Brown Book

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Overeaters Anonymous, often called the Brown Book, was originally published in 1980. The second edition came out in 2001. The current, third edition is from 2014. The book has significantly changed, since the first edition, with many new stories and appendices from professionals who have supported OA.


Marty Lerner, PhD, wrote the foreword to the third edition. He is a clinical psychologist who specializes in eating disorders, and has been a friend of the fellowship for several decades. He speaks of the “magic” of OA: “a combination of people having a common purpose and seeing others working a set of suggested Steps, lending testimony to the promise of recovery.”

Theodore Isaac Ruben, MD, wrote (1980) the foreword to the first and second editions. He talks about the charlatans, chicanery, and millions (probably billions now) of dollars being made off the suffering of fat people. He applauds the fellowship of OA.


OA acknowledges the role of AA and AA’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. “Our book is not intended as a substitute for or a replacement of Alcoholics Anonymous, the life-giving Big Book, which has brought physical, emotional, and spiritual rebirth to millions around the globe.”

Our Invitation to You

Compulsive eating is a progressive, debilitating, incurable disease that affects health, job, finances, family, and/or social life. The Twelve-Step program works as well for compulsive eaters as it does for alcoholics. The disease is emotional, physical, and spiritual, and the basis of the program is spiritual via the Twelve Steps.

OA is not a “diet club.” Abstinence is “the action of refraining from compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors while working towards or maintaining a healthy body weight.”

Some OA members may regard the group itself as a power greater than ourselves. Others use different interpretations of this power.

The Steps are identical to AA’s Twelve Steps, except that “food” substitutes for “alcohol” in the First Step, and OA uses “compulsive overeaters” instead of “alcoholics” in Step Twelve.

If recovery seems overwhelming, remember that you only have to do it one day at a time, “just for today”. Or, if you think you aren’t that bad, keep in mind that the disease is progessive — the symptoms will get worse.

OA promises the gift of acceptance. You are not alone.

1. Keep Coming Back: Rozanne’s Story

Rozanne S., OA’s founder, tells her story. She was from a superachiever and overeater family, who struggled with her weight from a very early age. She lost weight and regained it repeatedly, blaming her mother and others for her problems.

In 1958 she became aware of Gamblers Anonymous. She and her husband took a compulsive gambler friend to a GA meeting. She saw then that she saw her compulsion with food was just like those compulsive gamblers. But she gained more weight.

In 1959 she went back to GA and talked to Jim W., the founder of GA. He told her he didn’t see any reason it wouldn’t work for compulsive overeaters, since he had been in AA before he started GA. Thanks to diet pills, she lost weight again.

On January 19, 1960, Rozanne, Jo S., a neighbor, and Bernice, the wife of a GA member, held the first OA meeting. Rozanne was a professional writer, so she thought she should rewrite the Twelve Steps. After all, Bill W. was “only a stockbroker.” She basically removed the spiritual concepts from the Steps, then reluctantly put some of them back in.

Jim W. convinced her to attend some open AA meetings. There she began to understand how the love and spirituality really worked. Jim also advised her to reinstate AA’s original Twelve Steps.

In early 1962, as the result of an AA speaker talking of “abstinence” from alcohol, she got the idea of abstaining from nibbling between meals, and from staying away from compulsive eating.

By 1965, Rozanne had worked with an “overspending” problem, but her eating was out of control and she was gaining weight. She resigned once as OA’s national secretary, then the lady who replaced her died of cancer, and Rozanne came back to the job. In 1972 the OA trustees fired her.

Between then and 1987 her weight was out of control, but she kept coming to meetings. Then she began following an eating plan and maintaining a healthy weight.

Rozanne passed away January 16th, 2014.

2. OA Then and Now

This is about an OA member who has been in OA since he was in his mid-teens. It tells about using the fellowship, the Steps, the Tools, and a Higher Power to deal with all kinds of things in his life, including the loss of both parents in his 30s, adjusting to getting older by adjusting the size of his moderate meals and beginning moderate exercise. He talks gratitude for what OA has done in his life, much more than just the eating.

3. Different Ages, Same Problem

She joined OA in 1977, when she was 15 years old, thinking it was another diet club. The other women were older and heavier, and only one was abstinent. She was defiant and angry at having to be a compulsive overeater. She heard a woman in recovery, and followed her to a meeting across town where there was much more recovery. She kept going and the Program began to sink in. Her last binge was in 1980, following a Fifth Step. She lost the weight and remained thin at age 50. Her daughters have never seen her overeat. She credits the Program with being happy, joyous, and free.

4. A Mom Who Is Free from Addiction

This New Zealander grew up surrounded by addiction, the youngest daughter of five. Her earliest memories are all about food. By 13, her weight ballooned, and she started cycling between anorexia and bulimia. She attempted suicide at 16. By 22 food was her only friend and her worst enemy.

At 27 her sister, who was in OA recovery, Twelfth-Stepped her into OA. She went to her first meeting in 1998, and she began working the Program, reaching out to her Higher Power and doing the Steps. She started OA service and has not stopped. She credits her recovery with being able to have a loving husband and family — to be present in their lives. Honesty with other OA members is the key.

5. Dying to Live

She came to OA after 14 years of sobriety in another Twelve-Step program. Her powerlessness over food destroyed her home, career, and ability to drive a car. She spent nine months in a mental home for a “breakdown”. Her recovery began with one key factor: she kept going to meetings. Following that, she got a sponsor, and agreed to a food plan. She made phone calls, and started giving back the love she found in the Program.

Her sole focus for a year was meetings, prayers, phone calls, literature, and her simple food plan. Days of recovery became months, then years. She now has over 15 years of continuous abstinence, and feels that OA allows her a healthy, loving life.

6. The Boat Story

A man tells of a particularly humiliating experience after buying a used sailboat, taking his wife and 11-year-old daughter sailing. After having difficulty controlling the boat, he put his wife and daughter off, and tried to control the boat. Later, the lake’s lifeguard arrived in a motorboat and said it was time to close the lake, and offered to tow him to the dock. At over 350 pounds (159 kg), he capsized the sailboat, and he could not pull himself into her boat.

After several other experiences trying to control the boat, he recalled something he had heard in a meeting (he had started going to OA). He asked God for help, and the boat almost sailed itself to the dock. This “miracle” amounted to a spiritual experience for him. In the next 18 months he used the Program to lose over 100 pounds (45 kg), and felt like a new person. After over 12 years of recovery, he reminds himself to stay like that person on the lake, who was finally willing to ask his Higher Power for help.

7. Who Is My Appetite?

This 30-year-old Greek woman suffered bulimia since about age 15, when she started her first diet. She lost weight, stopped having her period, and then began the cycle of binging, purging, and dieting. She stopped purging from age 19 to 24, but continued dieting and bingeing, with yo-yo weight and exercising at the gym to lose weight.

She got into OA, but she was the first bulimic among compulsive overeaters with weight problems. She found strict food plans to feed into her bulimia, leading to a series of relapses. The turning point was working the Steps. She realized her focus should be on compulsive control of her weight instead of the food. By allowing her Higher Power to control her weight, the scale, and her eating she gained the ability to eat when she was hungry and stop when she was full. She can enjoy sweets without not wanting them all the time. Her appetite is none other than the voice of her Higher Power.

8. Seeking and Finding a Power to Live By

She binged, dieted, starved, and used diet pills, until she found OA, which was to be her Diet of the Week. Her food plan with no sugar or white flour made her look anorexic. For 12 years she had periods of sobriety followed by lapses, relapses, and a final collapse, leaving the program for almost two years. When she came back she was bulimic and 40 lbs (18 kg) overweight.

Working the Steps was the difference, leading to a normal weight, and no bulimic episode in over 15 years. Recovery is no longer about being thin, but eating in a healthy way and treating herself with love and respect. She calls her Higher Power “Goodness Health and Love.”

9. Same Disease

An anorexic was afraid she would not fit in OA because she wasn’t overweight. She had spent a lot of time obsessing about food — cooking, baking, shopping, etc. Her menses had stopped, she could wear her teenaged son’s clothes, and her diet was apples and carrots.

When she got to that OA meeting 30 years ago, she was impressed with the serenity. She started writing about her feelings and staying off the scales. She got a sponsor and started making calls. She started working the Steps and Tools “as though my life depended upon it, because it did.” The physical recovery was slow until she added a carbohydrate, protein, and fat to her food plan.

Her definition of abstinence is sane eating and successful living. She treasures the willingness to eat enough, use the Tools when food is calling, and maintain awareness of God in her every breath. The OA Fellowship and Twelve Steps have given her “the gift of freedom from food obsession.”

10. Humility, Gratitude, and Kindness

She was a bulimic who tried to keep the scale numbers down. She came to OA at 17 and learned how to be honest, to love, and have an evolving friendship with her Higher Power. She credits OA with over 20 years of “continued, imperfect abstinence.” She shares the dazzling and valuable gifts with others in the Program.

11. Vivid Memories

A secretive eater who binged and purged using exercise, her boyfriend recommended OA. Her sponsor sent her to a nutritionist. She saw she was missing fellowship, and started working the Steps, leading to the first real happiness in her life.

12. The Hiking Trail Meeting

Her grandfather was an alcoholic, her dad very intellectual and out of touch with his feelings, and her mom ruminated food, spitting it out. She began restricting, starving, overeating, exercising compulsively, bingeing, and purging. Her first three and a half years in OA involved both relapse and recovery, until she started working the Steps.

Realizing she had to also have fun, she began hiking and camping with another friend in OA, or by herself, but always including OA and AA literature and the Program.

13. No Longer Held Hostage by Food

As a young adult, he binged on food to deal with his feelings. Once he used a key as a spoon to eat from a pint of ice cream while driving his car. He weighed 335 lbs (152 kg) when he went to AA at age 24. With a sponsor and working the Steps he lost 160 lbs (73 kg), but after three years he got to busy to attend OA and work the program. Over the next years he got to over 400 lbs (182 kg).

Returning to OA, he started abstaining from sugar, working with the Steps and a sponsor, eating three meals with nothing in between. Eventually, he gave up second and third helpings. He became willing to surrender a “God bite,” a bite-sized portion of food he left on the plate, forcing him to be conscious of his Higher Power. Finally his food obsession was lifted, and he has been maintaining a normal weight.

14. He Shared His Struggles with Another Man

After 10 years of sobriety in another Twelve Step program (presumably AA), he had difficulty really accepting his powerlessness over food. By attending OA, working with his sponsor and Higher Power, avoiding certain foods, breaking his exercise bulimia addiction, and working the Program, he has maintained abstinence and a 55 lb (25 kg) weight release.

15. Binge Foods and Diet Books

She binged in secret, and wanted to be able to eat whatever she wanted and not get fat. She felt that life with excess food was intolerable and life without it was unthinkable. She found a Higher Power and OA, and has had more than 17 years of freedom from compulsion while enjoying moderate eating and carrying the message of recovery.

16. The Turning Point Came

Cycles of over- and undereating and laxatives, combined with feelings of inadequacy dominated her youth. She starved all day and ate all night, obsessing with the scale, and overexercising. She turned to alcohol, quickly lost control, and got into a Twelve Step program (presumably AA).

She still focused on food, weight, exercise and body image, prompting her to go to OA, getting off “obvious sugar”, but not really connecting. She got a serious illness in which she had to avoid fatty foods, but had intense cravings for those fatty foods.

She focused on Steps Six and Seven, and her Higher Power. She says she has learned more from sponsorship than from any other Tool.

17. Don’t Let Me Waste an Iota

This Israeli (does not indicate gender) was “wired to eat, inhaling large quantities of food.” Isolating, eating while driving to work, stopping at convenience stores, were part of the bingeing pattern.

Going to OA, getting a sponsor, weighing and measuring food, pre-packing food, asking God for help, and the Steps have worked.

18. Keep Coming Back for the Miracles

This lesbian turned to bulimia when she started gaining weight. She ate until stuffed, then threw it all up. She changed stores every day so others would not notice that she was buying enough food to feed a large family. The bulimia led to dehydration, hospitalization, dental problems including loss of teeth, loss of muscle, esophagus damage, and other medical problems.

She went to four treatment centers and three halfway houses. Finally, going to daily OA meetings worked for her. She got three sponsors, worked the Steps, read the AA Big Book and the OA Twelve and Twelve.

In spite of physical problems including needing a lung transplant, she credits her Higher Power, OA recovery, her organ donor, and a loving partner for being able to enjoy life and have freedom from food obsession.

19. Thriving After Relapse

African-American overeater.

20. Food for Thought


21. Tools at My Feet

New Zealander guy, living just to eat.

22. OA in Guadalajara and Ajijic, Mexico

This seems to be the story of six people who started or got into recovery in Mexico.

23. Freedom Isn’t Free

Seems to be male, near 400 lbs tops, and suicidal.

24. Plenty of Growing Room Left

Exercise addict.

25. A Black Compulsive Overeater Who Found Her Soul

26. Twelve Keys

Thunder thighs, nurse, family alcoholism.

27. Surrender Brings Freedom

28. Conquering the ABCs

Anorexia, bulimia, and compulsive overeating, up to 437 lbs. Lots of acronyms, like BINGE is Because I’m Not Good Enough.

29. Agony Aunt Saved My Life

Black anorexic/bulimic. After seven years of grey sheet, food plan evolved to high carb, high fruit, and vegetables food plan. Left OA and relapsed 3 years, then rediscovered OA.

30. Out of Darkness

Stopped weighing at 311 lbs.

31. The Best Defense of All

Male, attention deficit disorder.

32. I Came on My Hands and Knees

Lesbian, gastric bypass surgery.

33. My Doctor Insisted

Guy, up to 313 lbs.

34. Food Is Not an Option

35. The Tiny Acorn Grows into a Mighty Oak

36. Seventy-five and Fully Alive

37. No Longer a Little Girl

38. Loner Finds a Home

39. A Bad Case of Denial

40. No More Store Hopping

41. From Angry Teen to Serene Mom

Appendix A: The Role of a Plan of Eating in Recovery from Compulsive Eating

Appendix B: A Disease of the Mind

Appendix C: A Disease of the Body

Appendix D: A Disease of the Spirit

Appendix E: To Find Overeaters Anonymous

The Twelve Steps of Overeaters Anonymous

The Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous

Brown Book, see also: Big Book, History of Twelve-Step Groups, Literature, Meetings, Storytelling, Tools of Recovery, Traditions of AA.

Updated 14 Oct 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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