Citation info: Goldberg, Lina. "Between the Sheets: The History of Overeaters Anonymous and its Food Plans" Dec. 03

Between the Sheets:The History of Overeaters Anonymous and its Food Plans

by Lina Goldberg

In a society that uses "all you can eat" and "all you care to eat" interchangeably to describe its buffets, it is not surprising that 61 percent of American adults are overweight, and that nearly 50 million of them are obese. (1) American consumers apparently see no difference between all one wants to eat and all that one can physically hold. At a time when so many Americans are overweight and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration glibly refers to obesity as a "chronic, widespread disease,"(2) it was perhaps inevitable that a 12-step program would be created to help the sufferers of what the program calls "compulsive overeating."

The trend of Americans being overweight and obese is only getting worse. Each year, Americans spend more than $33 billion dollars on weight-reduction products, including diet foods and beverages. (3) More than 50 million Americans will go on a diet each year. (4) Despite this, there has been a dramatic increase in the rate of obesity in the last 20 years. (5)

This is not unexpected when one considers the fact that although many popular diets lead to short-term weight loss, few have proven effective for keeping weight off. (6) In fact, in one study, researchers found that 55 percent of ads for diet products made at least one false or unsubstantiated claim. (7) In most cases these claims were related to the amount of and speed of weight loss. In a world where the majority of adults are overweight, most diets offer little hope of long-term relief, and consumers are barraged by intentionally false claims about weight loss, it is no surprise that many Americans have given up on conventional dieting solutions and are turning to other sources for relief.

One alternative to conventional dieting (8) is the "fat acceptance" movement, which has been in existence since 1969. This grass-roots movement seeks to change societal attitudes about those who are overweight. A movement manifesto states: "Our culture's idealization of slenderness results in personal and cultural biases against fat people, and causes discrimination against those who are larger than average." (9) Rather than responding to this discrimination by trying to become thinner, movement members seek to positively and concretely change society's perception of those who are heavier than the social ideal.

One critic has written, "The more we valorize thinness, the fatter we actually become." (10) This observation appears to be supported by the fact that Americans are getting larger and larger, even while models, celebrities, and other representatives of ideal beauty get thinner and thinner. In that context, the fat acceptance movement's contention that "concentrating on personal fitness rather than thinness may be the healthiest way to deal with the propensity to be fat" seems all the more reasonable. (11) Yet while this method of harm reduction may seem to be a better way to help the chronically obese, the fact is that many people in the fat acceptance movement have died of obesity-related illnesses. Others have abandoned fat acceptance, deciding that "personal fitness" might not be enough to overcome the lower life expectancy that statistically afflicts those who are obese. (12)


A very different alternative to conventional dieting is offered by Overeaters Anonymous (OA). OA takes a dramatically different approach, using the same 12-step principles that Alcoholics Anonymous has been successfully using to treat alcoholism since 1939. (13) Alcoholics Anonymous is an anonymous, abstinence-based program that is founded on the tenets of the disease model-the belief that alcoholism is not merely a bad habit, but an incurable and potentially fatal physical illness that can be controlled only through total abstinence from alcohol. The group's literature states that no matter how long an alcoholic is abstinent, he or she will always be an alcoholic, and can at best hope only for remission. (14)

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Citation info: Goldberg, Lina. "Between the Sheets: The History of Overeaters Anonymous and its Food Plans" Dec. 03

lina goldberg