FOR NEWCOMERS

What is Overeaters Anonymous?
What happens at meetings?
Is OA right for you?
The 12 steps and 12 traditions
Tools of recovery
Serenity prayer

Need a sponsor?

Newcomers or existing members can call 415-335-6273 to be matched with a temporary sponsor. 

Other questions?

Call the OASF hotline 415-779-6273

What is Overeaters Anonymous?

Overeaters Anonymous is a fellowship of individuals from all walks of life who meet in order to help solve a common problem – compulsive overeating, which includes obesity, anorexia and bulimia. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop eating compulsively. OA is a non-profit international organization with approximately 8,500 meeting groups in over 50 countries throughout the world. Patterned after the Twelve-Step Alcoholics Anonymous program, the OA recovery program addresses physical, emotional and spiritual recovery aspects of compulsive overeating.

OA members may experience many different patterns of food behaviors. These “symptoms” are as varied as our membership. Among them are:

  • Obsession with body weight, size and shape
  • Eating binges or grazing
  • Preoccupation with reducing diets
  • Starving
  • Laxative or diuretic abuse
  • Excessive exercise
  • Inducing vomiting after eating
  • Chewing and spitting out food
  • Use of diet pills, shots and other medical interventions to control weight
  • Inability to stop eating certain foods after taking the first bite
  • Fantasies about food
  • Vulnerability to quick-weight-loss schemes
  • Constant preoccupation with food
  • Using food as a reward or comfort

Is OA for you?

Only you can decide..no one else can make this decision for you. We who are in OA have found a way of life which enables us to live without the need for excess food. We believe that compulsive overeating is a progressive illness like alcoholism, and can be arrested. Remember, there is no shame in admitting you have a problem; the most important thing is to do something about it.

How does an individual join OA?

No one “joins” OA in the usual sense of the word. There are no membership applications to be filled out.  If you think you may have a problem with food, we suggest checking out several local OA meetings of your choice. 

What are the requirements for membership?

Our Third Tradition states, “The only requirement for OA membership is a desire to stop eating compulsively.” Nothing else is asked or demanded of anyone.

How much does OA membership cost?

Overeaters Anonymous has no dues or fees for membership. It is entirely self-supporting through contributions and sale of publications. Most groups “pass the basket” at meetings to cover expenses. OA does not solicit or accept outside contributions.

Is OA a religious society?

No. OA is not a religious society, since it requires no religious belief as a condition of membership. OA has among its membership people of many religious faiths as well as atheists and agnostics. OA is, however, a spiritual program based on each member’s personal interpretation of a higher power.

What happens at meetings?

At meetings you will find men and women who share a common malady—compulsive eating—and have found a common solution: the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous. You may see as few as five or as many as 50 people at the meeting. An average meeting in San Francisco has about 15-25. Many members attend more than one meeting a week. You will be warmly welcomed.

The meeting usually opens with the Serenity Prayer, and you may hear a reading called “Our Invitation to You,” which describes the disease of compulsive overeating and the Twelve-Step solution. Meeting formats may vary, but all OA groups are the same in that they seek recovery on three levels—physical, emotional and spiritual—through the Twelve Steps, and the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop eating compulsively.

You may hear a speaker open the meeting and speak for 10 to 15 minutes about what life was like before OA, what happened, and what he or she is like now; or someone might read from approved OA or AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) literature. Other members will share their experience, strength and hope. You will have an opportunity to introduce yourself as a newcomer, if you like. You will find that you are not alone, that there is a way out of your desperation. Because anonymity is a critical principle of the OA program, you are assured that what you share will be held in confidence. This provides the safety you need to share your experiences honestly.

You may recognize your own story when you listen to others share. Listening will help you find others who have what you want, whether it be weight loss, clarity, joy, or recovery from the obsession. It is recommended you ask someone to be your sponsor. A sponsor will help you work the Steps of the program to achieve the recovery you seek.

When members share, you may hear them refer to a Higher Power (HP) or to God. OA is not a religious program and does not subscribe to any specific religious ideology. It is a program that practices spiritual principles, and members individually approach these principles with a Higher Power of their understanding.

A list may be passed around so that people can share their names and phone numbers. Sharing your info is optional, but the phone is an important tool in OA for getting and giving support and reminding you that you are not alone.

Meetings usually last between 60 and 90 minutes, and longer ones usually include a break. During the break, feel free to ask questions and pick up some OA literature to help you learn about the program. By asking for help, you are taking an important step toward recovery.

Because OA is self-supporting through member contributions, a basket will be passed for contributions. A typical contribution in San Francisco is three or five dollars, however you are not required to contribute.

You will notice that some members volunteer to help keep the meeting going, such as the group secretary, the treasurer and greeters. Members find that doing service in OA helps keep them from eating compulsively. Service is important to their recovery and allows them to give back to the Fellowship that has saved their lives. Service opportunities exist in all levels of the Fellowship, from making coffee and setting up chairs at a meeting to being on the Board of Trustees.

The meeting usually closes with the Serenity Prayer or a reading like the OA Promise, “I Put My Hand in Yours”. If you find that the meeting you attended does not feel right, try a different group at another time and location as every meeting is unique. It is a good idea to attend at least six meetings before deciding on a meeting that is right for you.

What you WON’T find at OA meetings are:

  • Weigh-ins
  • Diets and Pills
  • Packaged meals
  • Dues or fees
  • “Shoulds” or “Musts”
  • Judgment

What you WILL find at meetings is:

  • Acceptance of you – as you are now, as you were, as you will be.
  • Understanding of the problems you now face – problems almost certainly shared by others in the group.
  • Communication that comes as the natural result of our mutual understanding and acceptance.
  • Recovery from your illness.
  • Power to enter a new way of life through the acceptance and understanding of yourself, the practice of the Twelve-Step recovery program, the belief in a power greater than yourself, and the support and companionship of the group.

If you decide that you are one of us, we welcome you with open arms. Whatever your circumstances, we offer you the gift of acceptance. You are not alone anymore. Welcome to Overeaters Anonymous. Welcome home!

Is OA right for you?

  1. Have you ever wished you could lose 10 pounds, 20, 40, or 100 or more? Have you ever wished that once you got it off you could keep it off? Welcome to OA; welcome home!
  2. Have you sometimes felt out of step with the world, like a homeless orphan without a place where you really belonged? Welcome to OA; welcome home!
  3. Have you ever wished your family would get to work or school so you could get busy eating? Welcome to OA; welcome home!
  4. Have you ever awakened first thing in the morning and felt happy because you remembered that your favorite goodie was waiting for you in the fridge or in the cupboard? Welcome to OA; welcome home!
  5. Have you ever looked up at the stars and wondered what an insignificant person like you was doing in the world anyway? Welcome to OA; welcome home!
  6. Have you ever cooked, bought or baked for your family and then eaten everything yourself so you wouldn’t have to share? We in OA know you because we are you. Welcome to OA; welcome home!
  7. Have you ever wanted to hide in the house, without going to work, without getting cleaned up or even getting dressed, without seeing anyone or letting anyone see you? Welcome to OA; welcome home!
  8. Have you ever hidden food under the bed, under the pillow, in the drawer, in the bathroom, in the wastebasket, in the cupboard, in the clothes hamper, in the closet or in the car so you could eat without anyone seeing you? Welcome to OA; welcome home!
  9. Have you ever been angry, resentful, defiant-against God, your mate, your doctor, your mother, your father, your friends, your children, the salesperson in the store whose look spoke a thousand words as you tried on clothes-because they were thin, because they wanted you to be thin, and because you were forced to diet to please them or shut them up or make them eat their words and their looks? We welcome you to OA; welcome home!
  10. Have you ever sobbed out your misery in the dark night because no one loved or understood you? Welcome to OA; welcome home!
  11. Have you ever felt that God (if God existed) made the biggest mistake when God created you? Can you see that this is where such feelings get turned around? Welcome to OA; welcome home!
  12. Have you ever wanted to get on a bus and just keep going, without once looking back? Did you do it? Welcome to OA; welcome home!
  13. Have you ever thought the world was a mess, and if others would just think and act like you, the world would be a lot better off? Welcome to OA; welcome home!
  14. Have you ever thought that OA people must be a bit nuts? That they might be compulsive overeaters, but you just have a weight problem, which you can take care of beginning tomorrow; they might be one bite from insane eating, but you are just a little, or a lot, overweight? Welcome to OA; welcome home!
  15. Have you ever told anyone who would listen how great you are, how talented, how intelligent, how powerful-all the time knowing they would never believe it, because you didn’t believe it? Welcome to OA; welcome home!
  16. Have you ever lost all your excess weight and found that you were thin-unhappy instead of fat-unhappy? Welcome to OA; welcome home!
  17. Have you ever worn a mask or hundreds of masks because you were sure that if you shared the person you really were no one could ever love or accept you? We accept you in OA. May we offer you a home?

Overeaters Anonymous extends to all of you the gift of acceptance. No matter who you are, where you come from or where you are heading, you are welcome here!

No matter what you have done or failed to do, what you have felt or haven’t felt, where you have slept, or with whom, whom you have loved or hated-you may be sure of our acceptance. We accept you as you are, not as you would be if you could melt yourself and mold yourself and shape yourself into what other people think you should be. Only you can decide what you want to be.

But we will help you work for the goals you set, and when you are successful we will rejoice with you; and when you slip, we will tell you that we are not failures just because we sometimes fail, and we’ll hold out our arms, in love, and stand beside you as you pull yourself back up and walk on again to where you are heading! You’ll never have to cry alone again, unless you choose to.

Sometimes we fail to be all that we should be, and sometimes we aren’t there to give you all you need from us. Accept our imperfection, too. Love us in return and help us in our sometimes-falling failing. That’s what we are in OA-imperfect, but trying. Let’s rejoice together in our effort and in the assurance that we can have a home, if we want one.

The 12 steps and 12 traditions

Twelve Steps

The Twelve Steps are the heart of the OA recovery program. They offer a new way of life that enables the compulsive eater to live without the need for excess food.

The ideas expressed in the Twelve Steps, which originated in Alcoholics Anonymous, reflect practical experience and application of spiritual insights recorded by thinkers throughout the ages. Their greatest importance lies in the fact that they work! They enable compulsive eaters and millions of other Twelve-Steppers to lead happy, productive lives. They represent the foundation upon which OA is built.

The Twelve Steps of Overeaters Anonymous

  1. We admitted we were powerless over food — 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 wherever 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 of 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 compulsive overeaters and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Twelve Traditions

The Twelve Traditions are the means by which OA remains unified in a common cause. These Twelve Traditions are to the groups what the Twelve Steps are to the individual. They are suggested principles to ensure the survival and growth of the many groups that compose Overeaters Anonymous.

Like the Twelve Steps, the Twelve Traditions have their origins in Alcoholics Anonymous. These Traditions describe attitudes which those early members believed were important to group survival.

The Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous

  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 eating compulsively.
  4. Each group should be autonomous except in 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 non-professional, 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, films, television and other public media of communication.
  12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all these Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

Permission to use the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous for adaptation granted by AA World Services, Inc.

Tools of Recovery

In working Overeaters Anonymous’ Twelve-Step program of recovery from compulsive overeating, we have found a number of tools to assist us. We use these tools regularly to help us achieve and maintain abstinence and recover from our disease.

  1. A Plan of Eating
  2. Sponsorship
  3. Meetings
  4. Telephone
  5. Writing
  6. Literature
  7. Action Plan
  8. Anonymity
  9. Service

In Overeaters Anonymous (OA), the Statement on Abstinence and Recovery is “Abstinence is the action of refraining from compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors while working towards or maintaining a healthy body weight. Spiritual, emotional and physical recovery is the result of living the Overeaters Anonymous Twelve-Step program.” Many of us have found we cannot abstain from compulsive eating unless we use some or all of OA’s nine tools of recovery to help us practice the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.

A Plan of Eating

As a tool, a plan of eating helps us abstain from compulsive eating, guides us in our dietary decisions, and defines what, when, how, where and why we eat.

There are no specific requirements for a plan of eating; OA does not endorse or recommend any specific plan of eating, nor does it exclude the personal use of one. (See the pamphlets Dignity of Choice and A Plan of Eating for more information.) For specific dietary or nutritional guidance, OA suggests consulting a qualified health care professional, such as a physician or dietitian. Each of us develops a personal plan of eating based on an honest appraisal of his or her past experience. Many of us find it essential to take guidance from our sponsors to develop a plan of eating that reflects an honest desire to achieve and maintain abstinence.

Although individual plans of eating are as varied as our members, most OA members agree that some plan—no matter how flexible or structured—is necessary.

This tool helps us deal with the physical aspects of our disease and achieve physical recovery. From this vantage point, we can more effectively follow OA’s Twelve-Step program of recovery and move beyond the food to a happier, healthier and more spiritual life.

Sponsorship

Sponsors are OA members who are living the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions to the best of their ability. They are willing to share their recovery with other members of the Fellowship and are committed to abstinence.

We ask a sponsor to help us through our program of recovery on all three levels: physical, emotional and spiritual. By working with other members of OA and sharing their experience, strength and hope, sponsors continually renew and reaffirm their own recovery. Sponsors share their program up to the level of their own experience.

Ours is a program of attraction; find a sponsor who has what you want and ask that person how he or she is achieving it. A member may work with more than one sponsor and may change sponsors. However, many of us choose to work with just one sponsor. In either case, it’s helpful to avoid changing sponsors frequently.

Meetings

Meetings (link to meeting schedule) are gatherings of two or more compulsive overeaters who come together to share their personal experience, and the strength and hope OA has given them. There are many types of meetings, but fellowship with other compulsive overeaters is the basis of them all. Meetings give us an opportunity to identify our common problem, confirm our common solution through the Twelve Steps and share the gifts we receive through this program. In addition to face-to-face meetings, OA offers telephone and online meetings that are useful in breaking down the deadly isolation caused by distance, illness or physical challenges.

Telephone

Member-to-member contact helps us share on a one-to-one basis and avoid the isolation that is so common among us. Many members call, text or email their sponsors and other OA members daily. As part of the surrender process, these tools help us learn to reach out, ask for help and extend help to others. Telephone or electronic contact also provides an immediate outlet for those hard-to-handle highs and lows we may experience. Members should respect anonymity when leaving any type of voicemail or electronic message.

Writing

In addition to writing our inventories and the list of people we have harmed, most of us have found that writing has been an indispensable tool for working the Steps. Further, putting our thoughts and feelings down on paper, or describing a troubling incident, helps us to better understand our actions and reactions in a way that is often not revealed to us by simply thinking or talking about them. In the past, compulsive eating was our most common reaction to life. When we put our difficulties down on paper, it becomes easier to see situations more clearly and perhaps better discern any necessary action.

Literature

We read OA-approved books such as Overeaters Anonymous, Second Edition; The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous; Voices of Recovery; For Today; and Alcoholics Anonymous (the Big Book). We also study and read OA-approved pamphlets and Lifeline, our magazine of recovery. Many OA members find that reading literature daily further reinforces how to live the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. All our literature provides insight into our problem of eating compulsively, strength to deal with it, and the very real hope that there is a solution for us.

Action Plan

An action plan is the process of identifying and implementing attainable actions, both daily and long-term, that are necessary to support our individual abstinence and emotional, spiritual and physical recovery. While the plan is ours, tailored to our own recovery process, most of us find it important to work with a sponsor, fellow OA member and/or appropriate professional to help us create it. This tool, like our plan of eating, may vary widely among members and may need to be adjusted as we progress in our recovery.

For example, a newcomer’s action plan might focus on planning, shopping for and preparing food. Some members may need a regular fitness routine to improve strength and health, while others may need to set exercise limits in order to attain more balance. Some of us may need an action plan that includes time for meditation and relaxation or provides strategies for balancing work, personal interactions with family and friends, and our program. Others may need help to organize their homes; deal with their finances; and address medical, dental or mental health issues.

Along with working the Steps on a daily basis, an action plan may incorporate use of the other OA tools to bring structure, balance and manageability into our lives. As we use this tool, we find that we develop a feeling of serenity and continue to grow emotionally and spiritually while we make measurable progress one day at a time.

Anonymity

Anonymity, referred to in Traditions Eleven and Twelve, is a tool that guarantees we will place principles before personalities. The protection of anonymity offers each of us freedom of expression and safeguards us from gossip. Anonymity assures us that only we, as individual OA members, have the right to make our membership known within our community. Anonymity at the level of press, radio, films, television and all public media of communication means that we never allow our faces or last names to be used once we identify ourselves as OA members. This protects both the individual and the Fellowship.

Within the Fellowship, anonymity means that whatever we share with another OA member will be held in respect and confidence. What we hear at meetings should remain there. However, we understand that we must not allow anonymity to limit our effectiveness within the Fellowship. It is not a break of anonymity to use our full names within our group or OA service bodies. Also, it is not a break of anonymity to enlist Twelfth-Step help for group members in trouble, provided we are careful to refrain from discussing any specific personal information.

Another aspect of anonymity is that we are all equal in the Fellowship, whether we are newcomers or seasoned longtimers. And our outside status makes no difference in OA; we have no stars or VIPs. We come together simply as compulsive overeaters.

Service

Carrying the message to the compulsive overeater who still suffers is the basic purpose of our Fellowship; therefore, it is the most fundamental form of service. Any form of service—no matter how small—that helps reach a fellow sufferer adds to the quality of our own recovery. Members who are new to OA can give service by getting to meetings, putting away chairs, putting out literature, talking to newcomers, and doing whatever needs to be done for the group. Members who meet the abstinence requirement can give service beyond the group level in such activities as intergroup representative, committee chair, region representative or Conference delegate. There are many ways to give back what we have so generously been given. We are encouraged to do what we can when we can. “A life of sane and happy usefulness” is what we are promised as the result of working the Twelve Steps. Service helps to fulfill that promise.

As OA’s responsibility pledge states: “Always to extend the hand and heart of OA to all who share my compulsion; for this, I am responsible.”

Tools of Recovery. © 2011 Overeaters Anonymous, Inc. All rights reserved. For further information on the tools, please visit the Tools of Recovery page on oa.org

Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.