Can the 12-step model offer hope to the millions of people who are overweight?

My Story


The Beginning

In my early teens I went on my first diet which triggered 16 years of yo-yo dieting and resulted in a lifelong battle to lose weight.

Over 25 years ago in my early thirties I was still struggling to lose weight but by then I couldn’t even do one day of a diet.  By the time I had finished breakfast I was looking for something else to eat – even though I had all good intentions to stick to the diet this time.  My thought process was simple I was not going to overeat as I so desperately wanted to lose weight.  But as the meal was coming to an end I felt dissatisfied and restless and was looking for something sweet to fill the hole, to achieve instant gratification, to escape my anxious state, to cope with boredom, to block out painful memories, to alter how I felt, to procrastinate, to avoid dealing with chores… simply remove myself and create a numb state that felt strangely comfortable and familiar. This I, of course, did not recognise at the time it was just an automatic behaviour that had grown and got worse over time.  What I did recognise, however, is how it left me feeling – full of guilt and shame, unhappy, angry, let down … I hated myself and beat myself up for being a failure once again.

On the outside, all looked normal and I hid behind my respectable lifestyle.  I wore a mask and got on with being a mum, wife, friend, volunteer but I had two personas.  Once again, I could not recognise any of this at the time.  All I recognised was that I was unable to maintain weight loss and even worse I always put on more weight after each diet, until as I described above I couldn’t even stick one day to a diet.  Not only did I not stick to a diet but I binged and could not stop until I was in physical pain.  I used diet pills, abused laxatives and exercised excessively to try and stop myself from putting on too much weight.  That was my life, a cycle of yo-yo dieting, excessive exercise, slimming pills and binge eating.

The Rock Bottom

I had two beautiful babies, a golden retriever, a husband who loved me and provided security, kind parents, good friends, lovely home, wonderful holidays………. But inside I was not happy or content.  I disliked myself especially my body and I strived to be like the “beautiful people” (whoever they are!?) I compared myself to everybody’s outsides and lifestyles.  I felt empty, lonely and disconnected BUT no one knew because I was a brilliant actor and turned up for life on time and appeared organised and efficient. Inside I was disorganised, chaotic and panicky.  Like the ducks gliding elegantly across the pond with their feet madly paddling in order to move smoothly on the surface.

How could I feel lonely with friends and family surrounding me?  I felt lonely because I felt disconnected.  I had no great childhood trauma.  I had a father who worked extremely hard (if there were 8 days in a week he would be out there working) and I had a beautiful mother who cared and loved me but also suffered from yo-yo dieting and obsession with food restriction (which I can now see).  So perhaps no great attachment with them so I turned to food and all the extreme behaviours I described to try and feel connected with something.

No one knew for over 16 years this is how I lived.  Day in day out a cycle that I couldn’t break out of but somehow gave me something until it didn’t anymore

One Christmas we were yet on another wonderful holiday in Jamaica on a stunning beach in a 5 star hotel (with all the “beautiful people”) and I felt like an outsider, I didn’t want to be there and I struggled to be sociable, BUT I put on the mask and turned up for life.

However, I spoke to myself very harshly: ‘pull yourself together’ ‘what have you got to be so unhappy about?’ ‘look at where you are, how lucky are you?’ ‘what is your problem?’ ‘why are you so ungrateful?’  This language made me feel even worse and such a failure and just catapulted me into my addictive behaviours even more. I hated myself, I didn’t know what to do and today I recognise that as my Rock Bottom.


I came home to a dark and rainy January in England and was beside myself to lose weight and find the miracle cure.  I opened the (then!) Yellow Pages Directory (no Google!) and looked for yet another slimming club/diet cure etc and was looking at the Community Pages at the front of the directory and came across The Samaritans, Alcoholics Anonymous and something called Overeaters Anonymous.  I had no understanding of addiction/eating disorders etc but something drew me to call the contact number for Overeaters Anonymous.  The lady on the end of the line didn’t tell me anything about the meeting or what the 12 step programme was about, she simply told me her story and her struggles and I thought she had been following me all my life.  There were too many similarities and I was stunned by her honesty and the fact that I had met someone who I felt CONNECTED to.

The 12 Step Meeting of Overeaters Anonymous

I went to my first meeting over 25 years ago and I found peace and a common bond with people who understood me and I could totally and utterly relate and identify with.  They supported me and were kind to me and in turn I believe I gave back to them by accepting them into my life and allowing them to help me with the programme.  A wonderful saying in life is “what we give out we will get back” what these people gave out were non-judgemental acceptance and I did not feel alone anymore.  I learnt a new way of leading my life.  I learnt tools to deal with my cravings.  I learnt so much about me that I was then able to make changes to enhance my life.  I ate 3 meals a day with life in between and I have never looked back.

Today my life is totally different.  I am no longer obsessed with dieting and no longer binge.  I have freedom from obsessive thoughts around overeating and I respect myself and my body.  My weight is almost stable!

The End (aka The Continuing Journey)

I know that I am inclined to use food as a comforter and crutch and that is something that will always be my default setting but knowing this has set me free.  I know that I must take care of myself for the rest of my life the same as an alcoholic who needs to take care of themselves.  So, I am in recovery and am happy to give back with the work I do and help others with the same condition.  A condition I believe I was probably born with – a biopsychosociospiritual disease which has to be arrested, One Day At A Time, together connected with others in the same situation.

… be continued……..














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Binge Eating, Anorexia, Bulimia – they are all about CONTROL

I work in a group setting with Overeaters, Anorexics, Bulimics and everything else in between. I work with people who have an unhealthy relationship with food but more importantly an unhealthy relationship with themselves. I work with this group together because they all have one thing in common – the need to feel in control. If they feel in control then they feel safe and can cope with all that life throws at them.
More importantly they can avoid the feelings that they experience going through life.
This is why we often hear the saying “functioning addict” because they function at a level where they do not have to experience uncomfortable feelings and deal with them. They can escape from them using whatever ‘drug’ works for them. “….Comfortably numb….” to quote a Pink Floyd song!
BINGE EATING – clients talk about being out of control when they are bingeing but I challenge them to look at what it is they are controlling. When in a binge-state, clients talk about being unaware of what is going on around them, they talk about food being like an anesthetic, they talk about using food as an escape from reality. These descriptions illustrate how this client group are using bingeing to CONTROL their feelings.
ANOREXIA – As we all know, this behaviour is the ultimate in control. But once again clients describe being in their own world and not having to experience reality when they are acting out in their anorexia. The preoccupation is huge and takes up all their thoughts. They do not have to deal with the feelings that are produced when they experience stress/anxiety or even excitement. They can CONTROL their feelings in their illness.
BULIMIA – The ultimate release from strong feelings – this is what many of my clients say. The act of vomiting gets rid of strong feelings and makes the person feels calm. This is how many of my clients have described their experience of bulimia. There is also huge preoccupation and planning which takes the person away from reality.
Drug addiction, compulsive gambling, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, sex addiction, alcoholism – they are all linked with the need to control feelings…………..that is why the solution to all these can be the same.
To learn to accept reality, To learn to deal with feelings and not hide from them. To learn to cope with life without using any escape mechanism.
To learn to change thought processes and behaviours in order to achieve all the above.
This can all be found in a 12-step programme.

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Exposed:The sick truth behind the great ‘wellness’ blog craze – Daily Mail, 16/08/2015

“Celia Learmonth is one of a handful of bloggers with thousands of fans……At 21 she is enviably lithe but admits to seeking help at an eating clinic” Daily Mail, 16/08/2015
I could relate and identify very much with this story. Unfortunately it reminded me of my actions and behaviours when I hid behind an eating disorder as a fully qualified fitness instructor. That was a long time ago.
Today I am 56 and have been in recovery for the past 25 years.
When I was in my late teens/early twenties I looked “perfect” on the outside, giving out healthy advice and running exercise classes but there was another side to me…. the addiction to exercise, slimming pills, bingeing and obsessive weighing, yo-yo dieting, severe restricting and use of laxatives to purge my food. I was preoccupied with food and weight issues 24/7 – but I looked good on the outside.
So I could really relate to this article and then it got me thinking…. What about the amount of alcoholism, nicotine addiction and obesity in the NHS? What about professionals in positions of power who are meeting prostitutes in the dead of night? What about the bankers who are commiting fraud? ………..WHO IS ACTUALLY PRACTICING WHAT THEY PREACH?
Answer : Recovering addicts who are fully qualified professional counsellors ……….. that’s who!!!

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Who came up with this brilliant idea?……. The NHS is now supplying the funding to offer zumba classes and cookery classes to help the obese. I am so speechless I actually do not know where to begin. At the risk of repeating myself – obesity is complex. If it was just about cooking healthily and dancing then we wouldn’t have any obesity in the country at all! Because it really is that simple isn’t it? There are hundreds and hundreds of cookery programmes on tv, free healthy recipes on line and in newspapers. We can dance around our kitchen while we are cooking and be slim. So it’s easy isn’t it? …..
Apologies for my sarcasm……..but when is the NHS gong to provide funding for GP’s to look at obesity as a more complex problem. An obese person overeats it is as simple as that, but what is complicated is why they overeat to such an extent that they become severely overweight. That is the complex issue that needs to be addressed, not dance classes and cookery lessons. Obesity can be as a result of binge eating/emotional eating/food addiction. It involves using food as a crutch, using food to change emotions, using food to alleviate boredom, using food to deal with stress, using food as a reward – and yes a lot of the population who are not overweight probably use food for all the above, however, we are dealing with a different group of people. We are dealing with obesity and the serious negative consequences that are a result of overeating. We are dealing with people who may have tried over and over again to lose weight and not succeeded. The negative consequences are many not just health but there are often social problems, relationship breakdowns, possible employment difficulties, lack of motivation possibly affecting the work place or education, low self-esteem, low self-worth .These are the issues that need to be looked at…… IT IS NOT JUST ABOUT WEIGHT …

When will the NHS start to recommend Overeaters Anonymous ( as a support group for those struggling with obesity? They recommend Alcoholics Anonymous – don’t they? When are they going to offer a complete package of treatment, which will include healthy eating and activity but also must absolutely include psychological treatment to help patients deal with the serious problem of obesity?
Rochelle Craig

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Are you working with obese clients? Are they on the cycle of dieting and putting on weight?
Have you considered finding out about 12-step approach to weight loss?
I feel that all our clients deserve choices and there aren’t many choices for obese patients. They tend to be offered healthy eating plans and exercise plans.
Nothing is offered psychologically or emotionally.
I am not saying that this is the treatment that is going to work for everyone, but as we all know, when dealing with any compulsive behaviour one size does definitely not fit all. It is a powerful feeling to have an urge to eat and then once starting being unable to stop. It is a powerful feeling to rely on food as a coping mechanism or to deal with uncomfortable feelings or indeed to deal with any feelings at all. These are the areas that need to be looked at when working with this specific client group.
Let’s give them choices, help them to explore themselves through the 12-step programme of Overeaters Anonymous UK.
Learn about it yourself! It will do you good!!
It did me………..please read previous blog with more details of training and look at my website http://www.piecebypiecerecovery,

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2014-CPD-Therapeutic Interventions for Working with Obesity

This CPD workshop provides a treatment programme for working with obesity looking at food addiction and binge eating disorder.

This training programme is fully endorsed by BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy)


To gain an understanding of a therapeutic treatment for obesity, incorporating the 12-step facilitation model and to understand how to integrate the model into your own practice.


  • What has research demonstrated?
  • Comparison between compulsive overeating/binge eating disorder and DSM-V substance dependence criteria
  • Cycle of Addiction
  • Characteristics of binge eating disorder (BED)
  • Addictive behaviours often associated and connected with BED
  • Group Therapy and 12-step Groups
  • Family/Personal history
  • The solution
  • Interactive Group Workshop
  • Abstinence – what is it?
  • Introduction and overview of the 12-Step Facilitation Model and its use during and after therapeutic treatment
  • Integration
  • Thought for the Day



Saturday 29th March – The Minster Centre, 20 Lonsdale Road, Queens Park, NW6 6RD

Saturday 26th April – The Living Room, Rear of 156 Hatfield Road, St. Albans, Hertfordshire. AL1 4JD

Please see my website for further details:

Rochelle Craig MSc



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Philip Seymour Hoffman – found dead at his home

Addiction does not discriminate and relapse is extremely dangerous.

I have worked with many, many people with addiction problems over the past 10 years.  Addiction does not discriminate; people have come to me from the streets, hostels, prisons and people have come to me from their beautiful homes with thriving businesses.  People have no jobs or are juggling many jobs.  People have lost their relationships or are struggling to keep a relationship going, leading a double life.  People are unknown or very well-known, people are manual workers or skilled labourers or office workers or mums on the school run or criminals or nurses or politicians or religious ministers or shop-keepers or actors or or or………………it doesn’t matter………….what matters is that someone has become totally dependant on a substance or behaviour that is progressive in its nature and will continue progressing even when the person is clean and sober.  YES THAT IS THE ABSOLUTE TRUTH – someone who has managed to remain clean and sober for many, many years risks a huge relapse, often far more than when they last took anything because addiction continues to grow it does not suddenly stop it is waiting for the individual to relapse.

Quote from Sky Yahoo Original News (2.2.14):  “Last year, he (Philip Seymour Hoffman) revealed he was forced to check himself into rehab after taking prescription pills and snorting heroin, having managed to stay clean for 23 years.”

Do not minimize the power of a relapse – after a period of clean time – it is highly dangerous and will often result in death.  The body is just not prepared for such huge doses of chemicals in such a short period of time.

The only way to stay on the path of recovery is to abstain  from mood altering chemicals or behaviours and find a way of leading a contented and fulfilling life without artificial highs or lows.

Any journey starts with a single step and that step can be Step 1 of the 12 step programme.

To all of you in recovery, please stay on the path and do not stray. For those of you struggling, please join us on the path and we will hold your hand until you are ready to walk the path yourself, however, we will always be there to support you but we are not powerful enough to be responsible for your recovery, that responsibility is your own. 

I hope Philip Seymour Hoffman’s soul is at peace at last.

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Patience is a bitter plant, but it has sweet fruit. German proverb.

Following on from my comments about working with obesity and the complexities we face as health professionals, I read the following passage in my morning meditation book For Today, OA Approved Literature:

Waiting is one of the worst things to ask of a compulsive overeater.  If I don’t see results immediately I get discouraged.  In the days when I fought one obsession with another, I dieted compulsively and jumped on the scale compulsively.  I could put up with any discomfort, any deprivation – for varying lengths of time – as long as I did not have to suffer a “plateau”, to diet and lose no weight was intolerable.  Clearly, when something is intolerable, it is abandoned – and so went every reducing scheme I ever tried.

Thank God I am not here to diet and lose weight.

For Today: I am in OA (Overeaters Anonymous) to turn my life around – and I’m willing to wait.

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Response to Dr. Max Pemberton article published in The Spectator. Obesity Is Not A Disease.

This article was also reprinted in the Daily Mail, Fri Oct 18th 2013 with the title:

If doctors like me are nice to fatties, they’ll just get FATTER


This article has highlighted two topics: 1) The need for the quick fix and 2) Kindness or toughness when dealing with obesity?

1) The need for the quick fix:

When Dr. Max Pemberton stated, “Britain is pulling on a pair of track suit bottoms and heading for the fridge” – the statement that came to my mind was, “Britain is going out on a Friday night and heading for a binge.”  It’s the quick fix generation, we are the product of the era we find ourselves in, we want it all and we want it now. “Look I don’t want to go on a diet, I want you to prescribe me these,” snapped the patient…. as quoted in Dr. Pemberton’s article.

2) Kindness or toughness when dealing with obesity?

If my teenager repeatedly came home drunk and created havoc due to drinking excessively, I would sit them down and give them a talking to (whether or not it would make any difference, of course, is debatable!).  However, if my teenager was getting fatter and fatter, how would I handle it?  Would I come in hard, talk about health issues and how untidy they looked, tell them in no uncertain terms that eating several bars of chocolate and chips on the way home from college before dinner is not healthy. Would I say they must do something about it or would I “pussyfoot” around, as Dr. Pemberton states his colleagues do, being careful not to hurt my teenager’s feelings and not make too big a deal of it for fear of making it worse?

I don’t know the whole answer but what I do know, is that as a compulsive overeater/yo-yo dieter myself (thankfully free of those behaviours for the past 20 years) – my husband could never seem to say the “right” thing. “You look a bit big in  those” – and I would, of course, react! “You look nice, I can see you have lost some weight” – and I would, of course think that he only notices me when I’ve lost weight.

So what is our approach, as health professionals, when dealing with this client group?  What techniques do we use?  Are we dealing with a disease or gluttony? Are we looking at psychological or emotional eating? Are we asking people to let go of a dependency or coping mechanism? Are we dealing with huge environmental triggers? Are we dealing with obsessive compulsive behaviours around food? Are we dealing with people who have given up responsibility and have lost all desire to change? Are we dealing with binge eaters?

I believe the answer is yes to all of the above in various combinations. Obesity is complex and sometimes it is straightforward. If it is straightforward then the individual will usually succeed in losing weight on a weight-reducing diet and increased activity. If it is more complex, with a history of failed weight reducing attempts, often resulting with more weight being gained, then a more multifaceted approach needs to be taken. The following areas need to be investigated: psychological, emotional, physical (to include food and activity planning), biological, social, spiritual and attitudinal. The essence of the person needs to be uncovered as well as the physical.  As stated by Dr. Pemberton, “…it is a mindset.” I take that to mean it is attitudinal, emotional, psychological etc.

People also need long-term support and this where mutual help groups come into their own i.e. Overeaters Anonymous, , where people are there to help each other through a common bond, identification and understanding.

As a health professional specialising in this field of work I must have patience and understanding.  I have to remind my clients that “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” (Confucius)

Am I kind or harsh in my approach?  I have to find a balance between two.  The majority of my clients feel a great deal of shame and self-hatred. However, this is extremely serious and not to be taken lightly. Let us, as health professionals, not shame our clients anymore but let us also help them face up to the truth.

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What is the antidote to fear?

So what is it that keeps popping up that feels so uncomfortable that we have to stuff it down with excess food? Fear can overwhelm us and create inertia.  We feel terrified of the most ordinary of things and somehow manage to cope with the big dramas of life. Compulsive behaviour and obsession can replace the fear and give us a false sense of security.  We find that in our compulsive behaviours we don’t have to focus on what our fears are. We can focus on bingeing, we can preoccuppy ourselves with food and body image and weight loss schemes and dieting and purging and restricting. But what exactly is scaring us?  I think we have a strong capacity to scare ourselves.  The “what if’s…” are extremely scary. Fearing the worse, is scary.  In order to grow we need to face these fears and have the courage not to overeat on them.

I was inspired to write this blog after reading the following passage from AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) approved literature: As Bill Sees it:

Antidote for Fear

When our failings generate fear, we then have soul-sickness. This sickness, in turn, generates still more character defects.

Unreasonable fear that our instincts will not be satisfied drives us to covet the possessions of others, to lust for sex and power, to become angry  when our instinctive demands are threatened, to be envious when the ambitions of others seem to be realized while ours are not. We eat, drink, and grab for more of everything than we need, fearing we shall never have enough. And, with genuine alarm at the prospect of work, we stay lazy. We loaf and procrastinate, or at best work grudgingly and under half steam.

These fears are the termites that ceaselessly devour the foundations of whatever sort of life we try to build.

As faith grows, so does inner security. The vast underlying fear of nothingness commences to subside. We of A.A. find that our basic antidote for fear is a spiritual awakening.

So we need to wake our spirit up!  This involves a total cognitive, attitudinal and behavioural change. We need to approach life differently and learn how to cope without using compulsive eating behaviours.  Feelings and emotions will surface but that is what waking up is all about.  No more intertia – find the courage to face life and all it has to offer, but don’t do it alone – reach out to the 12-step fellowships and join together with people who understand and can support you on your journey.




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