Sunday, July 28, 2013

Aaaand, the headline shouts...


All right, I shouted the headline with all caps too. Bad writer, bad, bad writer (slap). I've never been a fan of "reality" television shows since they have been gained a stronghold in American pop culture by exploiting what is inherent in every single one of us who is a member of the genus and subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens: character defects. None of us have been spared from having these, in fact, I say that it our journey in life to discover what they are and, over a lifetime, dispell them by any means necessary. It's hubris for some people to think that they are the fortunate ones who are inhumanly perfect, and have the indisputable right to judge, ridicule and cast aspersions on the hapless lots baring their personality warts before millions of people. Yes, it's so easy to do from the comfort of one's living room couch. I haven't been a fan since the first season of MTV's "The Real World" aired, which I watched with my then teenaged children. After two seasons, I started going back to my bedroom for my beloved reading time, which my children interrupted with "Real World" updates during commercials. But that was enough for me. Little did I know that the barometer of "reality" shows was about to dip far below what I consider the lowest point on the debauchery scale. And even worse, people would eagerly sign up to be humilitated in front of their peers on a weekly basis. I'm sure money has a lot to do with it. During an economic downturn, people become willing to do anything, a point that I feel was very aptly made in the Sydney Pollack disturbing 1969 movie, They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Altough it is not a reality show, it demonstrates how hopeless people can be easily manipulated into debasing themselves for the entertainment of others.

Now, I don't know if "Biggest Loser" star Tara Costa was hopeless when she joined the reality show cast.  Moreover, I don't know if the producers consider their show to be debasing. I wouldn't know; I've never watched it and I never will. However several media sources have been reporting that Ms. Costa apparently lost a lot of weight and, as that infamous web site TMZ  has declared, "...if re-gaining a bunch of weight wasn't bad enough, former "Biggest Loser" star Tara Costa is now being SUED for porking up again." Porking up, huh? Yeah, that's really clever "journalism", folks. (Don't get me started on the current state of my once beloved profession; that's a topic for a different blog.)  However, if Ms. Costa is a person like me, a food addict, then it was only a matter of time before the pounds would start coming back on. In fact, it won't matter how many Iron Man triathalons she runs, how many laps she swims or miles she cycles--it will never be enough to stop IF she has what I call "The Beast" pounding away at the sensible parts of her brain like I do. Furthermore, I don't know her and I can't rightfully refer to her as a food addict like me. Now, for the logical question: what is a food addict? I can waste a lot of time describing what it is, but Dr. William D. Silkworth, author of the article "The Doctor's Opinion" that is included in the book "Alcoholics Anonymous", does a much better job of describing the addiction process than I can:  

We believe, and so suggested a few years ago, that the action of alcohol on these chronic alcoholics is a manifestation of an allergy; that the phenomenon of craving is limited to this class and never occurs in the average temperate drinker. These allergic types can never safely use alcohol in any form at all; and once having formed the habit and found they cannot break it, once having lost their self-confidence, their reliance upon things human, their problems pile up on them and become astonishingly difficult to solve.
 Now, if you substitute the words "flour, sugar and excess portions of food"  for "alcohol", and "food addicts" for "alcoholics", the meaning and implication of the above quotation will make more sense. Hence: "...the action of flour, sugar and excess portions of food on these chronic food addicts is a manifestation of an allergy: that the phenomenon of craving is limited to this class and never occurs in the average temperate eater."

What does that mean? For the food addict, eating flour, sugar, and excess portions of food creates this disturbance in the brain in which the addict keeps eating, and eating, and eating, even when the actual physical hunger has long ceased, and the stomach is so packed with food that it becomes painfully distended. Now, normal eaters do this from time to time during special occasions such as holidays, birthday, wedding and retirement parties, travel cruises...many people do "I can't believe I ate the WHOLE THING" scenario at different times in life. Dr. Silkworth would call those people "temperate eaters". But chronic food addicts do this kind of eating on a daily basis, even when they are watching themselves go back for more, and a part of their conscious minds screams out, "NO! What are you doing? You're going to eat yourself to death; you can't possibly fit anymore food in your stomach!" Yet, to their own horror, he or she fills up another plate, or stands at the refrigerator or stove eating out of cartons, containers or pots and pans until passing out, much like an alcoholic does. This uncontrollable behavior is the result of what Dr. Silkworth describes as "the phenomenon of craving":
I do not hold with those who believe that alcoholism is entirely a problem of mental control. I have had many men who had, for example, worked a period of months on some problem or business deal which was to be settled on a certain date, favorably to them. They took a drink a day or so prior to the date, and then the phenomenon of craving at once became paramount to all other interests so that the important appointment was not met. These men were not drinking to escape; they were drinking to overcome a craving beyond their mental control.
There are many situations which arise out of the phenomenon of craving which cause men to make the supreme sacrifice rather than continue to fight. (From the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, "The Doctor's Opinion")
How many times has a person who is fat/obese or morbidly obese been told to "have some will power" or "self discipline"? Or, "I know the PERFECT diet for you; my cousin/best friend/coworker lost 85 pounds in three months!" And the overweight person tries these methods, and sometimes they work--for a short period of time. They lose 85 pounds, then to their dismay, gain 100 pounds back within six months or a year. What happened? Didn't they follow the dieting instructions and use all kinds of mental discipline to prevent that weight gain? Do they like being fat? All it takes is some will power; what kind of weak-willed "loser" goes through all that trouble to take off the weight, then gains it all back? What's going on here? Why can't they lose the weight and KEEP it off?

And, how many times has someone with a binge/purge disorder ate until they were in extreme pain, then "got rid" of the food through vomiting or laxatives or excess exercise (and in some cases, all three methods) because they KNEW they couldn't stop eating and dieting didn't work for them? They do this in spite of the fact that purging throws the body into extreme disarray, causing a multitude of potential health problems. Not to mention that purging really isn't an effective method of weight loss or maintenance.

IF Ms. Costa is a food addict or has a binge/purge eating disorder, I feel very badly for her. Unlike her, people with serious food issues can recover within the safety of a 12 step program's anonymity, and they don't have to go through the added stress and anxiety of people whose motives were to capitalize on her reality show popularity for their businesses. Sure, sure, she was a willing participant and received a considerable amount of money by signing that contract. However, IF she is addicted to food and had no awareness of that, there was no way she could have predicted her inevitable weight gain and, as many food addicts have experienced, the unraveling of everything she had worked so hard to create for herself in her life. Gaining weight is miserable enough, but to also watch helpless misery as your life spins out of control and all the commitments and promises you have made to yourself and others go unfulfilled? Nightmarish. On top of all that, the various news outlets have been reporting and broadcasting statements made by chief executive officer of FC Online Marketing Michael Parrella, which probably feels like someone pouring a salt and vinegar mixture into a gaping chest wound.  I'm sure Mr. Parrella doesn't understand anything about food addiction or eating disorders. Even if he did, he probably wouldn't care. Just like the manager who fires the alcoholic/coke addict after repeated warnings to "get it together", his concern is the solvency of his business. And that is as it should be.

I can't help but wonder that if Ms. Costa or Mr. Parella had received some information about the devastating physical, mental and emotional effects food addiction and eating disorders can have on a person's life,  that this situation could have turned out differently. Perhaps none of this would have been hashed out in the public; both parties could have met and discussed the issues involved, agreed that Ms. Costa would need some additional support, and resolved everything without the public airing of legal dirty laundry.  But that doesn't satisfy the public's hunger for titillating gossip and scandals, does it? I mean, who needs to shoot horses when the entire world can read about the details of your professional and personal life crashing down around you with impunity?

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