14 October 2011

Spreading the love

Food addiction is a very serious problem but, unlike alcoholism, drug addiction or gambling, people have very little understanding and sympathy for it.


In her weekly topic, DietDoc discusses a shocking BBC documentary titled "The Half Ton Man" - the story of a US man who weighed 476kg and needed to be moved to hospital for urgent treatment to induce weight loss to save his life. Patrick Deuel had gained so much weight, that he was literally drowning in his own body fluids. According to the doctor, the 91kg of accumulated liquid in Patrick's body was preventing his heart from beating and made it impossible for him to lie on his back.

Why is it that some people overeat to the point where they run the risk of dying? DietDoc looks at the fat-gene theory, comfort food, psychology, and brain scans of food addicts. It seems that people who are addicted to food, eat to boost their dopamine levels so as to experience pleasurable sensations, in similar fashion to cocaine addicts who use cocaine or other drugs to heighten their sensations of pleasure. 

Patrick's tale is shocking. But what I found far more disturbing were the insensitive comments some of our readers wrote below the story: "I think they should rather have put this guy down. What a waste of space"; "Why save him? He did this to himself!"; "I don't feel pity, just disgust - it's a shame"; and "he deserves to die, bucket of lard" are just a few examples.

Where's the love, where's the caring? People seem to forget that Patrick is still a human being, in desperate need of help. Yes it's terrible that a person could do this to himself, and it seems even worse that his wife "did nothing" to help him. But, what if he were a relative of yours? What would you have done? No one stops to ask about what had happened in his life for him to have reached this dire state. And no one asks how his wife coped under the circumstances - for the partners of many addicts, the "best" coping mechanism is often the path of least resistance. 

Food addiction is a very serious problem but, unlike alcoholism, drug addiction or gambling, people have very little understanding and sympathy for it. Food addiction doesn't just happen. It is a complex problem that develops over time which - at the best of times - can only be overcome with drastic medical intervention and years of psychological treatment.

We may not understand addiction, but we can try to respect the person who succumbs to it. If you, or someone close to you suffers from food addiction or any other eating disorder, contact our Eating disorders and obesity expert for free online advice.

- (Birgit Ottermann, Health24, Nutrition Newsletter, May 2011)


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