Overview of 12-Step Program for Eating Disorders

Article contributed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC, President @ Eating Disorder Hope and Crystal Karges, BS, DTR, CLEC, Special Projects Coordinator @ Eating Disorder Hope

Originally developed over 65 years ago by a small group of recovering alcoholics, the twelve-step program has become an important part of the recovery process and the foundation for many recovery programs.  Though the twelve-step program was proposed by Alcoholics Anonymous as an approach to recovery from Alcoholism, the methods have been adapted to a process that addresses a wide-range of substance-abuse and dependency issues.

The 12-step process can be summarized by the following:

  • 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.

Though initially intended for recovering alcoholics, the same principles that shape the 12-step process for recovery from addiction can be just as effective to the man or woman suffering from an eating disorder.  Because of the many similarities between eating disorders and addictions, several of the 12-step principles are applicable to the individual recovering from an eating disorder.  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. 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 be helpful in sustaining 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 for a lasting recovery.

Several support groups currently exist that are based on the 12-step recovery program, offering unique resources and tools that can provide ongoing recovery support, even when outside of a treatment center of program.

For example, Eating Disorders Anonymous (EDA) is a fellowship of individuals who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their shared problems and assist others in recovering from their eating disorder [1].  United in a common difficulty, an eating disorder, individuals are unified in a common solution found in the twelve 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.

Other groups that are focused on the 12-step model for recovery include the following:

  • Overeaters Anonymous:  A program of recovery from compulsive eating using the Twelve steps and Twelve Traditions that addresses the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of individuals [2].
  • Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous (ABA) is a fellowship of individuals whose primary purpose is to find and maintain recovery in our eating practices, and to help others gain recovery [3].

These types of 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 with other like-minded men and women who are seeking freedom from the burden of an eating disorder can be one of the most powerful sources of inspiration towards 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]: http://www.eatingdisordersanonymous.org/about.html

[2]:  http://www.overeatersanonymous.org/

[3]:  http://aba12steps.org/


Published Date: October 17, 2012
Last reviewed: By Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on October 17, 2011
Page last updated: November 7, 2012
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com, Online Help for An Eating Disorder