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Episode 78: Overeaters Anonymous


Episode 78: Overeaters Anonymous


Surely you must have heard of Alcoholics Anonymous. But do you know about Overeaters Anonymous? In this episode, you’ll learn all about this organization founded in the 1960s, how they modeled most of the healing and recovery process for compulsive overeaters on the process of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Overeaters Anonymous or OA is a nonprofessional, nonaffiliated, non-denominational, self-supporting fellowship of individuals who have recovered from compulsive eating whose primary purpose is to not only help people suffering from compulsive overeating, but also helps them stay recovered.

According to their website, they have about 6500 groups in over 75 countries that meet each week with 60,000 members. The OA members use the 12 steps, nine tools, and 12 traditions to support each other in recovering from unhealthy relationships with food and body image.



Key Highlights: 

Tune in to the episode and learn:

  • The 12 steps upon which the foundation of Overeaters Anonymous is built and enable compulsive eaters and millions of other Twelve-Steppers to lead happy, productive lives
  • The 9 tools used regularly to help achieve and maintain abstinence from compulsive overeating
  • The 12 Traditions or means by which OA remains unified in a common cause
  • Interesting data on Overeating Anonymous looking at its efficacy in binge eating disorder and bulimia


What the research says about Overeaters Anonymous:

  • The researchers found that longer involvement with Overeaters Anonymous – a greater adherence to a food plan, increased frequency of phone calls to other members, and more time spent writing about one’s thoughts and feelings predicted a lower frequency of a relapse.
  • Data from a private Israeli treatment center using the 12 step program as an adjunct to counseling and treatment in adult women with obesity and bulimia nervosa showed a mean weight loss of 9.7 kilograms amongst adults with obesity and a 71% success rate in cessation of purging behaviors among adults with bulimia over a six-month period.
  • There was also a qualitative study looking at the subjective experiences of the group members. The researchers reported that the members got a sense of belonging as well as a change in their viewpoint from that of a dieting mentality to one of emotional and spiritual recovery.


Criticism of Overeaters Anonymous:

  • The emphasis on self-diagnosis can lead to people identifying their problems and seeking solutions that match their perceived goals related to weight loss or their eating disorder pathology. 
  • Members may give food advice that is generic or based on what has worked for them, which might either not be beneficial or even maybe detrimental at times.
  • Conventional eating disorder approaches tend to encourage eating all foods in moderation rather than reducing exposure to foods that produce uncontrollable cravings. 
  • There is another consensus that the culture of many 12 step programs is overly restrictive, and contains punitive food messaging that may be harmful to one’s long-term relationship with food.
  • Some eating disorder professionals also feel that these 12 step programs may be a source of weight stigma, which may also compound the problem rather than solve it. 



Overeaters Anonymous may be something definitely worth considering, but as a complement to standard treatment, and also should be undertaken under the care and supervision of a qualified healthcare professional. 




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