Are you or a loved one struggling with binge eating, compulsive overeating, or another eating disorder? If so, you know that recovery can be difficult without the right support and resources.
Here’s an overview of the Overeaters Anonymous (OA) food plan, as well as some notes on creating your own plan and tips for healthy eating.
What Is the OA Eating Plan?
OA is an organization that offers recovery tools for people dealing with compulsive eating, binge eating, and other eating disorders. The organization follows a 12-step approach and is centered on group meetings and sponsors to aid with recovery.
OA has created a Plan of Eating to help people end their compulsive eating behaviors, guide healthy diet decisions, and identify specific eating patterns.
The plan is individualized. There are no specific suggestions for foods, calorie totals, or other restrictions. Instead, it’s meant to guide your journey with the help of your doctor or a dietitian.
The primary focus of the plan is abstinence from harmful behaviors rather than weight loss. Still, some members may choose to use their plans to get to a healthy weight, but on a steady and sustainable schedule. You don’t need to be overweight to join OA. OA may be right for you if you:
- obsess about your body weight
- obsess about food
- use diet pills or laxatives for weight loss
- binge eat
OA recognizes that compulsive overeating is physical, emotional, and spiritual. Your Plan of Eating should ideally be part of a holistic approach that includes working with the 12-step program, attending group meetings, and using other OA tools for recovery.
What Are the Pros and Cons?
One of the major advantages of this plan is that it’s individualized. You’re able to create the eating plan specifically for you and have support along the way.
Another advantage is that if your plan isn’t working for you, you can toss it out and start from scratch. Recovery from an eating disorder is a process. It may take several drafts to find the right fit for your lifestyle. When drafting your plan, remember to take into account eating out, weekends, and busy schedules. Planning ahead for these occasions can help you stay on track.
A disadvantage of this plan is that it requires you to take stock of your dietary history and craft guidelines to follow. You’ll need to consider your trigger foods and other behaviors while working to find a new way of dealing with food and eating. Being honest with yourself is the best way to create a plan that will help you, but depending on where you are in recovery, it can be difficult.
One way to ensure that your plan will be more helpful than harmful is to work on it with your doctor or a registered dietitian. That way, you’ll give proper attention to your disorder and also factor in the foods your body needs to thrive.
How Do I Create My Own Food Plan?
Although there’s no written out plan for eating, OA provides some helpful prompts on different pamphlets and worksheets. Start brainstorming, both alone and with your local group, and write down everything you think could be useful.
Some questions you might ask include:
- What nutrients does my body need to function?
- How many meals or snacks do I need each day?
- What is my healthy body weight range?
- What foods encourage overeating or bingeing?
- What behaviors encourage overeating or bingeing?
- What tools or supports do I have to help in my journey?
Try to focus your plan on abstinence by writing out your own affirmation or vision. Your plan might include eating three meals per day with two snacks or six small meals with no snacking. There’s no right or wrong plan as long as you make sure you’re getting an adequate amount of food and avoiding your eating disorder triggers.
OA also offers a couple of pamphlets at a low cost that provide more guidance. Try looking at A Plan For Eating: A Tool For Living - One Day at a Time and Dignity of Choice. You’ll find several sample food plans that have been approved by licensed dietitians. Remember that everyone’s plan and caloric needs will be different. These sample food plans are a good guide, but make sure you speak with a dietitian to come up with the right plan for you.
What Are Some Healthy Eating Tips?
There’s no one plan of eating that works for everyone. What you consume and how much is ultimately up to you. Focus on the following areas when writing up your plan:
A Well-Balanced Diet
You’ll want to include a variety of foods in your day. Eating a variety of foods is the best way to get the nutrients you need. Be sure to include ingredients from all the following groups in your plan:
- whole grains
- low-fat dairy
- lean protein, including beans and legumes
- healthy fats
Cooking with whole foods is more beneficial for your overall diet than cooking with packaged alternatives. It may even help you stay away from certain triggers. When choosing foods, also ask your doctor what ones you might need to avoid if you have health conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure.
he amount of time between meals and snacks is another area you’ll want to consider. Some people like eating three meals per day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner). Other people prefer smaller, more frequent meals, and others like snacking throughout the day.
The time you eat and how frequently you eat may be based on your daily schedule, your physical activity level, and any bingeing triggers.
Choosemyplate.org offers some sample food plans for people of all ages. The timing of your meals shouldn’t matter as long as you’re getting the right nutrients. Of course, it’s best to review these plans with your doctor to find one that works for you.
Controlling how much you eat at any one time may be the hardest of all these points. The Rutgers Health Outreach, Promotion, and Education department outlines some tips for getting started with portion control, including:
- measure out portions before mealtime
- eat from a plate and not a package
- split meals with a friend or package up half before eating
- use smaller plates or bowls
- freeze individual portions of meals so you can eat them later
- slow down while eating so that you have time to realize how full you are
There are also different visual cues you can use to make portion sizes more automatic.
You can learn more about proper food portion sizes at choosemyplate.gov.
Draft Your Plan
The OA Plan of Eating can be a beneficial tool for creating a meal plan that’s appropriate for you and your dietary needs. The plan is individualized, but you don’t have to create it on your own. Attend a local meeting and discuss the plan with your doctor and registered dietitian. The two of you can work together to create a plan for success.