Alternative 12 Steps

Eureka! Yes, there are other versions of the traditional 12 Steps that do not include an omniscient deity being who will remove your defects or find you a parking place. We’re highlighting the Freethinker Alternative 12 Steps for Overeaters as a place to start. When you’re working the Steps, just swap these or another version out for the traditional versions.

An invaluable resource, The Little Book, A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps, by Roger C (AA Agnostica, 2012), offers 20 Step versions, some interpretations, and a workbook area for you to write your own.

Freethinker Step Discussion Meeting

Join the Freethinker Alternative Step Discussion Meeting on the third Sunday of the month (9am PT / Noon ET / 5pm UK) for enlightened dialog on the Step of the month (i.e.,  January is Step One). Check the Meeting Schedule for updates, the monthly handout, and a Zoom link. Note: this is an unregistered OA meeting and uses outside literature and Steps.

You can also download the entire Alternative Step Discussion Packet (pdf, 13 pages).

Freethinker Alternative 12 Steps for Overeaters*

Download a PDF version.

Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over food—that our lives had become unmanageable.

Step 2: Came to believe and to accept that we needed strengths beyond our awareness and resources to restore us to sanity.

Step 3: Made a decision to entrust our will and our lives to the care of the collective wisdom and resources of those who have searched before us.

Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Step 5: Admitted to ourselves without reservation and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.

Step 6: Were ready to accept help in letting go of all our defects of character.

Step 7: With humility and openness sought to eliminate our shortcomings.

Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

Step 11: Sought through meditation to improve our spiritual awareness and our understanding of the OA way of life and to discover the power to carry out that way of life.

Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to compulsive eaters and to practice these principles in all of our affairs. 

1Adapted from the Steps created by the SF AA Freethinkers and in use by the Emeryville OA Freethinker meetings from February 2016 until November 2019. In November, the Freethinkers stopped using these Steps to avoid being delisted (removed from the OA website) and to be in compliance with Overeaters Anonymous policy to use only the official OA 12 Steps.

Other Alternative Steps

Beyond Our Wildest Dreams: A History of Overeaters Anonymous as Seen by a CoFounder  
Written primarily by Rozanne S 
Overeaters Anonymous, 1996
Note: this is considered approved-OA literature

OA’s first alternative 12 Steps were created by Rozanne S shortly after she, Bernice, and Jo (a non-theist) had that first meeting on January 19,1960!

Rozanne had learned about 12 Step recovery from Gamblers Anonymous. Having been raised Jewish, she struggled with the Christian language of the Steps which did not reflect her experience.

She did include, in Step 7, “God (of our understanding)” but as a helper rather than as a controlling entity.

The Steps were:

  1. We admit that we are compulsive overeaters—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Before embarking on this program we know that we must seek the aid of a physician of our own choosing, returning to him for regular check-ups. We know that he, and only he, can advise us regarding our own calorie allotments and wisest nutritional program.
  3. We admit that we need help—that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to a normal way of thinking and living.
  4. We must make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. We have admitted to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our difficulties.
  6. We are entirely ready to have these defects of character removed.
  7. We humbly ask God (of our understanding) to help us remove our shortcomings.
  8. We shall make a list of all persons we have hurt through our actions and willingly make amends to them.
  9. We shall continue to take personal inventory, and when we are wrong, promptly admit it.
  10. We shall set up a regular pattern of eating for ourselves, and this we pray we may maintain for the rest of our lives.
  11. We must seek through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understand Him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the strength to carry that out.
  12. Having made an effort to practice these principles in all our affairs, we shall try to carry this message to other compulsive overeaters.

OA member three, Jo, liked Rozanne’s version.

Other people visited meetings, but did not return. It was a while before a member came and stayed: Barbara S.

Rozanne was 5′ 2″, initially weighed 161 pounds/73 kilograms/11 and a half stone, and took the diet pills her doctor prescribed. Rozanne weighed and measured her food with a limit of 700-800 calories per day. In Beyond Our Wildest Dreams, Rozanne wrote, “By early June, 1960, I decided to stop the diet pills. I had lost 40 pounds and now weighed 121 pounds/54.9 kilos/just over 8 and a half stone.”

OA’s first sponsor was GA’s founder, Texas oilman / businessman, Jim W.  Jim W told Rozanne that the powers outside you had been doctors, fad diets, and pills. “Now, you have a meeting every week and you talk to someone every day. Don’t you see that these are powers outside of you, too?”

On Tuesday, November 29, 1960, after the Paul Coates television interview had been broadcast, 75 people attended a meeting where Rozanne shared her current weight of 113 pounds/51 kilo/ 8 stone. The next evening, she began writing OA’s first official literature, a four page booklet. It was first published December, 1960 and included this version of the 12 Steps due to Jim W’s insistence to make them more like AA’s and GA’s:

  1. We admit that we are compulsive overeaters…that our lives have become unmanageable.
  2. We admit that we need help—that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to a normal way of thinking and living.
  3.  We have gradually learned to place our complete faith and trust in this Power.
  4. We shall make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. We will admit to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our difficulties.
  6. We are entirely ready to have these defects of character removed.
  7. We humbly ask God (of our understanding) to help remove our shortcomings.
  8. We shall make a list of all persons we have hurt through our actions and gradually become willing to make amends to them.
  9. As we grow stronger within ourselves we shall willingly make amends to these people by changing our attitudes and actions toward them.
  10. We will continue to take personal inventory, and when we are wrong promptly admit it.
  11. We shall seek through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understand Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the strength to carry that out.
  12. Having gained a spiritual awareness as a result of these steps, we shall try to practice them in all our affairs and to carry this message to other compulsive overeaters.

The booklet also included Rozanne’s Twelve Unifying Rules.

(Roseanne’s early tools in October 1961 were “weighing and measuring of food, counting calories every day, keeping a weight and calorie chart, doing grocery shopping right after a meal (on a full stomach) rather than just before a meal when hungriest… stripping our homes of everything tempting to us… Plan ahead.”)

By 1961 there was an influx of members with ties to AA. Rozanne’s sponsor, Thelma, was the wife of an AA; Thelma emphasized reliance on and surrender to a Higher Power.

For months, OA was caught between two factions that threatened to destroy what had barely been created. The San Fernando Valley groups supported the AA Step’s religious approach while the Los Angeles groups advocated psychology.

The first Overeaters Anonymous area conference was held February 1, 1962 with nine women attending: five from the religion focused San Fernando Valley groups, one from the Van Nuys (also SFV) meeting who liked the current view, two from the psychology focused LA groups, and Rozanne from the General Service Office who wanted to preserve the new fellowship she’d created.

Some groups wanted to pull out of OA.

One member suggested a compromise. “Our main disagreement seems to be how we are going to print the Steps in our literature. You know, each group is autonomous and can do what it wants, but our literature should show a unified foundation. Therefore,” she went on, “let’s revise our Twelve Steps to read exactly like AA’s Steps. We’ll print new literature with the rewritten steps, the only substitutions being ‘food’ for ‘alcohol’ and ‘compulsive overeater’ for ‘alcoholic.’ Each group will still be free to interpret them and do what it wants.”

With this compromise, the OA Steps as we now know them were adopted.

—Arlene O, an OA

{Footnote: A bit of history may also shed some light on these issues. In the early 1960s the threat of nuclear war with Marxist-Leninist countries which banned all religion, was real. Schools in vulnerable areas had regular “take cover” drills in addition to regular fire drills. In that era, Public schools still included Christian prayers with the Pledge practice; non-Christians did not dare protest this.

The USA Pledge of Allegiance which had been substantially the same since 1892, had just been changed in June, 1954 due to pressure from various religious groups, and with the increasing stress of the Cold War: “under God” was added.}

Step 1: I can’t stop eating
Step 2: OA can help
Step 3: Decide to work the steps
Step 4: Inventory my patterns
Step 5: Share it with another
Step 6: Pick the patterns I want to change
Step 7: Start changing them
Step 8: What patterns caused harm
Step 9: Amend the harm
Step 10: Repeat Steps 4-9 daily
Step 11: Cultivate inner peace
Step 12: Help others everyplace

This collection includes about 20 versions of the Steps, and more than half are addiction-agnostic. Most of these steps are the basis for The Little Book, A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps, by Roger C mentioned above, and include Buddhist, Islamic, Native America, and SOS 12 Steps.

The Proactive 12 Steps were created by Pausefully Books.

These Steps were developed by Jeffrey Munn, in his book Staying Sober Without God: The Practical 12 Steps to Long-term Recovery from Alcoholism and Addictions (© 2021). There is a free companion workbook as well: Staying Sober Without God: A Practical 12-Step Companion Workbook (pdf, 74  pages).

[Reprinted with permission of the author.]

The Practical 12 Steps
1. Admitted we were caught in a self-destructive cycle and currently lacked the tools to stop it.
2. Trusted that a healthy lifestyle was attainable through social support and consistent self-improvement.
3. Committed to a lifestyle of recovery, focusing only on what we could control.
4. Made a comprehensive list of our resentments, fears, and harmful actions.
5. Shared our lists with a trustworthy person.
6. Made a list of our unhealthy character traits.
7. Began cultivating healthy character traits through consistent positive behavior.
8. Determined the best way to make amends to those we had harmed
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would cause harm.
10. Practiced daily self-reflection and continued making amends whenever necessary.
11. We started meditating.
12. Sought to retain our newfound recovery lifestyle by teaching it to those willing to learn and by surrounding ourselves with healthy people.

Russell Brand, comedian and author, has written a book, Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions. His version of the Steps is fun because you get to say the f-word a lot, and they are addiction-agnostic.

If you’d like to submit a review of his book, let us know! 

Russell Brand’s 12 Steps (pdf)

Studying the 12 Steps, food leaves (Carol G)