What Is Overeaters Anonymous?

A scene of an Overeaters Anonymous group meeting

Verywell / Laura Porter

What Is Overeaters Anonymous?

Overeaters Anonymous (OA) is a community of people who come together for support and encouragement around shared struggles with food.

The reasons for attendance are as diverse as the members. Some are there to determine if they have food issues, while others seek support as they recover from issues like compulsive overeating, food addiction, binge eating, and negative body image. Since OA members share a strained relationship with food, eating disorders may be common amongst OA members.

Founded in 1960, the OA approach is based on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which focuses on physical, emotional, and spiritual elements. According to their bylaws and policies, the only requirement for OA membership is the desire to stop eating compulsively. OA believes that compulsive eating is a disease like alcoholism, which is why it is based on the Twelve Steps of AA.

How to Access OA

OA meetings are available in person and virtually. Face-to-face sessions take place in a safe space where members sit around a table or in a circle of chairs. To find a face-to-face meeting location near you, use the search option on the OA website. 

If you go virtual, meetings can happen online, over the phone, via text message, or video conferencing. You can search for all meeting types on their website

Similar to online meetings, OA also offers telephone meetings. Calls into phone meetings are not toll-free, so long-distance charges may apply. You can search for a phone meeting based on your time zone. 

Attending OA Meetings

OA meetings are a safe place for all people. There are no weigh-ins, membership fees, or judgement. That said, many members do contribute financially to the program. OA literature states that the OA Fellowship is self-supporting through member contributions, neither soliciting nor accepting outside donations.

What Are OA Meetings Like?

Most meetings last about one hour, but members often gather and talk after the meeting time is over. Members are asked to share their first name during an initial meeting but are not required to share any further information.

You can participate as much or as little as you want. The typical group size can range from between five and 30, but most are around 10 to 15. 

Meetings follow a format led by a volunteer. After introductions, the leader may present a speaker or read from OA literature. They may also recite the serenity prayer. You are free to attend as many meetings as you like each week, including both in-person and virtually. 

Shares

Then the meeting is opened for “shares.” During this time, members can talk about issues around food and how working the Twelve Step program of OA is helping with recovery. Once the meeting ends, attendees can visit with individual members or ask questions of the leader. 

Virtual Meetings

Online OA meetings are open to anyone. Virtual meeting times are available in all time zones, including outside of the United States. Since anyone can join a virtual meeting, you have the option of maintaining anonymity by using a fictitious name or no name at all.

OA Meeting Types

OA has four different meeting types to choose from: 

  1. Open meeting: Open to all OA members and non-OA visitors 
  2. Closed meeting: For members who desire to stop eating compulsively. This group has more anonymity than an open meeting.
  3. Special focus: For members who more readily identify with other members with similar attributes. According to their website, the list of special focus meetings includes groups like 100 Pounders, Anorexic/Bulimic, Bariatric Surgery, Black, Health Issues, LGBT, Men, Women, and Young Persons.
  4. Special topic: Members discuss a specific topic or format. This is open to all OA members but features a focus on different aspects of the program.

The OA Program 

OA is based on the Twelve-Step Fellowship. The philosophy of OA is to take everything, both successes and setbacks, one day at a time. OA has nine tools they use in the program:

  1. A plan of eating: Daily guide to avoid destructive eating behaviors. Members are asked to reference and work from the “Dignity of Choice” pamphlet. 
  2. Sponsorship: Having a sponsor helps you understand each step of the program and how to work with it in the best way for you. Sponsors are asked to help another member on three levels: physical, emotional, and spiritual. 
  3. Meetings: There are over 6,000 meetings worldwide, both in-person and virtual. This format gives members an opportunity to identify common problems, form solutions using the Twelve-Step model, and share successes. 
  4. Communication (writing): Members are encouraged to journal their difficulties and successes.
  5. Communication (literature): Members are encouraged to read about OA and its focus in the OA-sponsored literature.
  6. Communication (telephone calls): Often, members will reach out to one another via telephone in between meetings. 
  7. Action plan: A plan that helps you incorporate the OA tools to help you work through the program consistently. 
  8. Anonymity: OA allows members to remain anonymous. It is assumed that whatever is shared in the group will be held in respect and confidence. What is heard at OA meetings stays there. 
  9. Service: At the group level, members give service by helping with the set-up and take down of meetings and talking to new members. Higher-level involvement includes serving as a representative or committee chair. 

OA involves more than just meetings. To work the program, members participate in daily activities to support their journey.

For example, you might start the day by reading program literature or meditating on what you read. This is often followed up with a phone call or text to a program friend or sponsor to go over your Plan of Eating for the day.

If it is a meeting day, plan your schedule around it. Otherwise, end your day with a reflection on what you learned and focus on what’s ahead. 

Potential Pitfalls

Like any support group for addiction and mental health issues, OA might not be the right fit for everyone. Since meetings are led by a volunteer, there is not enough support for anyone needing higher-level care, as you would find in a support group led by a mental health therapist. Also, there is a lack of emphasis on physical recovery, which plays a role in food issues. 

OA is based on the Twelve-Step model, so talk of God or a higher power does weave its way into meetings. Also, the program relies on your ability to discuss personal details in a group setting.

OA also depends upon the strength of the sponsorship, which may not be a healthy relationship for people who are co-dependent. If any parts of the Twelve-Step model are not a good fit for you, the program may not work. 

If you feel like OA isn't the right fit for you, other options are available. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) offers a range of resources as well as a screening tool, online chat, and national helpline. 

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4 Sources
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  1. Rodríguez-Martín BC, Gallego-Arjiz B. Overeaters Anonymous: a mutual-help fellowship for food addiction recovery. Front Psychol. 2018;9.

  2. Overeaters Anonymous. Overeaters Anonymous Meeting Definitions.

  3. Overeaters Anonymous. What Is OA About?.

  4. Overeaters Anonymous. FAQ Category: Meeting Basics.