Overeaters Anonymous was first formed in Los Angeles in 1960 as splinter group from the popular 12 step recovery program, Alcoholics Anonymous. From the beginning, Overeaters Anonymous has been wracked with controversy over its many different food plans.

The Grey Sheet, released in the late 1960s, became one of the most popular and controversial of all food plans distributed in Overeaters Anonymous. The plan called for complete abstinence from man-made sugars and starches and from any foods with more than a 10% carbohydrate content.

Here you'll find the history of Overeaters Anonymous and its many food plans, including the full text of the OA Grey Sheet.

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The History of Overeaters Anonymous and its Grey Sheet

In a society that uses "all you can eat" and "all you care to eat" interchangeably to describe its buffets, it is not surprising that 61 percent of American adults are overweight, and that nearly 50 million of them are obese. (1) American consumers apparently see no difference between all one wants to eat and all that one can physically hold. At a time when so many Americans are overweight and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration glibly refers to obesity as a "chronic, widespread disease,"(2) it was perhaps inevitable that a 12-step program would be created to help the sufferers of what the program calls "compulsive overeating."

The trend of Americans being overweight and obese is only getting worse. Each year, Americans spend more than $33 billion dollars on weight-reduction products, including diet foods and beverages. (3) More than 50 million Americans will go on a diet each year. (4) Despite this, there has been a dramatic increase in the rate of obesity in the last 20 years. (5)
This is not unexpected when one considers the fact that although many popular diets lead to short-term weight loss, few have proven effective for keeping weight off. (6) In fact, in one study, researchers found that 55 percent of ads for diet products made at least one false or unsubstantiated claim. (7) In most cases these claims were related to the amount of and speed of weight loss. In a world where the majority of adults are overweight, most diets offer little hope of long-term relief, and consumers are barraged by intentionally false claims about weight loss, it is no surprise that many Americans have given up on conventional dieting solutions and are turning to other sources for relief.

One alternative to conventional dieting (8) is the "fat acceptance" movement, which has been in existence since 1969. This grass-roots movement seeks to change societal attitudes about those who are overweight. A movement manifesto states: "Our culture's idealization of slenderness results in personal and cultural biases against fat people, and causes discrimination against those who are larger than average." (9) Rather than responding to this discrimination by trying to become thinner, movement members seek to positively and concretely change society's perception of those who are heavier than the social ideal.

One critic has written, "The more we valorize thinness, the fatter we actually become." (10) This observation appears to be supported by the fact that Americans are getting larger and larger, even while models, celebrities, and other representatives of ideal beauty get thinner and thinner. In that context, the fat acceptance movement's contention that "concentrating on personal fitness rather than thinness may be the healthiest way to deal with the propensity to be fat" seems all the more reasonable. (11) Yet while this method of harm reduction may seem to be a better way to help the chronically obese, the fact is that many people in the fat acceptance movement have died of obesity-related illnesses. Others have abandoned fat acceptance, deciding that "personal fitness" might not be enough to overcome the lower life expectancy that statistically afflicts those who are obese. (12)

A very different alternative to conventional dieting is offered by Overeaters Anonymous (OA). OA takes a dramatically different approach, using the same 12-step principles that Alcoholics Anonymous has been successfully using to treat alcoholism since 1939. (13) Alcoholics Anonymous is an anonymous, abstinence-based program that is founded on the tenets of the disease model-the belief that alcoholism is not merely a bad habit, but an incurable and potentially fatal physical illness that can be controlled only through total abstinence from alcohol. The group's literature states that no matter how long an alcoholic is abstinent, he or she will always be an alcoholic, and can at best hope only for remission. (14)

In the last 65 years, dozens of 12-step groups have been founded based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous, including Debtors Anonymous, Emotions Anonymous, Clutterers Anonymous, Workaholics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Incest Survivors Anonymous, Parents Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Shoplifters Anonymous, Child Abusers Anonymous, and Nicotine Anonymous as well as Overeaters Anonymous. Though these programs vary widely in focus, they all use the disease model. They all advocate admitting that one is powerless over the problem at hand, be it nicotine, shoplifting, or household clutter, and believe that only through admitting this powerlessness and asking for the help of God or some version of a "higher power" can one get better.

The first Overeaters Anonymous was formed on January 19, 1960, in Los Angeles, California. Only three women attended the first meeting, but the group has since grown to nearly 9,000 meetings in 51 countries. (15) The group was the brainchild of Rozanne S. (16) In January of 1959 she took a friend who was struggling with a gambling problem to a meeting of Gamblers Anonymous in Los Angeles. As she listened to the gamblers' personal stories, she found that she could identify with their struggle. Only it was not gambling that she had a problem with: it was food. And just as the members of that group termed their gambling "compulsive," Rozanne S. later termed her eating patterns and those that Overeaters Anonymous would deal with "compulsive eating."

Rozanne S. left the meeting hoping that she could find a similar group for those who had problems overeating, but she could not find one. With the support of the founder of Gamblers Anonymous, Jim W., Rozanne S. started the first meeting of Overeaters Anonymous with one of her neighbors, Jo S., and Bernice K., the overweight wife of a G.A. member. Bernice dropped out of the group early on, stating, "My doctor says that dieting makes me nervous." (17) The other two original members, however, were losing weight rapidly--134 pounds between the pair in less than nine months.

Like many splinter groups from Alcoholics Anonymous, OA struggled with how much of the original text from the Alcoholics Anonymous "Big Book" (18) to retain for their purposes. They were especially torn over what portion of the 12 Steps to edit, or whether to keep them in their entirety. (Appendix A) Rozanne S. initially rewrote the steps, omitting any reference to God. In a program that was based on spirituality, this was a daunting task. Step three was changed from "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him," to advising consultation "with a physician of our own choosing." Rozanne S. admits that at this point no one in the group had actually been to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. Her sole participation in a sanctioned 12-step program (19) was her three-time attendance at Gamblers Anonymous, and she admits that her understanding of how A.A. functioned was tenuous at best.

O.A. experienced phenomenal success in the first year. In November of 1960, Paul Coates interviewed Rozanne S. and some of the other original members on his syndicated television talk show. This was an amazing accomplishment for a group so new and must have bolstered the confidence of the fledgling group. Coates' show, after all, was where Rozanne S. had originally heard of Gamblers Anonymous, her original inspiration for starting Overeaters Anonymous. The show, which ran in six cities, brought the group, which at that point consisted of a handful of members, more than 500 letters. O.A. grew by leaps and bounds after its first key piece of publicity.

In 1962, Overeaters Anonymous made its first major decision as a group. Rozanne S., who was a dietician's daughter, had previously subscribed to the belief that calories were the most important factor for weight loss and weight maintenance. She later wrote that during this time, she believed "It didn't matter how much I ate or how often, as long as my total food count remained within the limits I had set for myself." (20)

After attending an A.A. meeting that discussed the idea of abstinence, Rozanne decided that snacking between meals only reinforced her tendency to compulsively overeat. At the next meeting of Overeaters Anonymous, Rozanne introduced the idea of O.A.-sanctioned abstinence-three moderate meals with no snacking in between and only no-calorie beverages, such as black coffee and water. The new rules did make allowances for those whose doctors advised them to eat more frequently. This introduction of the first Overeaters Anonymous food plan sparked controversy that continues to roil the ranks of O.A. membership today.

In 1963, the first so-called "Gold Sheet" was distributed among O.A. members. It was a food plan that recommended a diet for its members that included no refined carbohydrates; it was named after the color of paper on which it was printed.

Initially it was distributed informally and was not officially recognized by Overeaters Anonymous. The next year the same plan with slight variations was distributed on green paper and was thus referred to as the "Green Sheet."

In May of 1966, the group as a whole, at their national conference, approved a pamphlet entitled, To the Newcomer. The pamphlet stated in part,

Abstinence in Overeaters Anonymous means abstinence from compulsive overeating. An eating plan is the method by which we abstain. The following is our suggested method of abstinence from compulsive overeating:
(1) Three moderate meals a day with nothing in-between; and
(2) Avoidance of all individual binge foods.

This was Overeaters Anonymous first officially sanctioned food plan, although many members lobbied the legislative body of O.A. to approve more stringent diet plans, like the ones found on the Gold and Green Sheets.

In the late 1960s, the Gold and Green Sheets were superseded by a new plan on the cheapest color to print on at the time, grey. The Grey Sheet became one of the most popular and controversial of all food plans distributed in Overeaters Anonymous. The plan called for complete abstinence from man-made sugars and starches and from any foods with more than a 10-percent carbohydrate content.

In April of 1972, the founder of Overeaters Anonymous, Rozanne S., had gained back so much of the weight that she had lost in the program that she was fired from her position of O.A. National Secretary for not being a "physical example of recovery." The next month, O.A.'s National Conference approved three "disciplined" plans of eating-far stricter food plans than the previous three-meals-per-day plan. The first plan was the beloved "Grey Sheet," the no-refined-sugars, low-carbohydrates plan. It was once again printed on grey paper.

Although each of the low-carbohydrate plans had slight variations, they were all variants of the original Gold Sheet published in 1963. The 1972 National Conference also approved a low-carbohydrates maintenance plan, as well as a second plan based on the four food groups helped developed by Marilyn Moore, a licensed nutritionist in East Los Angeles, California.

In 1977, Overeaters Anonymous dismissed all of the plans that had been distributed years earlier and released in their stead a blue sheet called "Suggested Abstinence Guide for Losing Weight." The Blue Sheet, as it came to be called, officially replaced the Grey Sheet, but many in the group were not happy with this change. With each successive change in food plan, Overeaters Anonymous lost members to splinter groups.

Even today, almost 30 years after the Grey Sheet was replaced, a number of groups still exist that are now non-affiliated with O.A. and base themselves on the Grey Sheet. One is called "Food Addicts Anonymous" and requires that its members abstain from eating sugar, flour and wheat. (21) Another group, called GreySheeters Anonymous, has meetings in locals as far-reaching as London and Tel Aviv and religiously follows the O.A. Grey Sheet from 1972. (22)

By 1978, O.A. was starting to realize that the constant changes in food plans and lack of flexibility were costing it members. In 1979 the group released a book called The Dignity of Choice that was intended to bring the splinter groups back to the fold by including eight different food plans. The book did not succeed in its mission, however, and was discontinued.

In 1986, not only did Overeaters Anonymous stop printing the book; the leadership requested that all groups return their unsold copies to the group's headquarters. Around this time, O.A.'s attorney also began sending cease and desist notices to groups that were distributing non-approved food plans using quotations from O.A. literature or printing the text of the 12 steps. These notices were sent primarily in reference to the "Grey Sheet."

At the same time that Overeaters Anonymous stopped using The Dignity of Choice, it decided as a body that to endorse any specific food plan would go against the aims of the group and that O.A. should instead focus on the 12 steps of recovery. This was seen as a great step towards ending the controversies that had so bitterly divided the O.A. membership.

 In 1997 O.A. clarified its point when it released this statement:

The OA 1997 World Service Business Conference, after careful consideration, believes that although many individual OA members choose to follow a plan of eating for their personal plan of recovery, offering food plans at OA meetings is a violation of Tradition 10. While each OA member is free to choose a personal plan of eating to achieve abstinence, OA as a whole cannot print, endorse or distribute food plan information to members. 

Nutrition is a most controversial outside issue; the hiring of professionals to produce food plans for use at meetings also violates the Eighth Tradition, as we need always remain non-professional. Groups endorsing any food plans by distributing them at their meetings affect OA as a whole. We ask all groups, Intergroups and Regions of OA to adhere to the above policy statement and discontinue use of food plan information at meetings. We ought best concern ourselves with our suggested program of recovery - the Twelve Steps.

For more than 15 years Overeaters Anonymous has not endorsed any specific food plan or diet, instead urging its members to create their own with the advice of their doctor. But the group never seemed the find the unity that it was searching for. Rozanne S., who had originally believed that O.A. should never officially support any specific food plan or diet to encourage weight loss, has reversed her opinion and recently called for a re-publication of The Dignity of Choice. She has stated that "apathy abounds" in O.A. and that membership is "faltering." She made her appeal for the renewal of the food plans in the hopes that this change in direction would allow Overeaters Anonymous to "survive and flourish." (23)

Overeaters Anonymous, like many groups based on the 12 steps, is similar to but not exactly like Alcoholics Anonymous, which by all accounts has been the most successful--in terms of membership numbers--of all the 12-step programs. Although Overeaters Anonymous did eventually adopt the exact wording of the A.A. 12 steps (substituting the word "food" for "alcohol"), there are some differences between the programs that are perhaps reflected in O.A.'s declining membership.

Although Alcoholics Anonymous requests abstinence of its members, it does not give a specific plan or diagram one must comply with to achieve that abstinence. In essence, nothing has changed in A.A. since it began in 1939, and its members unanimously approve of this. Overeaters Anonymous, on the other hand, seems to have had a difficult time in finding a party line to stick to. Even when the group had no sanctioned food plan, members were strongly divided on what "abstinence" means in their program.

Complete information on the history of Overeaters Anonymous is surprisingly hard to find. Because the group is based on volunteerism and anonymity, there are very few official historical records about the group. Much of what has been released officially has been later discontinued. Moreover, in what appears to be an effort to maintain their copyright and protect their interests, the group threatens anyone who uses quotations from their literature or reprints the 12 steps with legal action. As a consequence, a cloud of secrecy hangs over the group and the history of Overeaters Anonymous remains largely unknown, even to its own members.

In its 43-year history, Overeaters Anonymous has adopted numerous food plans for its members. The group has discontinued, replaced, and abolished food plans altogether on a fairly regular basis. With each change the group makes to its food plans--ostensibly to bring unity to the group--it loses many members to splinter groups that either find the old ideas more acceptable, or the new ones distasteful.

Overeaters Anonymous is currently in the process of reissuing The Dignity of Choice with six new food plans, a step that has already provoked considerable in-fighting within the group's ranks. Perhaps because the group members are unfamiliar with their own history, they are doomed to repeat it.

Original Text of the "Grey Sheet" Food Plan



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