What Is Overeaters Anonymous?
Overeaters Anonymous (OA) is a twelve-step program offering a program of recovery from compulsive overeating and other eating disorders using the twelve steps and twelve traditions as interpreted by OA. Participants need not be overweight — in fact, some OA members are bulimic or anorexic. Like other twelve-step groups, OA groups typically meet weekly. More women than men participate in this program in most locations.
Like members of Alcoholics Anonymous, members of OA generally hold that they have an illness of the body — an abnormal reaction to certain foods and/or eating behaviors which creates uncontrollable cravings, similar to the alcoholic's cravings — and an illness of the mind — an obsession of the mind which continues to find reasons for returning to those foods and eating behaviors (reasons ranging from severe emotional upsets to rationalizations like "I've been good in the last hour/week/year"). This dual problem is the explanation for what is commonly called "yo-yo dieting" — the tendency to lose weight and then to gain the weight back again.
Unlike members of AA, however, OA members do not all have one specific ingredient which causes cravings. Experience in OA has shown that different members develop cravings from different kinds of foods or eating behaviors, and therefore each member has to develop his or her own plan of eating. OA uses the concept of "abstinence from compulsive eating" rather than "sobriety"; a plan of eating would ideally, therefore, eliminate those foods and/or eating behaviors which cause cravings, which provides the member with abstinence.
Aside from this one difference, OA functions just like any other twelve-step program. It was founded on January 19, 1960, in Los Angeles, by two individuals, one of whom, Rozanne S., has remained in the program since its inception and is considered the co-founder of OA. Its headquarters are currently in Albuquerque, New Mexico. There are approximately 6500 meetings in 60 countries, and its estimated membership is around 70,000.