Recently, I watched an episode of the new show “Addicted to Food,” which premiered on the Oprah Winfrey Network. The mini-series showcases an acclaimed addiction treatment center called Shades of Hope. The centers Founder and CEO, Tennie McCarty, designed a 42-day inpatient program for food addiction that combines the12-Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous with some rather unorthodox recovery methods. Hence, my play on words, conventional yet unorthodox! Generally speaking, ninety-five percent of all addiction recovery programs employ the 12-Step Program and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as primary modalities. Thus we arrive at the conventional aspect. I will cover the unorthodox by outlining several cases taken directly from the show itself. As for insanity, Albert Einstein defined it as “doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result.” And, since traditional treatment models fail in excess of ninety percent of the time, I rest my conventional case. Therefore, let’s move on to unorthodox insanity, shall we?

During the April 12, 2011 episode of “Addicted to Food,” eight participants were highlighted; however, in an effort to summarize my point, I would like to focus on the following two:

Robby, a fifty year old musician, who suffers from compulsive overeating and diabetes, has begun to experience neuropathy in his lower extremities. In the beginning of the show, Robby expressed concern over the possibility of neuropathy spreading to his hands, which would hinder his ability to play the guitar.

As an Addiction Freedom Coach, I have encountered many cases that mirror Robby’s situation. So, his habitual behavior was not at all shocking. On the other hand, the method Ms. McCarty employed to correct that behavior was! I don’t know Robby personally, but, in my opinion, he clearly suffers from self-esteem, personal power and identity issues. And, obviously, he uses food as a means of coping with emotional distress. Additionally, he suffers from diabetes, which is generally an emotional and energetic issue that is directly related to responsibility. This is usually a product of either being overwhelmed with too much responsibility or being prevented from taking responsibility. Regardless whether it’s the former or later, the end results are usually emotional overload and ultimately a reduction in insulin production. In addition to using food as a coping tool, a secondary subconscious component generally exists that causes a person to program their body to store body fat or additional weight. I call these subconscious components “Food Addiction Factors.” In this case, it is entirely possible that Robby is using obesity as a means of avoiding responsibility, although without being privy to all the facts it is difficult to be certain. Nevertheless, there are always two components that exist with food addiction.

1. Using food as a tool or solution for managing emotional distress, suppressing feelings, calming anxiety or counteracting depression.

2. Using food subconsciously to drive obesity in an attempt to withdraw socially, find security, increase confidence, avoid responsibility or seek revenge.

OK! Now, let’s get to the unorthodox! The staff at Shades of Hope decided to formulate an approach that seized upon Robby’s fear of developing neuropathy in his hands and ultimately ending his career as a musician. Therefore, they took away his guitar, forced him to wear gloves and hung a sign around his neck that stated “I can only share my feelings.” Are you kidding me? I was appalled by these draconian methods and completely taken aback by the staff’s lack of knowledge concerning human behavior and self-esteem. Seriously, do you honestly believe that Robby is going to strengthen his self-esteem by walking around wearing gloves and a sign? Come on!

Amy, a thirty-five year old compulsive overeater, was sexually abused by her step-father and verbally abused by her mother. As a result, Amy uses food to manage her emotional distress and guilt. Based on her testimony, Amy blames herself for allowing the sexual abuse to continue. In my opinion, the secondary component or “Food Addiction Factor” in this case is likely to be security. Frequently, addicted folks who suffer from sexual abuse use obesity to pad themselves with a wall of protection. Once again, I am not privy to all the facts, but I don’t think social withdrawal is an issue because, surprisingly; Amy seems very outgoing and expressive. This is quite uncommon in sexual abuse cases and addictive behavior as well. Personally, I viewed Amy’s open expression as a positive attribute. Unfortunately, Ms. McCarty did not. Based on her analysis, the staff concocted a plan that mistakenly viewed Amy’s open expression as a problem and nothing more than a diversion from focusing on the underlying emotional issues. Consequently, they condemned her to a period of silence by forbidding her to speak. If Amy has used open expression as a diversion, the solution is not to stifle it, but rather to redirect it. For Pete’s sake! Are you serious? Oh, Amy needs to speak! She needs to speak loud and clear by calmly and confidently telling her mother what she thinks about her dismissal of Step-Dad’s sexual abuse. She needs to speak loud and clear about the sexual abuse, period! And, if the perpetrator hasn’t departed from this plane of existence, he should be incarcerated!

In my opinion, Ms. McCarty’s methods are not only unorthodox, but they are counterproductive, draconian, barbaric and, yes, insane! Realistically, you can’t force anyone to do anything. To say, “We’re going to take their disease and put it right up in their face,” is misguided and completely ludicrous! First, addiction is not a disease! Second, conventional recovery makes that mistake all the time with intervention. Even if you coerce, force or manipulate someone into submission, in all likelihood, they will relapse or transfer their behavior to another compulsion. At the end of the day, people must make the decision to recover solely of their own free will. Of course, there are methods that can be employed to encourage that choice; however, that’s a topic of discussion for another day. Bottom line, when recovery is the choice, liberation and empowerment are the correct remedies, not shame, guilt, manipulation or brutality!


David Roppo
The Addiction Freedom Coach

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