Overeaters Anonymous 12 Step Program to Help with Eating Disorders

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

November 13th, 2009 • Nutrition for Natural Pain ReliefPrint Print

Here’s why I like the Overeaters Anonymous 12 step program to help with eating disorders:

Community support

(Me & fridge in a standoff)

(Me and my fridge in a stand-off)

Instead of opening up the refrigerator, I pick up the phone and call someone who talks me off the inhale-kitchen ledge. Sometimes I call when I’m standing in front of the refrigerator, door open. Sometimes I call when I’ve already pulled out the food I’m planning to attack.

Even if I call just to report that I’m in the middle of eating compulsively (even if it’s just two grapes more than I’ve allotted myself – the motivation is still emotional, not physical), the act of calling stops me somewhere in the process of mind-numbingly shoveling food into my mouth.


I got a food sponsor, which is different than a step sponsor. My food sponsor helped me decide what my “abstinence” would be. In my case, there were no off-limit foods. Because if you want me to eat every brownie in plain sight and go out scouting for more brownies at all the bakeries down the street, tell me not to eat brownies.

(Veggies. Yum.)

(Veggies. Yum.)

So my “abstinence” was eating three healthy meals a day and one or two healthy snacks, depending on how long I was up that day. It also was consuming just one sugary food a day, maximum – whether a mocha latte or a kiddie scoop of ice cream.

My food sponsor also helped me figure out what was healthy, normal eating. Being that I’ve done the gamut from anorexia to compulsive overeating, I wasn’t sure which impulse was kicking in when. As they say in OA, I had a broken mechanism for monitoring food intake. I couldn’t trust my body’s impulses. Was I eating too much? Too little?

I honestly didn’t know. I needed someone telling me what to do for nine months, until I was off and running on my own. She was like a drill sergeant, and I had to “call in” every single bite I ate – ie, call her before every meal and consult with her on my food. It was a pain in the ass and exactly what I needed.


Here’s what I like about the OA meetings: I get to hear other people talking about their insane relationship to food, which perfectly mirrors my insane relationship to food. I like hanging around a bunch of individuals who cannot comprehend how someone can bring home a gallon of ice cream and still have it hanging around one hour later, never mind letting a pint of ice cream grow icicles in the freezer.

I also like it that when I’m feeling lonely, I can go and be around other people who actively are pursuing their healing and facing down their demons.

Emotional Support

There is a saying in OA, “If you want to know why you’re eating, put down the fork.” Eating has been one of my tools for coping with a whole lot of hard stuff – including but not limited to the anguish I have experienced in living with chronic pain and dealing with a health care system that usually has proven to be anywhere from apathetic to physically and emotionally violent.

In OA, I get three minutes of air time to share the emotions behind the food, no matter what the emotions may be. And I get to witness others doing the same. Since I most enjoy learning from other people’s stories, I really like that.

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