When I explain what is really going on with binge eating and food addiction patients often resemble the deer in the headlights look. It is like they are caught! As Oprah often says, “It is a light bulb moment!” Suddenly understanding their up and down weight loss and gain becomes clear. The yo yo dieting syndrome has an explanation…an answer. It’s not their fault!
Yo yo dieting is more the norm than not. The other day I was watching a recorded Oprah show (April 30, 2009) interviewing Kirstie Alley and a second person (a non-movie star) Michael Hebranko. Both were telling their heart-felt stories of losing and gaining weight. A story I know all too well. I felt their pain and urgency. Not only do I understand their yo yo diet syndrome, the patients I work with day in and day out share a similar story. What is the answer?
As I watched, Kirstie promised with such conviction she would lose her weight again and owned the “secret” way to drop weight quickly. I sadly shook my head thinking about how many times I promised to lose the weight and that I had the quick weight loss secret too. Kirstie swore she lost 20 pounds in a few short weeks and would reach her “goal” weight come November(which I need remind you she had promised for her bikini debut back in 2007). Oprah interjected, suggesting she might be setting herself up for failure. I (alone watching this taped video) was cheering Oprah for stepping in and recognizing Kirstie’s “diet” mentality perhaps being detrimental to her success. Sadly, at no time did Oprah or Kirstie acknowledge abstinence from their drug(s): sugar, flour, and wheat. It reminds me of the addict who promises they will never take another hit, snort, or shoot up again, but without admission to the addictive components, rather only looking from a “will power” frame of mind. I was hearing diet and addiction mentality.
Michael Hebranko was different than Kirstie in that he was not a movie star bearing the glitz and twinkle. He reminded me of one of the first patients I saw in my early days of practice. He was wearing close to 1,000 pounds of weight like Michael. I made weekly house calls (back in the 90’s when I was new in my profession) and conducted psychotherapy. He was a delight to work with. He understood sugar, flour, and wheat were drugs to him and agreed to abstain. He understood developing a spiritual connection to something greater than himself was the key. Like Michael, he dropped hundreds of pounds. When he was at a safe place weight-wise we agreed he would drive in for therapy. Instead, he began to binge. Again, like Michael, he put his weight back on. Unlike Michael my patient passed away. He was only 27 years old. Addictions are stronger and bigger than our will to stop using.
Michael, unlike Kirstie, was aware he needed to take one day at a time and practice recovery. He was no longer reaching for the “quick” fix. He was humble and focused. He seemed to have an understanding that certain foods were triggers for him, but I did not hear words of abstinence from these foods, particularly flour. He also recognized a higher power (he called God) as he kept referring to God in the interview and how thankful and grateful he was for this second opportunity to correct his weight. He released 300 pounds. Although he had several hundreds of pounds to go, he was focused on the here and now, working his program one meal at a time with progress not perfection. I think he will make it!
Although I personally never weighed more than one hundred pounds above my ideal weight, I can relate to both Kirstie Alley and Michael Hebranko. When I was in the food I promised I would stop. I too vowed to lose the weight and never binge again. I meant it! After I would drop some weight and start looking good I would fall into a binge. It was not until I realized I had to let go of the addictive foods in order to be free of the obsessions and cravings. It was not a question of will power but rather of letting go of an addiction to specific foods. As simple as it sounds it worked. My weight corrected and I am free of cravings. Many patients I work with also are free from cravings and have returned to their normal weight. I wish I could say they all followed my path, but truth be told, many are on the same ride as Kirstie Alley and Michael Hebranko, gaining weight they lost.
Statistics show about 5% of people keep off the weight they have lost for more than a year. And, those that have the weight off for more than 5 years have a better chance of staying thin. Thank you God I fall into this category! I believe Kirstie is setting herself up for failure vowing once again to wear a bikini in November and rushing to lose her weight. This is diet mentality. I did not hear the same diet talk from Michael. I heard a clear understanding it was a process that would take time. He seemed to understand eating balanced meals and taking one day at a time was the ticket to his recovery. Although I did not hear specific talk about spiritual recovery, Michael echoed some thoughts regarding God. Kirstie did not mention any spiritual understanding. Perhaps this could be part of her missing link. It is not about the food, nor is it about the weight. It is about having an addiction to food. It is about turning to a physical, emotional, and spiritual recovery.
So, as I finished watching Oprah’s interview with two very familiar stories it allowed me to reflect where I had been and where I am today. Their story is my story; however, I am on the flip side of it and live life free of weight, worry, and diet mentality. No more deer in the headlights. The answer is eating free of sugar, flour, and wheat and turning it over to a power greater than our own. This power can be whatever is fitting for each person. It could be God, energy, the sun, et cetera…
Photos taken by: Dr. Lisa Ortigara Crego