Annette Nay, Ph.D.
Copyright © 1997
Overeaters Anonymous or OA was started in California in 1960 by two women named Rozanne S. and Barbara. They realized they needed help in overcoming their addiction to food. They looked to see what support groups were available for compulsive overeaters and found nothing available. They investigated other support groups for addicts, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Gamblers Anonymous (GA). They saw their great success in helping the addicted. They took the framework of AA and exchanged the words compulsive overeater for alcoholic and OA was born.
OA has spread across the United States and around the world. Canada, Germany, and Israel are just a few of the countries that have OA chapters. Its headquarters in New York is called the World Service Office. the name reflects its world membership.
There are two things needed for membership in OA. It is for any man, woman or child who discover they cannot control their eating habits and sincerely want to overcome this problem.
There are two types of compulsive overeaters. The bulimic and the binge or the continuous eater. The bulimic is the same as a binge or continuous eater in that they both overeat. The difference lies in the way the bulimic deals with weight control. The bulimic does not want to become overweight or obese. They cannot control the intake of food so they control their weight by purging the food from their systems. They use vomiting, diuretics, excessive exercise or any combination of the three.
Compulsive overeaters have a disease or addiction they cannot control. They do not react to food in the same way as normal people do. The nature of addiction causes them to have an unnatural love relationship with food. This relationship leads them to eat large quantities of food all in one setting or continuously over time. Normal individuals stop eating when they are full. The compulsive overeater craves more. These individual's continually gain weight and become obese. There are thin compulsive overeaters. Some are bulimic. Others have a fast burning metabolisms that burn away the excess calories. The last group are recovering compulsive overeaters.
Recovering compulsive overeaters keeping their addiction in check through a personal plan of food abstinence. Abstinence can mean never eating a certain trigger food ever again or it could mean a controlled moderation of food intake. Abstinence is defined by each member through the food plan they choose for themselves. Abstinence may start as an absolute withdrawal from certain foods and grow into a controlled moderation as they get control over their addiction.
These abnormal tendencies continue to plague them throughout their lives, even after they have abstained from overeating or foods that trigger their bingeing (OA, 1993).
Abstinence, although difficult, is maintained by working through OA's twelve steps. These steps are a blueprint from ridding the individual of the addictive behaviors and replacing them with a healthy ones. The steps they follow to abstinence are identical to AA's twelve steps . OA substitutes the words compulsive overeater for the word alcoholic. The twelve steps are clear and precise. The following are the twelve steps, verbatim:
1. We admit we are powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people where ever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge for His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs .
OA groups are bound by the twelve traditions which are identical to AA's. These are the rules that outline the behavior of all OA groups. These are the twelve traditions of OA, verbatim:
1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon OA unity.
2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority - a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
3. The only requirement for OA membership is a desire to stop compulsive overeating.
4. Each group should be autonomous except in the matters affecting other groups or OA as a whole.
5. Each group has but one primary purpose - to carry its message to the compulsive overeater who still suffers.
6. An OA group ought never endorse, finance or lend the OA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
7. Every OA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
8. Overeaters Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
9. OA, as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
10. Overeaters Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the OA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.
12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.
Each OA group must conform to the twelve steps and twelve traditions. They read the twelve steps and twelve traditions at the opening of each meeting. The format the group chooses to use after that is solely the choice of the group. One group called the Big Book group, take turns reading the book, Overeaters Anonymous or other OA literature such as the book called The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions or their magazine called the Lifeline. The members and visitors read a portion of the literature and give their insights on the material. Other groups have a topic meeting. Here anyone can voluntarily share their feelings or insights on an assigned topic or unassigned topic of interest. Some topic meeting groups call upon specific members to share their insights. Another groups call in professionals to speak to the membership on topics of interest to the group. The HOW group is the strictest OA group. HOW stands for honest, open- mindedness, and willingness. These members are expected to exercise these attributes in dealing with each other, themselves, and their relationship with food. The HOW concept offers its members a definite structure to follow. These follow the twelve steps along with a set program to help the member become abstinent and qualify to be a sponsor. HOW sponsors help the people they sponsor by having them use the seven tools of OA. These are underlined below.
1. The individual is to work the twelve steps and become a sponsor.
2. The individual will work daily to maintain his or her abstinence program the sponsor has worked out for him or her.
3. The individual will use the phone to call the sponsor daily. He or she will call three other people to uplift them, gain strength from them or both.
4. The individual will write and or read assigned topics and share one's insight with their sponsor.
5. The individual will try to attend weekly OA meeting of his or her choice. Those attending the meetings are to be "honest, open-minded, and willing to listen" (OA, 1993). Strength is found in the ritualistic structure of each meeting. A lifestyle is formed around the OA steps and traditions, and through the support of sponsors, and life of abstinence.
6. Anonymity strengthens its members by allowing trust in the group to grow. It allows the individual to speak his or her mind openly. This allows the sponsor to pinpoint addictive logic or unrealistic thinking which causes problems for the individual. Once this is found the sponsor can help him or her see the problem and suggest ways to over come it.
7. The individual uses service to clarify and strengthen his or her thinking and behavior by becoming a sponsor. He or she will be able to help others to progress to the point where they will be able to do the same.
If the sponsored person refuses to do the standard work his sponsor has given him or her the sponsor is released from sponsoring that person. HOW groups demand their members work upon their recovery. Other OA groups will let the individual choose to do what they will without any sanctions like the one stated above.
OA uses all eight of Yalom's therapeutic factors. The installation of hope is used. The membership in OA are in different phases of their program. The recovering members have shown it is possible to have abstinence or control over food. Their modeling serves to uplift and give hope to the beginners who have no hope (Yalom, 1985).
Universality is used to help newcomers know they are not alone in their problems. In one way or another, someone has done similar or exactly the same things and can understand and empathize with them (Yalom, 1985).
Imparting information is one of the greatest strengths in helping new-comers understand what has happened to them and what they need to do to work the steps to get control of their addiction (Yalom, 1985).
The systematic steps and the way sponsors are taught to work with their sponsoree is an indirect form of advice. Direct advice is replaced with several alternatives that have worked of others. The sponsoree then has the opportunity to pick and choose what will serve them the best in their situation (Yalom, 1985).
Altruism is used as part of recovery for OA members. Being a sponsor helps them give back what has been given to them. It helps define and renew their growth by having them rethink the steps and rehearse their insights with their sponsoree. The sponsoree receives the support, insight, and needed suggestions to deal with their addiction (Yalom, 1985).
Corrective recapitulation of the primary family group is part of OA. It structure offers a family-like support group. Most groups I have observed consist mostly of women. The way they support each other has a different spirit from the AA and NA groups I have observed. These have mixed groups, generally half the group is male and half female. The female groups are supportive and have a beautiful spirit but it is not quite a family setting (Yalom, 1985).
Development of socializing techniques are used by giving feedback on maladaptive behavior and by embracing needed healthy forms of behavior. The addictive behaviors are easily spotted by the old members and gently pointed out by disclosing parts of their lives or unnamed others that were having the same destructive thinking or behaviors. They help them to see where those types of thoughts or actions lead, and leave it there for the individual to partake of as they will (Yalom, 1985).
Through imitative behavior, new-comers can match their lives with those who are working the steps and are progressing. In this way they see their own weakness' and see the happiness and self esteem gained by acting or thinking differently. They can try these changes in their lives and see how they feel. If they like what they have done they keep or improve upon them.
My personal reaction and critique of the group is very positive. The steps obviously work if someone is ready to put the work into changing one's self. The program allows each person to define his or her own plan of abstinence. One is allowed to work at his or her own pace. Each gains a special relationship with his or her higher power. The group gives good support of its members.
Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (1976). Alcoholics Anonymous (50 ed.). Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.: New York City.
Overeaters Anonymous, (No date on the publication). Honesty open-mindedness willingness . Overeaters Anonymous Inc.: CA
Overeaters Anonymous, (1993). The twelve steps and twelve traditions of overeaters anonymous. Overeaters Anonymous Inc.: CA
Yalom, I.D., (1985). The theory and practice of group psychotherapy (3rd ed.). HarperCollins: USA.
Annette Nay, Ph.D.
Annette Nay Homepage