Overeaters Anonymous was developed in 1960 by Rozanne S. and two anonymous women. With a membership of approximately 70,000 individuals and active in 70 countries, Overeaters Anonymous (OA) is for any individual who finds themselves powerless over food. Individuals suffering from a compulsive eating disorder, bulimia, anorexia, overeating or an issue with consuming food are encouraged to join. OA is a twelve step program and has its own literature but also utilizes the Alcoholics Anonymous book and twelve traditions.
Defined by OA as any “impulse or feeling of being irresistibly driven toward the performance of some irrational action,” compulsive eating is viewed as a chronic and progressive disease like alcoholism or addiction. Compulsive eaters use food to handle stress, daily life situations and cope with emotional conflicts. Although, the compulsive eater can often admit and recognize they have an issue, the food being consumed can block out emotions and feelings. Some of the signs and characteristics of overeating addiction or food addiction are:
- Binging and purging food
- Feelings and fear of not being able to control the amount of food being consumed
- Belittling oneself because of food consummation
- Switching and trying an excessive amount of diets
- Feelings of guilt and depression
- Thinking being thin will make oneself a happier, more popular individual
- Weight loss or gain is the focus of one’s life
- Social and professional failures are because of one’s weight
- Ashamed of weight and isolating
- Self-esteem is tied to weight
The physical, mental, and spiritual illness of compulsive eating are discussed and shared in OA meetings. A questionnaire is provided by Overeaters Anonymous to help potential members to decide whether or not they need to work the program. One of questions is, “Do you give too much time and thought to food?” Food plans and sponsorship are a key component to Overeaters Anonymous. Food plans are available but it is suggested to new members to contact a nutritionist or work closely with their sponsor to develop a healthy food plan. Avoiding alcohol, wheat products, and processed sugars are typical directions. A relapse in OA is considered compulsive eating or practicing unhealthy food related behaviors- like binging and purging or using laxatives.
As with many twelve step programs, Overeaters Anonymous utilizes spirituality rather than religion. Admitting to oneself powerlessness over food, turning one’s will over to a higher power, and taking a ‘searching and fearless’ moral inventory of oneself are three of the spiritual steps in OA recovery.
Eating disorder treatment: is usually most effective when mixing a combination of therapy, group support, and a nutritionist.
The four following methods are typical and have been shown to be the most effective:
Psychotherapy: one-on-one therapy and group therapy helps the individual with an eating disorder discover their deeply rooted issues, learn healthy outlets, and share experiences
Nutritionist/Diet professional: helps to create a healthy food plan, educates the individual on the on the adverse effects, and aids in food goals
Support groups/Overeaters anonymous: ran by peers and members share their experiences, encouragement, and healthy outlets
Residential treatment: an inpatient treatment center which helps with behavioral and medical issues the individual may face or for severe cases
Overeaters Anonymous meetings are open to the public and lists of meeting locations and times can be found online or in a OA meeting directory.