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Overeaters Anonymous (OA) – 12 Step Program

What is Overeaters Anonymous about?

Overeaters Anonymous is a 12-step program for individuals who have addictive problems related to food. These issues can include binge eating, compulsive overeaters, anorexics and bulimics. The fellowship welcomes anyone who has a problem with food. During a 2001 survey, members of the group were polled to identify what kinds of problems were significant in the group. 84% of the members had identified as binge eaters; 15% as bulimics; and 1% as anorexics, so there is a variety of members in the fellowship.

Many of these individuals have tried to solve their problems with food by trying to control their eating habits and weight gain or loss before joining the fellowship, but have failed. Because compulsive eating is considered a disease, such as alcoholism or drug addiction, it is something that cannot simply just be stopped. Overeating is a chronic condition that many people try to use to help relieve stress, but in the long run, will result in more stress, health problems and other emotional issues.

When did Overeaters Anonymous start?

The idea for the program started in 1958, when Rozanne S., a member of Gamblers Anonymous, began realizing that she had a problem with compulsive eating. She officially started a meeting in 1960 to try to find others who may have suffered from this problem as well. Although the meeting only began with one other individual, slowly after, another woman became involved and the program began to grow and grow.

Because the women knew that the 12-step format was successful with other programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Rozanne’s involvement with Gamblers Anonymous, they adapted the same process for Overeaters Anonymous. Today, the group has over 65,000 members. It is accessible in over 75 countries and approximately 6,500 groups meet weekly.

How does Overeaters Anonymous work?

One of the reasons that a 12-step recovery process is needed to battle compulsive eating addiction is because the problem is viewed as an addiction, which means it cannot be cured or fixed; the illness needs to be arrested. While diets and exercise may have temporarily helped members before Overeaters Anonymous, willpower alone is not enough to recover from this addiction. In the fellowship, members are encouraged to maintain abstinence, which is refraining from compulsive eating and food behaviors while working towards a healthy body weight.

Members have the ability to create their own plan of eating, which can help them find their own ways to avoid trigger foods and destructive eating behaviors. Before joining the fellowship, many members suffer from feelings of depression, anxiety, guilt and sadness; addressing these feelings can help members not only begin eating healthy, but improve their quality of life and increase their self esteem. Overeaters Anonymous helps members let go of their attitudes and the negative feelings associated with compulsive eating, and slowly allow them to free themselves from their food obsessions.

Getting a sponsor in the program is strongly recommended for newcomers before they begin working the steps. A sponsor is a longtime member of the program who has been abstinent for a long period of time. While they are not professionals, they can provide members with their own experiences and suggestions on how to work the program successfully. Whenever a member has a question or wants to confide in somebody one-on-one, a sponsor is a good person to help guide them through the recovery process and give them a better understanding of how the program works. Newcomers to Overeaters Anonymous can purchase any of the literature online. The program utilizes “The Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous and has other literature available including “Overeaters Anonymous,” “For Today,” “Abstinence,” and more.

It is individually up to each member of the program to identify whether or not they have a problem with compulsive eating. Some symptoms that members have used to identify their own problems include:

  • Eating binges or grazing;
  • Obsession with body image and compulsive weighing
  • Laxative or diuretic abuse
  • Induced vomiting after eating
  • Use of diet pills, shots, and other medical interventions to control weight
  • Inability to stop eating certain foods after taking the first bite
  • Vulnerability to quick weight loss schemes
  • Using food as reward or comfort

Why does Overeaters Anonymous work?

Overeaters Anonymous offers individuals a safe place for members to never feel judged; there is never a weigh-in or daily check on progress; it is simply a program for individuals to start working with the help of a strong support system behind them. It is important for individuals that they understand they are not alone when battling this addiction. Finding others who understand their problems and can share their own experience, strength and hope to help find solutions is a crucial part of the recovery process.

Although members have the opportunity to create their own meal plans to help guide their daily eating habits, Overeaters Anonymous does not focus on making a diet plan or offering diet tips as these ideas can actually intensify the compulsion to want to eat. Compulsive eating is about more than just what members eat; it is a physical, emotional and spiritual illness that can only begin being healed when the recovery process has started.

Many members have to abandon the idea that they simply need willpower; they have to admit their inability to control their compulsive eating habits. In order for the recovery process to start, members need to change their inner selves, not just their outer selves or what they eat when it comes to battling their addiction. In the program of Overeaters Anonymous, members can find unconditional acceptance and support from existing members who are struggling with the same compulsive eating problems.

FAQs about Overeaters Anonymous

Does Overeaters Anonymous cost money?

Overeaters Anonymous has no costs, dues or fees for membership. The only requirement for membership is the desire to stop eating compulsively. The group is self-supporting through their own contributions, so outside monetary donations are never accepted. Members can have the opportunity to give what they can, when they can, during meetings.

Is Overeaters Anonymous religious?

The fellowship is not a religious organization, nor does it require its members to identify their higher power as God. The program bases itself on the acceptance of some spiritual principles, but a higher power is defined by each individual as something to help them free themselves from their compulsive eating addiction. There is no right or wrong answer. Everyone is able to identify their concept of a higher power as whatever they choose to be.

Where do I find Overeaters Anonymous meetings?

There are face-to-face meetings available all over the world. Newcomers are encouraged to use the meeting directory page here to find a meeting nearby. In the case that any physical meetings cannot be attended, the meeting directory page has identified virtual and phone meetings so everyone can continue going to meetings regularly.

How do you know if you are a compulsive eater?

It is not up to the existing members of Overeaters Anonymous to help individuals identify whether they have a problem or not with compulsive eating. Each member makes this decision on their own. The official website has a short questionnaire that can help people decide whether or not they are struggling with a compulsive eating addiction. Answering the following questions can help members figure out if they are struggling with compulsive eating addiction.

  1. Do I eat when I’m not hungry, or not eat when my body needs nourishment?
  2. Do I go on eating binges for no apparent reason, sometimes eating until I’m stuffed or even feel sick?
  3. Do I have feelings of guilt, shame, or embarrassment about my weight or the way I eat?
  4. Do I eat sensibly in front of others and then make up for it when I am alone?
  5. Is my eating affecting my health or the way I live my life?
  6. When my emotions are intense—whether positive or negative—do I find myself reaching for food?
  7. Do I eat when I’m not hungry, or not eat when my body needs nourishment?
  8. Do I go on eating binges for no apparent reason, sometimes eating until I’m stuffed or even feel sick?
  9. Do I have feelings of guilt, shame, or embarrassment about my weight or the way I eat?
  10. Do I eat sensibly in front of others and then make up for it when I am alone?
  11. Is my eating affecting my health or the way I live my life?
  12. When my emotions are intense—whether positive or negative—do I find myself reaching for food?

12 Steps of Overeaters Anonymous

1. We admitted we were powerless over food — that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to compulsive overeaters and to practice these principles in all our affairs.


12 Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous

1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon OA unity.

2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority — a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.

3. The only requirement for OA membership is a desire to stop eating compulsively.

4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or OA as a whole.

5. Each group has but one primary purpose — to carry its message to the compulsive overeater who still suffers.

6. An OA group ought never endorse, finance or lend the OA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.

7. Every OA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.

8. Overeaters Anonymous should remain forever non-professional, but our service centers may employ special workers.

9. OA, as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.

10. Overeaters Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the OA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.

11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, films, television and other public media of communication.

12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all these Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

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