Friday, May 23, 2014

Thinking about Religion and Overeaters Anonymous

One of the ideas I've toyed with over the years to help get me sorted out with this food thing is joining Overeaters Anonymous or OA for short. I've often thought that talking out my issues with food, listening to others relate their stories of success and failure and having some kind of support system in place might be useful as most of the people around me really don't understand or have nothing helpful to offer other than pointless platitudes and clich├ęd advice (yes, I have thought about putting down the candy bar thank you very much).

The idea of having a support buddy in times of temptation kind of appeals to me, the ability to call somebody and talk out what is going on with me at that particular moment might actually yield some benefit. However, the other side of the coin is having your support buddy calling you at some inopportune time when you really don't feel like listening to it. This give and take thing could be dicey, especially for someone like me who is, admittedly, a little selfish with his time. Don't get me wrong, I'm a great listener and I'm interested in people; why they do the things they do, how they think, why they think that. But I really don't have an interest in being available 24/7 to listen to someone have a crisis over a slice of pizza late at night after being out at the bar. I probably wouldn't make the best support buddy.

The other problem I'm having with OA is the religion thing. They've modeled their program on the 12 steps program created by Alcoholics Anonymous. I'm going to list the 12 steps here as presented on OA's website.

The Twelve Steps of Overeaters Anonymous

  1. We admitted we were powerless over food — that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to compulsive overeaters and to practice these principles in all our affairs,
Notice the overarching religious slant? If you are Christian, this is probably not an issue for you. But what if you are not? Say you are Muslim? Or Buddhist? Or *gasp* atheist? You can see how this program and its religious overtones were created back when America (and Canada for that matter) were primarily christian. With our global community now firmly entrenched, this program seems horribly outdated. And what's this crap about turning our will and our lives over to God so that He can save us from the double bacon cheeseburgers we so crave? 

Going over them, I'm okay with the fist one. I do feel powerless over food, it has a strange hold over me. It's the ultimate love/hate relationship. I love food and eating brings me so much pleasure but I feel such self loathing when I eat. The back and forth that goes on in my head when it comes to food is maddening. Numbers two and three begin the surrender and acceptance of God where Him and only Him can save us from the terrible food demons that haunt us. A problem if you don't buy into theistic thinking. Number four is fine, making a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves makes sense. Five, six and seven take us back into God country where we ask for salvation from our shortcomings and defects of character (defects of character???). Admitting to others our wrongs? I'm sorry, did we kill and eat babies in some hunger lust? Try to eat a spouse during sleep?  Steal slices of pizza meant for orphans?

Eight, nine and ten are ridiculous in this context. Make a list of people we harmed and make amends? I can see how some alcoholics may need to do this as they may have actually harmed others in a drunken stupor or rage. But fat people? Who did they harm? Too much cheese on that pizza send them into a gooey psychotic episode where lives were endangered? Was the garbage man injured on the job while collecting that enormous pile of pizza boxes stacked at the end of your driveway? Silliness. Finally, eleven and twelve return to the God thing and again, if you are not a believer in such things, well...

I did a little research (I cannot stress enough the word "little") and found out that the religious thing does play a large role in meetings with many members being quite militant in their beliefs about the 12 steps and how God is central to their success. This flies in the face of what OA itself proclaims on its website about not being a religious organization. Sure, they are not advocating a particular religion but you can't deny the Christian slant to everything they do. Some former participants reported the heavy handedness of religion and prayers ending each meeting which made them uncomfortable and they did not return. As an atheist, I know I couldn't sit there and listen to them talk about surrendering themselves to some imaginary being in the sky because they can't find the will power to make it happen on their own. A better approach might be to help people find that will power, to encourage them and teach them how to tear down their toxic relationship with food and rebuild that relationship in a healthy productive manner. Showing them that they aren't defective people with terrible shortcomings who need to apologize to others for being fat. 

I don't know what kind of success rates an organization like this actually has. I've read that AA doesn't really have that great of a success rate either, I guess it depends who you ask. I'm still curious about OA and whether it might be of some benefit to me, but I have too many questions and concerns at this time. And from what I've read about it, I'm not sure I want to find out.


Anonymous said...

I understand your fears (they are very common -- but my experience of OA doesn't confirm your preconceptions). As to your fear of religion, there are people of many faith traditions in OA, including atheists and agnostics. It is my observation that OA strengthens a persons spiritual life and/or practice not supplant it. I encourage you to visit a few different meetings and read some of the literature before deciding its definitely not for you.

aka Joe said...

I have no fear of religion, but from what I read about OA and religion, it does appear to be a major factor involved in your "recovery". Using the term "God" in most of the 12 steps speaks volumes about how they approach the problem. I have done some reading about it and I keep coming across how strongly religious belief plays a role. AA, on which this program is based, is known for its religious slant. You are right though, a visit to a meeting or two would help settle the issue for me. I'm still thinking about it.

Anonymous said...

I am glad you are considering checking it out. It is hard to describe so first-hand experience should benefit you. The spiritual experience is very personal and not "religious" for me. I have known people who are afraid of 12-step because they perceive it from the outside as being too "religious" and others who reject it out of hand because they perceive it to be not "religious" enough. Both of these fears miss the essence of the experience.

Anonymous said...

I've recently returned to OA and am struggling a bit searching for a sponsor to relate to who *does* have religious faith. My meetings are full of outspoken atheists or agnostics and the feeling in the meeting I get is that it is bigoted to mention reliance on anything other than an undefined higher power or the group conscience. Wherever there is "God" in the writing, "higher power" is substituted.

Maybe it depends on the location where you attend?

aka Joe said...

I think it does. From what I remember reading when I did my bit of research, the religion thing did play a large part in the meetings which is why I was hesitant to attend a meeting. Your experience would appear to be the opposite which surprises me. Although, there is a contingent of atheists who are unfortunately rather militant in their beliefs and their need to push them onto others; perhaps a response to religion being pushed onto so many over the centuries? I would say to you, find another meeting group if you can. I never did attend a meeting in my area but if I did and ended up in one where I felt uncomfortable due to the religious nature of the discussion, I would probably look for another group. And if the end result was the same, I would have to decide if that was something I was willing to deal with. Right now, I would have to say no. I hope you are able to find some peace with this and don't let the militants get you down.