Can you imagine being so hooked on a food — pizza, cheeseburgers or sweets — that you literally get to a point where you cannot eat anything else? Each week on TLC's Freaky Eaters, Dr. Mike Dow digs deep to try to help these extreme overeaters with overcoming their problems. "There’s always that emotional seed," he tells Rachael. "You know, that 'I’m not good enough,' or some sort of secret. But sugar and fat sort of stimulate the same part of the brain as crack cocaine sometimes. So if you don’t work on those issues, one piece of pizza becomes eight ... becomes 12 ... becomes your every single meal."
For almost 30 years, Victor has eaten nothing but cheeseburgers for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He says he finally decided to make some changes when he had children, and when his wife went to culinary school. "She's trying hard to become a chef and I couldn't be there to support her," he admits. His wife Adrianna recalls, "I started making different meals for him and he would come home and just push the food around on his plate. You cook with love, you cook from your heart and that’s what I would do for my family, and to see him just not even try it ..."
Dr. Dow explains that Victor had not only a food addiction but also a food phobia — he did not like anything touching his burger. "So, for Victor, [we used] graded exposure," says the doc. "We started with a burger plus lettuce. Then a burger plus lettuce and tomato, then a burger plus lettuce, tomato and mushrooms, which surprisingly he actually liked." Victor was thrilled with the results. "It was huge for me, it was crazy!" he says. "I’ve been trying to change for 25 years ... [but] adding something so simple as lettuce to my burger, to the thing I love, [worked]!"
Adrianna loves the new Victor. "Since we did the show, he’s had maybe two or three burgers," she smiles. "He’s trying everything new. He still has his good qualities that made me fall in love with him, but he’s got all these new ones and I’m just so proud of the change that he’s made. He keeps going, he’s pushing himself and he’s so motivated and it has made me fall in love with him all over again."
Christine became so addicted to sugar that her morning routine involved downing a handful of jelly beans — before she even got out of bed! She would continue to eat sweets throughout the day, consuming up to 6,500 daily. Christine reveals that her addiction started 22 years ago after her ex-husband gained custody of her children. The stress, along with wanting to be the fun parent and having candy around whenever her children visited, contributed to her addiction.
Dr. Dow explains how he worked with Christine. "We kind of saw where [her addiction] started from and some of that guilt," he says. "I mean, how many of us have been through a break up and self-medicated a little bit too much with something: a cheeseburger, a piece of candy, ice cream, chocolate. And once we saw where it came from, we focused not only on where Christine was in her life, but more importantly, on what she wanted in her life and what would make it worth it for her to take those steps."
Christine says that she's taking those baby steps, and except for a few slips here and there, she tries to stay away from sweets altogether. "I am living life," she beams. "I am making moments for myself and taking time for my children. I’m staying connected with them. I’ve tried dance lessons — everyone [in class] is going one way and I’m going the next way, but I don’t care — I’m doing it!"
For anybody who believes that food may becoming a problem for them, Dr. Dow shares his advice. "The first step is coming clean," he says. "You know you are as thick as your secret. If you tell somebody — your spouse, a professional or a 10-12 step meeting like Overeaters Anonymous or Compulsive Eaters Anonymous — that’s a really great place to start."
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