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Book Recommendations

One of our SO Initiatives developed secular literature, and we’re pleased to announce the first edition of Food Freedom: A Resource Manual for Secular Overeaters.

Other than Food Freedom, there is currently no dedicated secular literature available for compulsive eaters, but there are many secular books for other addictions that we’ve found helpful.

If there’s a secular book you’ve found helpful, let us know!

Check Community Resources for other book recommendations.

OA Literature

Despite the heavy god-talk, all members of Overeaters Anonymous (OA) are encouraged to read The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous, Second Edition ($15, plus shipping). There is also an accompanying workbook, The Twelve Step Workbook of Overeaters Anonymous, Second Edition ($13.50, plus shipping). Both are available from the OA Bookstore.

We’ve created a document with translated versions of the “God” questions from The Twelve Step Workbook. Feel free to adapt these as you go, or create your own version of the questions!

Check the OA-approved Literature page for secular OA Lifeline stories.

The Alternative 12 Steps: A Secular Guide to Recovery
Martha Cleveland and Arlys G.
AA Agnostica, Second Edition, 2014

Meet Martha, alcoholic, and Aryls, co-dependent. These two atheists have written a wonderful book on how to work the Steps using a secular approach, including a set of secular Twelve Steps. Both women had led lives full of pain and joined Twelve-Step programs searching for recovery. And, each felt out of place with the god talk and noticed that, “Some of us become so uncomfortable with this [god] language that we reject the whole program” (page 6). Anyone else been there?

In The Alternative 12 Steps, Aryls and Martha help interpret the Steps, chapter by chapter, in a way that helps non-religious people understand how to use the Twelve Steps as a framework for recovery. I’m working the Fourth Step, again, and I appreciated all the different “doorways” they’ve suggested: important events; personal attributes, assets, and liabilities; relationship between feelings and behavior; single behaviors; single relationship; current situation; balance of lifestyle; and conscious versus unconscious messages. It’s great to have so many good suggestions for how to work the Fourth Step.

Even though the book is published by AA Agnostica, all addictions are covered, and there are examples of stories by compulsive eaters. The authors do talk about spiritual power, which, they say, “comes from whatever gives us peace, hope, or strength and enhances our humanity.” So, the ocean, a #BLM protest, or volunteering at a homeless shelter all count. This is truly an inclusive book, and easy to read and work. On the atheist trigger scale, a zero!

—Jenne M, El Cerrito, CA USA

We’re Not All Egomaniacs: Adapting the Twelve Steps for Alcoholics with Low Self-Esteem
Beth Aich
Book Baby, 1st edition, 2021

I have found this book to be revolutionary in its suggested approach to working the twelve steps. The author’s description of ego trampled addicts coming into AA and being bombarded with more shame by being told they are selfish, self-centered, and egotistical hits home for many of our secular OA members. This book can provide us with an opportunity to deal with trauma, low self-esteem, and similar emotional conditions within the context of OA and enhance lasting recovery from food obsession.

—Marth H, New Mexico

Note: You may also be interested in this interview with the author on this Beyond Belief Podcast episode.

Staying Sober Without God: The Practical 12 Steps to Long-Term Recovery from Alcoholism and Addictions
Jeffrey Munn, 2019

Goodreads Review

Staying Sober Without God is a practical, no-nonsense, psychology-based approach to sobriety that is rooted in down-to-earth principles and actions. You can get sober without adopting the belief in God that is often pushed in AA, NA, OA, and other Twelve-Step meetings. 

50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food
Susan Albers
New Harbinger Publications, 2009

Susan Albers, Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist who has compiled a list of strategies and tips used by her real-life clients who have found alternative ways under her guidance to comfort themselves without food.

The fifty soothing techniques are grouped into five categories: mindfulness techniques, strategies to change thought patterns, strategies to calm the body, finding distractions, and gaining support.

The book outlines the usual relaxation methods that most food addicts will be familiar with: call a friend, take a nap, go for a walk. However, the book does list some unique, advanced strategies that are explained in an accessible way such as compassion meditation and radical acceptance. 

It also includes some helpful checklists for working out the difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger. 

Albers stresses that while individualized coping strategies are important, they help up to a point. They are not a substitute for peer or community support, but they can help stem an urgent, food craving until it passes by itself or a loved one becomes available to listen.

—Georgie B

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 OA-approved literature

OA’s first alternative Twelve 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 Twelve-Step recovery from Gamblers Anonymous (GA). Having been raised Jewish, she struggled with the Christian language of the Steps which did not reflect her experience.

She did include, in Step Seven, “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 five foot two inches, 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 Twelve 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.”)

1961 saw an influx of members with ties to AA. Rozanne’s sponsor, Thelma, was the wife of an AA member, and 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 Steps’ 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 reciting of the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance; non-Christians did not dare protest this.

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

Don’t Tell: Stories and Essays by Agnostics and Atheists in AA
Edited by Roger C. 
AA Agnostica, 2014

Roger C. founded, one of the key resource websites for us secularists in Twelve-Step programs. He also wrote A History of Agnostics in AA in 2015 and Do Tell: Stories of Atheists and Agnostics in AA in 2017, all three from  the same publisher. Don’t Tell helped open my eyes to the presence of other atheists like me in Twelve-Step programs. After thirty years of struggling with the religious nature of Overeaters Anonymous, it allowed me to identify more with OA and thus have an easier abstinence. It also led me to help build the secular community in OA. Don’t Tell is the best book to start with of the three since it combines personal stories, useful guides on how to work the Twelve Steps without god, the history of secular AA, and reviews of other useful books. Do Tell is a larger collection of personal stories. A History provides just that in more detail. Inspired by all of this, I have already registered for the third International Convention of Secular AA in October 29-31, 2021, here in my home town of Bethesda, Maryland, USA ( Several of us will lead a special session at that Convention on growing secular communities in OA and other Twelve-Step programs besides AA. 

—Jim D, Bethesda, MD USA

Twelve Secular Steps:  An Addiction Recovery Guide
Bill W. (not that Bill W.)
Beowulf Press, LLC, 2018

Though its target audience is alcoholics/addicts, I find it easy to apply the book’s offering to my life as someone who suffers from compulsive overeating and compulsive food behaviors.  

The back cover says, “The intertwining of religion with recovery [in traditional Twelve-Step programs] . . . presents itself as a hindrance to many addicts and alcoholics when they are initially introduced to Twelve-Step programs and literature. This theological entanglement traces back to the evangelical origins of the Twelve-Step recovery in the 1930s. Yet generations of alcoholics and addicts have simply sidestepped religious features and successfully recovered through the practical, self-help side of these programs. This book is meant for those who choose that path.”

I have yet to read the entire book; however, I already find the content useful as it is really meant to complement the traditional OA Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. Thankfully, I don’t have to abandon my OA building blocks. This book has given me a secular bridge (interpretation) to understand the more God-heavy Steps so I DON’T struggle to personalize/implement my OA recovery program. So far, I’ve found pages 6 (the Twelve Secular Steps) and 70-109 (articulating those secular Steps) the most useful in my recovery. Maybe some of you will find it interesting, too.

—Ashley L, Greenbelt, MD USA

Waiting: A Nonbeliever’s Higher Power
Marya Hornbacher
Hazelden, 2011

Goodreads reviews:

Any and all of Geneen Roth’s books really catipulated my abstinence and set me on a steady path. The first book I read was not secular so I will skip it here. Her other books like When you Eat Pull Up A Chair really impacted me. Her basic approach is to take a few weeks and give yourself permission to eat whatever you want and enjoy it and don’t judge it. She personally ate cakes and ice cream for a few weeks.

That was a new concept after years of looking at certain foods as bad and hating myself for eating them. I learned the concept of food is just food and I am not immoral for eating cake. I have a new relationship with food today. I do eat cake but not all the time. The majority of the time I eat veggies, fruit and protein. 

For me, as Geneen showed me, giving myself permission to eat anything made it easier to eat healthier. I will often turn down junk food because I would rather have a salad but just knowing I could have junk food relaxes me. It takes away the stigma. I no longer fight the urge to eat “trigger foods” because I no longer see any foods as “trigger foods.” I have learned that my emotions are my triggers and those I deal with by dealing with my feelings. I don’t eat over my feelings because I have accepted that sometimes I will feel icky, or sad, or mad or happy etc. I can sit with my feelings and I know I am not going to die.

I can tell you that when I read that first book of Geneen’s, I literally thought she was crazy and I would gain a few hundred pounds. I didn’t. I am okay today. I have a new relationship with food. 

Thank you for letting me share. I have about 4/5 years of abstinence and went to my first OA meeting in 1989.

—CJ B, Los Angeles, CA USA 

The Proactive Twelve Steps by psychologist Serge Prengel is my new favorite secular 12-Step book. The writing is not poetic, but Prengel’s explanations are insightful and to-the-point. Most chapters are only a few pages long. A short set of standard questions to be applied to each Step are included at the beginning of the book (page 10), and the second half deals with mindfulness and learning active listening. Best of all, you can get a FREE pdf of this book:

In addition for personal use, this free copy can be used at unregistered OA meetings.

–Jenny, SF Bay Area


A few of our favorite books!