regularly to work the Twelve Steps of GSA from start to finish. Members are expected to show up at each meeting and to do additional work between meetings. (AWOLs can use literature not approved by the GSA World Service Conference and have participation requirements beyond the desire to stop eating compulsively because they are meetings of individuals, not of GSA groups.)
It’s a good idea to talk to your sponsor before you join an AWOL. The Twelve Steps are our path to freedom, but they can also bring up very intense emotions. Although AWOLs are a tradition in GSA, they are not a requirement. Sometimes it’s better to work the Steps at a retreat or one-on-one with your sponsor.