It’s not unusual for certain misunderstandings to surround any organization or group. The following are a few commonly held myths about 12 step groups:
1. Members are told that they will never fully recover. The 12 step program maintains that full and happy living is possible, and full and sustained recovery is absolutely achievable.
2. Members are forced to remain in a position of powerlessness.
The only powerlessness to be found in the 12 step program is that which exists between an individual and their addiction or disease. An alcoholic abdicated all power to liquor; a binge eater did the same with food. Once this powerlessness is recognized and acknowledged, healing can begin.
3. Members are discouraged from having doctors, therapists, or other support. Members embrace any support they deem necessary, whether it be physicians, psychiatrists, dietitians, therapists, or even physical trainers.
4. 12 step groups are religious. The concept of a higher power is fundamental to the 12 steps. However, this higher power does not belong to any church or religion. A higher power is simply who or what an individual turns to in times of need or distress – something greater than themselves. A higher power comforts, extends peace, or strength in any given situation. Every person in recovery is encouraged to discover their own definition of a higher power. Knowing someone or something is walking the path of recovery with them often means the difference between ultimate success and failure.
5. The 12 step program does not pertain to eating disorders because people cannot abstain from food. Half of that statement is correct: people cannot abstain from food. However, they can certainly abstain from starving themselves, or abstain from eating an entire pie versus just a slice. They can abstain from unhealthy eating behaviors, such as only eating foods that are white, or never eating bananas. And, they can abstain from purging after they’ve completed a meal. The 12 step model encourages people to define which foods and food behaviors fall into the abstinence category at each stage of their progress.
6. Groups such as Overeaters Anonymous or Eating Disorders Anonymous won’t work for those with anorexia or bulimia because certain members are overweight. The members of these groups are highly diverse in terms of size and shape; the only requirement for membership is the desire to stop the compulsivity surrounding food, whether it’s eating too much in one sitting or not eating at all.
7. Over-eater Anonymous members are prohibited from eating white flour or sugar. OA advocates no rules in this regard and does not provide specific dietary or nutritional recommendations. Every person is an individual and has their own meal plan, often created with the help of a nutritionist or dietitian.
- Dr. Kim Dennis
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