Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous Facts
Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous (FA) is a program of recovery based on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Membership is international, with meetings held in the United States, Australia, Canada, Germany, and England. According to the 2009 census, total FA membership is just over 4,000.
FA members are men and women of all ages. Some have been obese; others have been severely underweight, bulimic, or so obsessed with food or weight that normal life was difficult or impossible. The common denominator uniting members of FA is addiction and a relationship with food that parallels an alcoholic’s relationship with alcohol. The program offers the hope of long-term recovery, evidenced by many members who have continuously maintained a normal weight and healthy eating for periods of twenty-five or even thirty years.
The following is the definition of FA that is used in FA literature and read at FA meetings:
Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous is a fellowship of individuals who, through shared experience and mutual support, are recovering from food addiction. We welcome all who want to stop eating addictively. There are no dues or fees for members; we are self-supporting through our own contributions, neither soliciting nor accepting outside donations. FA is not affiliated with any public or private organization, political movement, ideology, or religious doctrine. We take no position on outside issues. Our primary purpose is to abstain from addictive eating and to carry this message of recovery to those who still suffer.
Addiction has been described as a progressive illness that is rooted in a combination of factors: physical allergy, mental obsession, and problems in the personality (fear, doubt, insecurity, and negativity), all of which drive the addict to repeated, destructive behaviors and a dependence on substances or behaviors in order to cope.
In FA literature and meetings, food addiction is defined as “an illness of the mind, body, and spirit for which there is no cure.” As is the case with other addictions, food addiction involves physical craving and an ever-increasing dependence upon and struggle with a substance (food). As described above, the manifestations of food addiction vary. Overeating, undereating or self-starvation, bulimia (including exercise bulimia), and extreme obsession with weight or food are among the symptoms of this addiction.
FA literature and meetings remind members that “when we abuse food as a drug, our lives become unmanageable.”
The FA Program of Recovery
FA addresses addiction on every level. The program first helps food addicts physically refrain from their addiction. Abstinence in FA is the parallel of sobriety in AA. A paragraph read at every FA meeting defines abstinence as follows:
Food addicts have an allergy to flour, sugar and quantities that sets up an uncontrollable craving. The problem can be arrested a day at a time by the action of our weighing and measuring our food and abstaining completely from all flour and sugar. FA defines abstinence as weighed and measured meals with nothing in between, no flour, no sugar and the avoidance of any individual binge foods.
Abstinence is a planned, disciplined way of eating that leads to the addict’s release from food cravings, obsession, and self-abuse. Abstinence is simple and clear, but it is difficult to sustain continuously over the course of a lifetime. FA offers support for a way of life that makes daily, uninterrupted abstinence possible. Rather than turning to eating or other self - destructive, food-related behaviors, members gain strength from one another. Through regular contact with a sponsor (an experienced member who serves as a guide), attendance at FA meetings, frequent phone contact with others in the program, and continuous efforts to share the FA program with others who want it, members of FA begin to maintain daily abstinence.
At first glance, FA might appear to be a network of support groups, but in fact, the program works long-term because it offers a spiritual solution. Once members become abstinent, they are encouraged to do the Twelve Steps, one at a time, in closed groups called AWOLs. AWOL (“A Way of Life”) enables each participant to face and clear away the wreckage of the past and to find and develop a reliance on his or her own Higher Power. This leads to a change in personality that makes one-day-at-a-time, continuous recovery possible. People from every religious tradition and those with no religious inclination at all are welcome in FA. While the program is spiritual, it is not religious.
The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
Individual recovery is attained and maintained through the Twelve Steps. The Twelve Traditions are principles that guide the work of individuals and meetings in all efforts to share the hope and program of FA recovery.
The Twelve Steps
- We admitted we were powerless over food - that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
- 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.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others and practice these principles in all our affairs.
The Twelve Traditions
- Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends on FA unity.
- For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority - a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
- The only requirement for FA membership is a desire to stop eating addictively.
- Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or FA as a whole.
- Each group has but one primary purpose - to carry its message to the food addict who still suffers.
- An FA group ought never endorse, finance or lend the FA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
- Every FA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
- Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
- FA, as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
- Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues, hence the FA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
- Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.
- Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.
Distinguishing Characteristics of FA
There are now many programs using a Twelve Step approach for people having problems with weight or food. FA is distinctive because it focuses on addiction, not “compulsion,” “eating disorders,” or any of what it views as symptoms of the core illness (anorexia, obesity, or bulimia, for example).
Further, FA is united by a single definition of abstinence that is clear and unchanging. Most important, in addition to the usual support offered through individual contact and group meetings, the program gives members an effective means for doing each of the Twelve Steps in sequence, leading to a change in personality and a way of life that makes long-term, continuous abstinence possible. The members of FA often refer themselves as a “fellowship” united by warmth, trust, outreach to those who might want the program, and service to those who are new to it.
Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous, Inc. is the umbrella entity that supports meeting groups and FA individuals around the world. It is internally known as “WSI” (for World Service Incorporated). WSI is led by thirteen, elected trustees (members of FA) and is headquartered in Woburn, Massachusetts. FA meetings are also supported and united by incorporated regional associations (intergroups) and smaller, unincorporated regional affiliations (chapters).
FA meetings are central to the FA program of recovery. All meetings are face-to-face (there are no phone or internet FA meetings). Meetings break the isolation that is always part of the disease of food addiction and provide the opportunity for newcomers and members to learn from abstinent speakers who share their experience, strength, and hope. Meetings are open to all FA members and those who are interested in learning about the program for themselves or for others whom they think might find FA helpful. FA describes the only requirement for membership as “the desire to stop eating addictively.”
Tradition of Anonymity
The practice of anonymity is described within FA as the spiritual foundation of the program. Internally, FA seeks to ensure the confidentiality of anyone in the program or anyone exploring it. Each person’s story or FA membership is his or hers to reveal.
On the public level, members of FA refrain from using their full names or revealing their faces. This ensures that no individual is perceived as speaking for or representing the program as a whole.
In keeping with the practice of anonymity, meetings are typically closed to members of the media who are there to report on them. If you are a reporter or a photographer who is interested in FA meetings, please contact the World Service Public Information Committee: firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.
Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable organization that is primarily funded through contributions given by members of FA. The acceptance of bequests or donations from non-members, outside organizations, and anonymous donors is prohibited. Individual members are restricted to donations or bequests of no more than $2,000 in a year.
In the early 1980s, the FA program began to take form within the context of Overeaters Anonymous (OA), another Twelve Step program. At that time, in Chelsea, Massachusetts, and nearby, several OA meetings began to embrace a set of distinctive practices. The meetings were united by a shared definition of abstinence; the requirement that speakers at each meeting have a minimum of 90 days of continuous abstinence; the practice of doing the Twelve Steps in AWOL groups; and the belief that overeating, undereating, bulimia, and other food-related, self-destructive behaviors are symptoms of the disease of addiction. These meetings were popularly called or criticized as “90-day meetings.”
Over time, it became clear that the program developed at “90-day meetings” was distinctive from that of OA. Further, this program had grown. Members moved from the Boston area to Michigan, Florida, Texas, New York, California, Australia, and Germany, taking their recovery with them and establishing meetings in communities where they lived. In 1998, a small group gathered to discuss the possibility of establishing a separate program. “Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous” was launched later that year. The organization was legally incorporated in 1998.
In May 1998, FA consisted of 18 meetings with approximately 177 members. By 2001, the program had grown to 122 meetings, with almost 1,000 members. The first business convention, held to coordinate FA service to newcomers, took place that year. Today, FA is a proven program of recovery, with members dating their continuous abstinence back to the time when there were only “90-day meetings” and a program with no name. Through the power of FA, we currently have hundreds of members who experience continuous, sustained freedom from obsession, compulsion, and all other symptoms of food addiction.