Overeaters Anonymous

Gabrielle Applebury
OA members at therapy meeting

Overeaters Anonymous (OA) is an international program that aims to assist those who have compulsive eating issues. The program consists of 12 steps and is open to anyone who wants to join.

The OA Program

The program was started in 1960 and currently has over 60,000 members around the world. OA focuses on the same 12 steps as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. OA states it is not affiliated with any religion, political groups, or private or public organizations. They also note they are not professionally run by psychologists, nutritionists, nor doctors. People who are dealing with over-eating, binge-eating, bulimia, anorexia, and exercise addiction are welcome to join. The program is free to join, and meetings can be found online and are locally available in 80 countries. If you are unable to attend a meeting in person, OA offers podcasts, online meetings, telephone meetings, and access to literature.

During meetings, participants are encouraged to discuss their issues regarding eating, as well as their recovery. You may also be encouraged to find a sponsor to provide you with further support. During some meetings, a guest speaker will talk about issues related to eating and recovery. Meetings are held in churches, coffee shops, and other affordable rental spaces. At the end of the meeting, the group may recite a closing prayer while standing in a circle. Although a higher power or God may be mentioned in the prayer, OA emphasizes it is not religiously based, but spiritual. They encourage members who are religious and non-religious to create their own meaning out of the 12 steps, regardless of whether members believe in a higher power or not.

The Effectiveness of OA

This program can be incredibly helpful for many, but it may not work well for everyone. While the 12 step program can be effective for some, research supports these programs work best as an addition to professional help.

The Pros

For some, OA can provide:

  • A safe space to discuss issues related to eating
  • A community of people who may understand your experience
  • A free support group that offers meetings online and in person
  • An international program that aims to be inclusive
  • A place to be accountable for your behavior, which can be especially helpful in the beginning stage of recovery

The Cons

Like other one-approach programs, OA may not be the right fit for everyone. Some cons include:

  • Although the site claims to not be religiously affiliated, a higher power or God may come up during meetings, in their literature, as well as during the closing prayer.
  • These meetings are not professionally run and may not provide enough support to those who need a higher level of care.
  • The 12 step approach may not work for everyone.
  • It may foster co-dependent relationships.
  • Some may find meetings too triggering to attend.
  • Because meetings are run by volunteer members, underlying issues that propel eating related issues will probably not be addressed.
  • People with a variety of issues may be in the same meeting, which may not resonate with your particular issue.

Research on OA

Researchers have found that the longer participants stayed in the program, the lower the risk of relapsing into old behavior. In an OA survey, the program reports six to 10 years later, 15 percent of members are able to maintain a healthy body weight. Looking at 20 years later, 12 percent of members were able to maintain a healthy body weight. They note the average weight loss is around 45 pounds. Similar to other non-professionally run programs, OA may be a great choice for some but will not necessarily work for all who have compulsive eating issues.

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Overeaters Anonymous