Visiting a Twelve-Step meeting for the first time can be daunting, but the most important thing is to just show up with your mind open. For the first couple of times you may feel like you don’t belong, but the more stories you hear, the more you will realize there are others with your same insane food issues, and you will know you’re in the right place. If you’re atheist, agnostic, or someone who’s not religious but has a spiritual practice, some of the god-talk might turn you off. That’s why we have this website—there are lots of others like you!
Are you unsure about whether you have a problem with food or not? Answer these 15 questions from Overeaters Anonymous to find out!
If you would like a free newcomer packet (includes a copy of the Overeaters Anonymous (OA) brochure “Where Do I Start?” and/or secular newcomer information), click this link to get started:
If you’d like information now, click these links for OA and non-OA resources to help you work a secular program:
Secular Overeaters Newcomer Handout (4 pages, pdf)
Where Do I Start? (OA brochure, 36 pages, pdf)
Join here: https://bit.ly/SO-MailingList
Most of your newcomer questions will be answered in the OA brochure Where Do I Start?, in the Secular Overeaters Community Goggle group (see Getting Started, below), or after meetings. Below are a few answers to popular questions not covered in the resources mentioned above.
If there are other topics you wish were covered, let us know.
Let’s face it, no one really wants to be in a Twelve-Step program, but if you’ve found yourself on this website, you’re probably desperate. In the parlance of Twelve-Steppers, you’ve come to the last house on the block. But, just to make sure, you can take this fun OA quiz!
And, when you start attending secular OA meetings, you’ll start hearing your own story from others. Then you’ll know you’re home.
Regular OA Meetings
Where Do I Start? (OA brochure, general information, available at the OA bookstore)
What If I Don’t Believe in“God”? (OA brochure, for agnostics, pdf)
When OA Is Your Higher Power (OA Lifeline story by Alan S outlining how to work the Steps as a non-believer, pdf)
Freethinker Alternative 12 Steps for Overeaters (Non-OA, pdf)
Zoom Chat is a tool used at Zoom meetings with which members can add their names and phone numbers to the Chat to introduce themselves and to request a phone call from the weekly caller volunteer. You can also download the Chat and just call, text, or email anyone who has also posted in the Chat.
Secular Overeaters and Friends is a private Facebook group where you can connect with other Secular Overeaters members with compulsive food behaviors.
Join the Secular Overeaters Community Google Group! This online group discusses personal experiences, helpful literature, relevant events and activities, “tips and techniques,” and other topics related to challenges with food. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to request membership. (For the best experience, sign up with a Gmail account.)
If you’ve never been to a Twelve-Step meeting, they are led by a volunteer secretary who reads the script. There’s usually some sort of activity like a speaker, reading, meditation, writing, or discussion topic, and then member sharing (often timed for three minutes, and no one is required to speak).
During the meetings there’s no crosstalk, which means no commenting on someone else’s share or talking out of turn. It’s also not the time to ask program questions. But, meeting participants are always excited to have newcomers, and members will stay after to answer questions.
Most meetings will also ask for a donation, called the Seventh Tradition. The suggested amount is $5, but anything you can give is fine. This money helps pay for room rentals, literature, Zoom accounts, and other meeting expenses. After a meeting has enough for a prudent reserve (three months’ worth of expenses), they usually make a donation to their OA Intergroup, OA Region, and OA World Service. Each of these entities has expenses like websites, marathon room rental, and insurance. Most newcomers are told not to give a donation, but to use the money instead to purchase OA literature.
Unlike other fellowships, like Alcoholic Anonymous, there is very little support for non-theist OA members. And, OA has different rules for meetings. For instance, because of its bylaws, OA meetings are not allowed to use alternative Steps, but this is okay in other Twelve-Step fellowships as long as the meeting agrees (this is called the Fourth Tradition). This site will guide you to non-OA secular resources to help you work the program.
No, but it can feel like one when you’re surrounded by members thanking a god for their abstinence or throwing out slogan after slogan! One slogan, “Take what you want and leave the rest,” sums up OA, and that sentiment is the opposite of brainwashing.
OA meetings often ask for a donation ($5 or whatever you can give) to help pay for expenses like rent, literature to read at meetings, or Zoom accounts. This is not required, and newcomers are asked to save their money until after they’ve purchased the literature necessary for working the program.
One main piece of advice OA offers is to try at least five other meetings before you decide if OA is right for you. Each meeting has a personality, and with so many Zoom and phone meetings available right now, you’ll probably find one where you feel comfortable. If a meeting doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts, and go somewhere else.
OA is a Twelve-Step program that uses the Steps for personal recovery and the Traditions for group process and guidance.
The Twelve Steps of Overeaters Anonymous (pdf)
Freethinker Alternative 12 Steps for Overeaters (No-god, unofficial version for personal use, pdf)
The Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous (pdf)
The OA Twelve Steps are based on the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Steps, substituting the word “food” for the word “alcohol.” The Steps are a sequential set of guidelines that if “worked” and followed can lead to recovery from eating issues.
“Working” the Steps means reading the literature (specifically the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous, second edition, available at the OA online bookstore), writing about each step, and working with a sponsor.
There are Twelve Traditions, which are fairly standard in all Twelve-Step programs. They provide guidelines for meetings and other group entities, like Intergroups. (All meetings belong to an Intergroup, and all Intergroups belong to a Region, and all Regions belong to OA World Service.)
We’ve mentioned a few traditions already. The Fourth Tradition is, “Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting OA as a whole.” This means that each group can decide its own format. But there are limitations; for instance, a group is not allowed to use non-OA Steps, because OA feels this affects OA as a whole. If you’re from another Twelve-Step program, this tradition may be interpreted differently. For instance, AA allows their meetings to use other Step versions and “outside literature,” as long as the group made this decision (called group conscience).
The Seventh Tradition says, “Every OA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.” This is why meetings ask for donations.
Often meetings will use a Step or Tradition as a topic for a discussion or a speaker. All the Steps and Traditions are covered in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous, second edition, available at the OA online bookstore.
Yes, you do. And it will be good for you. Okay, okay—you don’t have to, but Twelve-Step people are used to making and receiving outreach calls. It’s a great way for newcomers to ask program questions like:
How’s your day going?
What’s your abstinence?
What kind of food plan do you have?
How long have you been in OA, and what made you come in the first place?
What OA tools work the best for you?
What do you do when they say turn it over to God, and you’re an atheist?
Do you read outside literature? What books do you recommend?
See? It’s not that hard, and the other person will ask you questions, too, and then you’ll have made a new friend.
During a meeting you can put your name and number on the We Care Pad (or in the Zoom Chat), or take a picture of the list of names and just call someone up. And finally, don’t worry about bothering people—if they can’t talk, they won’t pick up!