Overeaters Anonymous

Overeaters Anonymous is a fellowship support group for people in whose lives food has an unhealthy role. With 6,500 OA groups meeting in 75 countries, the organization provides support for 54,000 members around the world. This article explains the basics of Overeaters Anonymous.

Beginnings of Overeaters Anonymous

Overeaters Anonymous - sometimes abbreviated OA on the model of Gamblers Anonymous (GA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) - was founded in 1960 by Rozanne S., whose idea it was, along with Jo S. and Bernice S. Rozanne had attended a GA meeting with a gambling friend in 1958, and the germ of the idea started there, when she recognized parallels between the stories of the compulsion go gamble and her own overeating. After finding the other two women mentioned above who shared the same issue, they had their first meaning in January 1960 in Los Angeles, so is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary in 2010.

What Is Overeaters Anonymous?

Today, despite its name, Overeaters Anonymous provides support for people who have a wide variety of food compulsions, not all of which involve overeating. Although eating binges, grazing, and inability to stop eating certain types of food after starting, people with other eating compulsions that are not necessarily connected with overeating are welcome. Some of these other behaviors are starving; weight loss methods involving laxatives, diuretics, vomiting, diet pills, or over-exercise, etc.; and inability to succeed in dieting goals, for example. The only membership qualification is a desire to stop from eating compulsively.

Like the organizations it grew out of, OA is based on the Twelve-Step recovery program and does not collect dues or fees from members. Members are anonymous, and while the program proposes spiritual values, no adherence to any particular set of religious beliefs is required. The goal of abstinence in Overeater’s Anonymous is stated as abstaining from overeating, but one can imagine substituting whatever one’s compulsion with food happens to be, if it is not, in fact, overeating. OA does not support a particular diet and officially expresses concern that a diet can intensify overeating compulsions, but it supports members who follow food counseling from outside health professionals.

OA is carried out largely through its weekly meetings. Meeting locators are available to help those new to OA to find a meeting. Meetings often include the Serenity Prayer, and people speaking about their experiences. Newcomers may seek out a sponsor to mentor them. Member contributions are collected, and the meeting often ends with the OA Promise: “I put my hand in yours, and together we can do what we could never do alone.” Overeaters Anonymous recommends attendance at six meetings prior to making a decision about whether OA is right for one, in order to have a solid idea of what it is and is not.

The Twelve Steps and Spiritual Principles

The Twelve Steps, originally designed with alcohol in mind, are recast to apply to the issues surrounding food. For example, they admit to being powerless over food, rather than alcohol. The Twelve Principles can be described as virtues that are bound up with the steps of recovery. They are honesty, hope, faith, courage, integrity, willingness, humility, self-discipline, love for others, perseverance, spiritual awareness, and service - many of which are broadly shared by people of many different faiths as well as by those who don’t espouse a faith.

The Twelve Traditions and Spiritual Principles

The Twelve Traditions that OA follows have, like the Twelve Steps, origins in AA. While the Twelve Steps are goals for individuals to attain, the Twelve Traditions are group attitudes and descriptors, covering the basic mission and vision of the group, including its stance on membership requirements, anonymity, and relationship of groups to the rest of the world, for example. The traditional principles are unity, trust, identity, autonomy, purpose, solidarity, responsibility, fellowship, structure, neutrality, anonymity, and spirituality.



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