If you struggle with issues relating to food like compulsive eating, binge eating , or other food addictions, you may have come across the organization Overeaters Anonymous and may be wondering if you should join.
What is OA?
First of all, what is OA (Overeaters Anonymous)? OA is a type of 12 Step Program like AA ( Alcoholic Anonymous) and NA ( Narcotics Anonymous). It focuses on issues regarding food intake or exercise rather than other substances like alcohol or drugs or other activities like gambling and shopping that also have 12 Step Groups. OA describes itself as a " Fellowship of individuals who, through shared experience, strength, and hope, are recovering from compulsive overeating."
Like AA, OA focuses on Recovery and uses the Disease model which states that "addiction is a chronic brain disease that “compels a person to become singularly obsessed with obtaining and abusing drugs despite their many adverse health and life consequences,” In order to achieve recovery people follow specific steps and use tools and support in order to achieve abstinence. Not all people agree that Food Addiction is the same as Alcohol or Drug Addiction but " many have adopted the perspective that an apparent dependence on highly palatable food - accompanied by marked emotional and social distress and deficiency – is, in essence, an addiction disorder.". Because of this, many have sought to work on their food related issues as an addiction and therefore have found help in the OA program.
Do I Need OA?
OA is a program for people who struggle with compulsive eating (Check out my post What is Compulsive Eating?) and other health related compulsive behavior like under-eating, anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, and overexercising. So while some people may experience at times an urge to eat more than they should or to try and exercise away the calories from that extra cupcake, those who struggle with compulsion do not feel that they are in control of the behaviors and can even feel forced to act that way. And they also do so at the expense of negative consequences. This means that sometimes people make decisions that can affect their health, their finances, and their relationships even though they know better. This apparent loss of control is a big part of the addiction process.
People who eat compulsively may find themselves acting in ways that aren't congruent with their personality. At rock bottom people may do things that they themselves don't agree with. In order to figure out if you are a compulsive eater, the OA website offers a questionnaire with questions like "Do I have feelings of guilt, shame, or embarrassment about my weight or the way I eat?" or "when my emotion are intense - whether positive or negative - do I find myself reaching for food?" ( Take the test here.)
What are the Pros and Cons
“In working Overeaters Anonymous’ Twelve-Step program of recovery from compulsive overeating, we have found a number of tools are available to assist us. We use these tools – a plan of eating, sponsorship, meetings, the telephone, writing, literature, action plan, anonymity and service on a regular basis, to help us achieve and maintain abstinence and recover from our disease.” – The Tools of Recovery p.1
Some of the pros of joining a 12 step program are the level of support and the structure of the program itself. In therapy you may not have a direct plan until you have first established a relationship with your counselor and have gained a deeper understanding of where the issues take root. With OA, the 12 Step Program has been shown to work and as they like to say "the program works if you work it". Although because food intake is not a clear cut as drug use, what recovery means to one person doesn't mean the same thing to another person. The program allows people to focus on their own individual triggers but does not give nutritional advice which some people may find necessary if they have never learned what healthy eating means.
Overall the support group is a big plus because you are surrounded by people who are also working through similar issues and they relate beyond food but also with emotional, spiritual, and mental aspects of life. There are weight loss support groups that operate outside of an OA environment where a person who eats compulsively may find themselves isolated when others around them don't understand why they don't just stop. On the other hand, it can be hard to be surrounded by people talking about triggers that can also trigger you.
The Anonymity can be seen as a pro for many who feel shame and do not want anyone to know that they are following the program and the program does have both in person and online meetings. For some, it may be too much of a time commitment to attend meetings or spend time talking to a sponsor. Although, the time commitment would also be an issue for therapy or other weight loss programs and support groups.
Should I Join?
Upon deciding that yes, you do have issues with food relating to compulsion, it may become time to figure out how to go about working through these issues. OA is not the only option but like with other addiction issues, it sometimes requires more than one level of intervention. Other things you may look into are therapy or medication. I personally feel that the first step should always be to check with your doctor to ensure that you are in good health or so that if you have other health issues, all your decisions, are taken with those health issues in consideration. While there isn't a known cause for food addiction, many times the symptoms relate to other mental health issues and it is necessary to create a plan of action to work on those issues first.
I believe that OA is a great program for people who find themselves at a point in their life where they do not feel that they have control over their actions.
If you'd like to learn more about OA you can go to their website oa.org and check out their meetings at oalifeline.org.
I hope that this helps you take a look into whether OA is something that will help you in your health journey. :) Please like and share this post so others can start their journey as well :)