Overeaters Anonymous (OA) has a 12-step program that aims to help people reduce compulsive eating and food behaviors while maintaining a moderate body weight. However, there is little research on its success rate.

According to the OA website, members of OA range in weight. Some people have periodic control over their compulsive eating, while others have difficulty controlling it. Many of its members deal with binge eating, restrictive eating, comfort eating, and other disordered eating behaviors.

The OA program includes a plan of eating and other tools to help individuals focus on their recovery.

This article examines whether the OA food plan works. It discusses the success rate of the program, what the OA food plan includes, and the benefits and downsides. It also provides tips for following a healthy eating plan and discusses how OA differs from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

Brunch with avocado on toast and a coffee -2.Share on Pinterest
Maria Korneeva/Getty Images

There is little research on the OA program and its success.

Researchers cannot draw firm conclusions about the effectiveness of OA because there are currently only low levels of evidence supporting its efficacy. These initial studies lack proper testing and have not received peer reviews.

However, because initial research highlights that the program may benefit its members, further research could confirm these findings.

The 12 steps of OA are an adaptation of those of AA. A 2020 systematic review concluded that AA and other 12-step interventions had higher rates of people achieving abstinence from alcohol than established treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Despite this, researchers need to determine whether a 12-step program would be effective for people recovering from unhealthy relationships with food and body image.

The OA food plan does not assign a specific diet and has no position on nutrition. Rather, it primarily focuses on abstaining from harmful food-related behaviors.

The program encourages people to develop an eating plan with a healthcare professional, particularly for those with health conditions and eating disorders such as:

  • anorexia
  • bulimia
  • diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease
  • low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)

OA recommends reviewing eating patterns to determine the foods and behaviors that may cause cravings. It says that if a food has been a binge food in the past, people can remove it from their plan.

Foods it identifies as potentially problematic include:

  • junk foods, such as chocolate, branded fast foods, potato chips, and cookies
  • foods containing sugar or sugar substitutes, such as sweetened drinks, cereals, processed meats, and desserts
  • foods containing fats, such as butter and other high-fat dairy, deep-fried foods, and snacks
  • foods containing wheat, flour, or refined carbohydrates, such as certain pastas, breads, and pastries
  • foods labeled “sugar-free,” “no sugar added,” “diet,” “low fat,” and “low calorie”
  • ethnic and cultural foods
  • foods with specific textures, such as creamy, crunchy, sticky, chewy, oily, juicy, salty, and doughy

However, some of these classifications can be harmful. For example, labeling ethnic and cultural foods as “problematic” demonstrates prejudice and may cause significant barriers.

According to a 2021 article, the OA food plan has received past criticism for supporting carbohydrate restriction. Experts have also stated that the plan recommends unrealistic food rules that have an association with binge eating.

There are benefits and downsides to consider when following the OA food plan.


OA is a 12-step intervention. Several studies suggest that 12-step programs effectively promote recovery from various substance-related and addictive disorders.

One significant benefit of 12-step programs is that they offer community-level social support. Member groups and sponsors help individuals achieve and maintain abstinence and adherence to healthy lifestyle behaviors.

A 2018 article suggests that combining care from medical professionals and psychological interventions with the OA plan could provide long-term support to individuals with addictive-like eating behaviors. This means it may help people achieve their goals long-term.


Eating disorders may involve complex emotions, such as guilt and shame, which people can have difficulty dealing with. Developing a food plan and selecting food choices could be triggering for some individuals.

It is also important to consider that eating disorders are often about more than food and can affect a person’s physical and mental health. People who are struggling to cope with binge eating, emotional eating, or any eating disorder should speak with a healthcare professional.

Some experts suggest that 12-step programs are overly restrictive and can harm people’s long-term relationship with food. Conventional approaches to eating disorders tend to include all foods in moderation rather than excluding foods that may produce “uncontrollable cravings.”

Healthcare professionals typically recommend people adopt a healthy dietary pattern. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025, a healthy dietary pattern includes:

  • plenty of fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors
  • grains, of which at least half should be whole grain
  • dairy, including low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, and cheese or alternatives
  • protein, such as poultry, lean meats, eggs, beans, and soy products
  • oils, such as vegetable oils, and foods that contain oils, such as nuts and seafood

People can consume small amounts of the following foods and drinks. However, they should aim to limit them:

  • added sugars
  • saturated fat
  • sodium
  • alcoholic beverages

AA developed the original 12-step program for personal recovery from alcohol use disorder. Many other organizations, including OA, have adapted the 12 steps for supporting people with addictions and other behaviors.

OA notes that while it is not affiliated with other 12-step groups, it uses the same approach to help people manage compulsive eating.

Anyone who is concerned that they may have compulsive eating, binge-eating disorder, or any other eating disorder should speak with a healthcare professional as soon as possible. Without treatment, eating disorders can be recurrent and persist for many years.

A healthcare or mental health professional can advise individuals on the most suitable steps to manage their symptoms and feelings. Additionally, it can be useful to seek out a healthcare professional specializing in eating disorders.

Help is available

Eating disorders can severely affect the quality of life of people living with these conditions and those close to them. Early intervention and treatment greatly improve the likelihood of recovery.

Anyone who suspects they or a loved one may have an eating disorder can contact the National Alliance for Eating Disorders, which offers a daytime helpline staffed by licensed therapists and an online search tool for treatment options.

For general mental health support at any time, people can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 24 hours a day at 1-800-662-4357 (or 1-800-487-4889 for TTY).

Many other resources are also available, including:

Was this helpful?

OA supports people with compulsive eating and other eating disorders. It is a 12-step program that OA adapted from the one that the AA originally developed.

At present, little quality information exists on the success rate of OA, while evidence shows that CBT can help with compulsive eating and binge eating. More research is necessary to determine whether the OA 12-step program is effective.

Creating a food plan is one of nine tools OA members use to abstain from compulsive eating.