12-Step Program Groups for Eating Disorders Treatment: Uses in Recovery

Originally developed over 65 years ago by a small group of recovering alcoholics, the 12-step program has become an important part of the recovery process and the foundation for many recovery programs, including some developed for eating disorders.

What is a 12-Step Program?

Though initially intended for recovering alcoholics, the same principles that shape the 12-step process for recovery from addiction can be just as effective for a person suffering from an eating disorder.

Any 12-step program is based on a foundation of steps people move through to recover. The process can be summarized by the following: [1]

  • Admitting that one cannot control one’s addiction or compulsion
  • Recognizing a higher power that can give strength
  • Examining past errors with the help of a sponsor (experienced member)
  • Making amends for these errors
  • Learning to live a new life with a new code of behavior
  • Helping others who suffer from the same addictions or compulsions

Some treatment programs use the 12 steps as a foundation. Treatment programs that utilize the 12-step process often integrate a holistic approach to the recovery process, focusing on all aspects of a person, including the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs one might have.

12-Step Programs for Food Addiction and Other Eating Disorders

Because of the many similarities between eating disorders and addictions, several 12-step principles apply to the individual recovering from an eating disorder. Just as someone with an addiction can struggle to change behaviors, so can someone with an eating disorder.

Other benefits of the 12-step program include the development of a supportive network of friends, coping skills, and access to additional resources that can help sustain recovery for the long term. The 12-step process can enhance any comprehensive treatment team effort for someone recovering from an eating disorder and/or addiction, increasing the likelihood of a lasting recovery.

Several support groups currently exist based on the 12-step recovery program, offering unique resources and tools to provide ongoing recovery support, even outside a treatment center or program.

Support Groups

What is Eating Disorders Anonymous?

Eating Disorders Anonymous (EDA) was founded in 2000 by AA members who also struggled with disordered eating. [2] They felt the concepts that helped them gain recovery from addiction might also help address eating disorders.

EDA defines recovery as the ability to make careful choices. People can’t abstain from food like they can from drugs, so balance is the goal. Members of EDA gain that balance through discussions, homework, and fellowship.

What to Expect

Some cities have large EDA communities, and live meetings are possible. You’ll meet in one room with others struggling with eating disorders and discuss your experiences. If you don’t live near a space with in-person meetings, virtual meetings held via Zoom are an excellent option. Meetings are always free, no matter what format you choose.

United in the difficulty of an eating disorder, individuals are unified in a common solution found in the 12 steps. EDA shares that their “primary purpose is to recover from our eating disorder and to carry this message of recovery to others with eating disorders,” using the 12-step approach to focus on the solution, such as life choices, not the problem.

Overeaters Anonymous

While eating disorders share common characteristics, some people feel uncomfortable sharing space with people who don’t look like them. For someone who struggles with overeating, for example, a meeting involving anorexia behaviors filled with very thin people can be uncomfortable. Overeaters Anonymous (OA) may be a better option.

The first OA meeting was held in Los Angeles in 1960. Since then, the organization has grown. Now, more than 6,400 meetings are held in more than 80 countries with about 54,000 members. [2]

OA offers several meeting formats, including face-to-face, online, and telephone. Several meeting formats exist, including: [3]

  • Open: Both members and non-members can attend.
  • Closed: Only members can attend. Everyone who participates should want to stop overeating.
  • Focus: A small group of people who readily identify with people like them is included in this meeting.
  • Topic: One issue is discussed in this type of meeting.

Members can also buy books to support their recovery, join email groups, participate in forums, and more. Everyone who participates struggles with overeating, so this is a safe space.

Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous (ABA) 

People with anorexia and bulimia share many habits, traits, and compulsions. These people can come together through Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous (ABA).

You’re not required to provide proof of your eating disorder diagnosis. But you should be determined to gain control over your disordered eating.

ABA uses the 12-step model, and it borrows language from AA. For example, members are encouraged to “stay sober physically” as they regain control over their eating habits. [5] Members are also encouraged to connect with a higher power in their recovery.

Both open and closed meetings are available, and some are available in person. In addition, virtual options held via Zoom make it easy for anyone to join, no matter where they are.

ABA also provides an online support group meeting for family and friends of people with anorexia and bulimia. This meeting is always held virtually.

You’re not required to pay a fee to attend any ABA meeting. But you can support the organization through a donation if you choose.

Find Support for Eating Disorders

These support groups are an effective part of eating disorder recovery and can be easily accessible to any individual looking for recovery support, encouragement, and sponsorship. Joining like-minded men and women seeking freedom from an eating disorder can be one of the most powerful sources of inspiration for ongoing recovery.

If you are interested in finding a recovery group based on the 12-step program, please visit the Eating Disorder Hope Support Group Directory to find a group closest to you.


  1. The Twelve Steps. (n.d.). Alcoholics Anonymous. Accessed September 2022.
  2. About Us. (n.d.). Eating Disorders Anonymous. Accessed September 2022.
  3. 2017 Membership Report. (2018). Overeaters Anonymous.
  4. Overeaters Anonymous Meeting Definitions. (n.d.). Overeaters Anonymous.
  5. About. (n.d.). Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous. Accessed September 2022.
  6. Meetings. Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous. Accessed September 2022.

Published Date: January 11, 2023 and last reviewed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com