Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Addictions

The other day I watched a documentary on the TLC channel. It was called "I Eat 33,000 Calories a Day". Just seeing the title of the program piqued my interest, because not only am I currently dieting, but stuff like this is just amazing to me. Unfortunately, I missed the first 20 minutes, but I can tell you I was riveted to the screen for the rest of the program.

It was about 4 people--two women who are well on their way to becoming homebound, thanks to their weight; and two men who are so morbidly obese they cannot get out of bed. These are grown men who have to wear diapers because they literally cannot get up to go to the bathroom.

What amazes me is how they have let themselves get this way. I mean, it's one thing to be overweight, or even fat, but to allow yourself to reach that point where your mobility is compromised and you are facing serious health problems because you can't stop eating is just crazy to me. One of the men has to have an oxygen tank. Because he's so overweight, he has a hard time breathing.

Think about that. The guy's literally killing himself. He's eating his way into his grave. How truly sad.

It was somewhat of an emotional rollercoaster to watch. At first, I was disgusted. Some of these people eat NINE POUNDS of food every day. Their typical day would go like this:

Breakfast -- anything and everything, basically one of everything from an IHOP menu: eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, hashbrowns, toast, pancakes, french toast...etc. This is one meal.
Mid-Morning Snack --a box of cereal with milk, a whole bag of potato chips (one of the big bags) -- one guy ate 48 little bags of chips per day!
Lunch -- Take-Out Chinese. The whole thing. I think they ate something else, too. I think it was a box of Little Debbies or something.
Afternoon Snack -- Extra Value Meal from a fast food restaurant, the largest size available. One pound of M&Ms or some other kind of candy.Maybe a plate of chocolate chip cookies--the homemade kind.
Dinner -- A delivery pizza. The whole thing. Or, more fast food meals.

One lady had to eat the following just so she wouldn't get hungry in the middle of the night:

Two sticky buns
3 Twinkies
3 Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
A can of soda pop

This doesn't include her midnight snacks, either. Watching her eat that made this Sugar Queen want to barf. I mean, I thought no one could top my sweet tooth, but she's got me beat, hands down. Watching that made me want to eat a salad.

Did I mention that these people are consuming between 8-10 cans of soda pop per day? Yeah.

At the rate Miss Bedtime Snack was going, she was gaining Fifty-Two pounds per month.

This was way, way worse than watching Super Size Me. (Which I highly recommend if you haven't seen it already.) This was totally disgusting, especially when the producers would lay out on the table all the food they eat in one day. It filled the table completely. Everything on it was junk food. Not a fruit or veggie in sight.


Then, as I continued to watch, I was simply concerned that people live their lives that way. They can't enjoy anything because their whole lives revolve around food and eating. They had to eat something constantly. At the expense of doing other activities. No hobbies, not much to look forward to. Their family members were concerned or upset about it. They can't leave their house--imagine not being able to leave your house! I don't know how they paid for it all. They weren't working. So they are unemployed eaters, I guess.

My next emotion was sheer pity. They were all depressed and sad. They had lost so many wonderful things in their life. They didn't know what to do, because even if they stopped eating the food, they were immobile, so they can't exercise. They had no willpower whatsoever-- there are lots of people willing to deliver junk food! At one point, the bedridden guy who is wearing diapers at age 42 said something along the lines of, "People look at me with disgust. They say, 'How can you do this to yourself? It's disgusting.' And they look down on me and think I am a totally unworthy person who has no control over himself. They say to me 'Just stop eating. It's just that simple.' But would they be saying and thinking the same things if I were surrounded by empty whiskey bottles instead of food packages?"

And you know what? He's right. These people are addicts, bottom line. It's not because they like how it tastes, necessarily. It's not about lack of willpower when it comes to dieting. It's nieve to think "Duh. Just stop." -- That's not how it works. It is a flat-out addiction, just like a drug. Would you tell a methhead to "just stop"?

They described feeling "high" when they got to eat, they went to ridiculous lengths to get their favorite foods, they ate to escape their emotions, their quality of life was affected by the food, they ate in secret when no one was around to judge them, they always needed more food than the month before, they had lost friends over it, they were dealing with depression....all classic signs of an addiction.

Unlike heroin or meth, which are illegal; unlike alcohol and cigarettes which are just looked down upon; you need food to live. There is no such thing as cold turkey. It's not like they can just cut it out of their lives. They have to re-learn their entire relationship to food. The only downside to indulging in it is getting fat (and losing your health, eventually). It doesn't affect your behavior, your criminal record or ability to hold a steady job. You won't necessarily lose friends or put others at risk from eating a whole chocolate cake. It won't even affect your bank account all that much. Finding the motivation must be terribly difficult.

So these people are in a really sad, very serious situation. The Diaper Guy has finally realized he's killing himself and is trying to lose 150 pounds so the doctors will let him have gastric bypass surgery. In order to do so, he has hired someone to come to his house for 12 hours per day (he lives in the UK, so I am assuming it is free?) and supervise his eating and help him with daily life sort of things. Get this: the poor man has so little willpower that he has posted a sign in his kitchen which gives strict instructions to the caretakers: "I am not to have any of the following foods: [and then he lists all his favorite foods]. If you give me these foods, I will have no choice but to fire you. Because I am going to ask you to get me some fish and chips. I will beg, plead, try and place a delivery order, whatever. But I really want to lose this weight, and I need your help. If you won't help me, you will be let go."

In one scene, Bedtime Snack Lady was being interviewed in her living room about her weight and eating problems. In the background, you see someone place a plate of cookies on the dining room table. She told the interviewer that she could eat the entire plate in one sitting, but that was an activity she would normally do when she was alone, so she could sort of hide it. So people wouldn't know how much she eats (which I find funny, because, um, well, I think the cat's already out of the bag on that one! She weighs like 500 pounds!) And she was starting to grow anxious because she didn't know when everyone would leave so she could gobble them up. Being denied cookies brought stress into her life. Wow. She said her mom was the same way, and would often have hidden stashes of food all over the house.Wow.

But actually, doing stuff like that when you are alone -- indulging in secrecy -- is a classic sign of an addiction. As is hiding your stashes--addicts fear a cut-off from their supply or that someone will find out just how bad of a problem they have. If you've ever seen When a Man Loves a Woman you know what I'm talking about. (Actually, that is a really great movie for illustrating what it's like to be an alcoholic. They did a really good job at portraying alcoholism and its signs accurately. And trust me, I know what alcoholics are like!)

Anyway, I just thought I'd share my thoughts on all this, since I can relate to addictions and a general love of junk food. I did eat 2 pounds of jellybeans in one day, once. So I'm sure I have the ability to be like this, somewhere deep inside me. Scary, isn't it? This is sort of the other end of the "That Could Be Me" spectrum.

It's important to recognize danger signs of addiction. They aren't always obvious or detrimental to your life. No one can help you--you have to help yourself, which can be one of the hardest things to do. You have to admit you are out of control, which is really hard to do. I think many people can easily become addicted to a variety of things. I believe there is such a thing as an "addictive personality" and that it's more common than we think.

I hope the people in this documentary get help soon. Being trapped in addiction is a horrible place to be. Especially when it's something like food, which you can't go cold turkey with. Something you need which isn't illegal, expensive or difficult to obtain. Something which doesn't affect their personalities or behavior. Gosh, it must just be awful for them.

On a similar note, I think it is really cool that Miss USA 2006 Tara Conner has chosen to not only admit her problems, but has taken the long, hard road to sobriety. And now, she is speaking out about it. Admitting to a fault, learning from it, accepting it as part of who you are and changing your life is admirable. To me, that is a role model. I hope she will use her position to raise awareness, not just to promote herself. That would make her commendable if she became an AA spokesperson or something. (Of course, I'm giving her a HUGE benefit of the doubt. I doubt she would have changed her ways before being busted. I'm sure she's just going to do her little Playboy shoot and be done with it.) Let's hope she can stick to sobriety. Or at least influence some of the other contestants.

5 comments:

Justin said...

Have you read Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace? Addiction is one of the major themes. You wouldn't think about it the same after you get through that book.

Megan said...

i watched a show about the one ton man. i went through the same thoughts and emotions as you did. i just can't even imagine falling off the wagon that hard! really makes you think about addiction. have you ever seen the show on a&e called intervention? and i now i want to check out the book justin mentioned. maybe i am addicted to addictions?!

Anny said...

ok that lady's midnight snack list was kinda gross to me. i actually don't eat anything past 8 and try not to stay up late so that i'll get the munchies - and that's worked out pretty well for me!

Stuck said...

Well, if they have addictive personalities... maybe they should try heroin. I hear that really helps you shed those unwanted pounds. ;)

Yeah, I'm heartless. See profile pic. lol

Becky said...

i watched that 33000 calories a day special. i was very disturbed!