girl feeling relief at a therapy meeting

Overeaters Anonymous is a program available to anyone with a problematic relationship with food. In line with similar anonymous organizations (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, etc.), Overeaters Anonymous, also known as OA, focuses around a 12 step rehabilitative program and offers communal meetings for participants.

The organization was founded in 1960 with the goal of guiding individuals through food-associated compulsive behavior. An estimated 60,000 participants across 75 countries take part in OA circles annually.

When Should I Join Overeaters Anonymous?

Membership is largely open regardless of specific disorders; the only clause for joining is a desire to stop one’s compulsive eating habits. OA treats overeating disorders as an illness and counteracts it like an addiction. The formatting of Overeaters Anonymous is virtually identical to Alcoholics Anonymous (OA even reads the literature designed for alcoholic-based addictions discussed in AA).

Although OA stresses that participants are seeking to achieve a healthy body weight, recourse is primarily designed to dissuade compulsive eating disorders. However, afflictions that may warrant participation in OA include, but are not limited to:

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  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Binge eating disorder
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Compulsive eating disorder

How Does Overeaters Anonymous Work?

Data for success rates through OA is slim due to a lack of studies, but its sister programs point to reasonable effectiveness for participants. Communal support groups like AA and NA have a history of high success rates for their participants—many times exponentially decreasing the odds of relapse (as opposed to individuals who attempt to quit addiction on their own). Other daunting steps of quitting an addiction—food-related in OA—are solved in the anonymous format.

All members are mostly anonymous, unless they choose to speak out. This strips each member in a meeting down to their common motivation: a goal to help their addiction. Additionally, it prevents the intimate details of substance abuse from leaking to the public, allowing participants to focus exclusively on their recovery.

OA neither endorses nor discourages the use of a specific food plan. Although OA encourages participants to reach out to physicians for meal plan advice, the program primarily advises participants to use whatever works for them. Some recommend participants stay away from certain kinds of food, like those with caffeine or sugar, and others ask that individuals stay away from triggering environments and foods.

The 12 Step Model

Overeaters Anonymous has participants follow the guidelines specified in the 12 Step model. The doctrine is secular by nature, but the religion is left unspecified—it is up to followers to choose what their understanding of a higher being is. Spiritual understanding and enlightenment are the goals of the steps; by the end of the linear guidelines, users are intended to have the ability to manage their former addition. The steps are as follows:

  1. Admitting to compulsion while eating and the effects it has had on one’s life.
  2. Believing that a higher power will help in their process towards recovery.
  3. Deciding to turn one’s will towards the benefit of said higher power.
  4. Making a moral inventory of oneself. This step entails assessing where they have come in their struggles with eating disorders and how to identify the roots of addiction issues.
  5. Admitting to oneself, a higher power, and another person the nature of the wrongs committed during addiction.
  6. A readiness to allow the higher power to remove one’s personal defects.
  7. Asking said higher power to remove one’s negative character attributes.
  8. Making a list of people affected detrimentally by one’s struggles with compulsion in order to make amends with them.
  9. Mending relations with the listed people in a way that does not harm them further.
  10. Continuing to take personal responsibility for one’s actions committed and making them known in order to atone for them.
  11. Using prayer, meditation, or both to improve one’s relationship with the higher power.
  12. Continuing for practice the 12 steps as well as transferring one’s knowledge of the process to other affected individuals.

Many participants are initially apathetic or downright opposed to the secular influence in the 12 step program. Ultimately, the most pagan aspects of Overeaters Anonymous can be adjusted to one’s preferences; whether by converting prayer to meditation or imagining a higher power to be nature or a karmic scale, it is possible to appreciate the virtues instilled of looking to something bigger than oneself for guidance in trying times.