Oprah Winfrey’s Very Public Food Addiction Struggle

Elephant and Oprah

Obesity can be bad enough, but obesity in front of millions of people, whose eyes are glued to every ounce you gain, that’s a real recipe for distress. The struggle against food addiction is difficult for anyone. For a woman who is not only a celebrity but an icon, a virtual mentor, a role model, and so much more, there is an extra measure of bitterness in failure. In “How Did I Let This Happen Again?,” Oprah Winfrey says,

I could oversee a show and a magazine that tell people how to live their best lives, but I definitely wasn’t setting an example. I was talking the talk, but I wasn’t walking the walk. And that was very disappointing to me.

Oprah Winfrey’s story illustrates an amazing fact: wealthy and powerful people also struggle. It’s easy for the average Joe or Josephine to think, “What is Oprah’s problem, anyway? She can afford personal trainers, high-quality food, expensive spa retreats, anything money can buy. Boo hoo! Cue the violins!”

But just imagine being one of those wealthy and powerful people, and coming up against the realization that it doesn’t help. Imagine having to admit to yourself, “I can afford personal trainers, high-quality food, expensive spa retreats, anything money can buy — and I still can’t get myself together.” That must be painfully embarrassing.

There was a time when Oprah thought she had the problem beat. Down to a sleek 160 pounds, she glibly handed out advice on sustainable weight loss, until, one day, she has noticed that somehow the scale had crept back up to 200 again. A doctor prescribed medication for her sluggish thyroid gland. He also delivered some dreaded words about the necessity to “embrace hunger,” which, like any normal person, the TV star was in no way eager to do.

Depression set in when the medication dulled her down. After getting that adjusted, Oprah took some time off, and got back into a workout schedule. One of the realizations that came to her was that it’s not a weight problem, it’s a self-care problem that shows up in the realm of weight gain.

The cool thing about Oprah is, she doesn’t mince words:

My drug of choice is food. I use food for the same reasons an addict uses drugs: to comfort, to soothe, to ease stress.

Like many of the young people who respond to the polls and send in comments to Dr. Pretlow’s Weigh2Rock website, Oprah names potato chips as her particular downfall. Oprah acknowledges that, like any other addiction, hers is an ongoing condition, and one that requires conscious attention every day. She talks about such mundane but necessary habits as chewing slowly. Mindfulness, or “being here now,” is very important. In both addiction and recovery, it’s vital to realize that there is something beyond the physical and emotional dimensions.

There is also a spiritual dimension which, granted, plenty of people would probably believe they get along just fine without. But while the spiritual dimension is not strictly necessary, it sure does help. Another thing that helps, a lot, is pausing to ask yourself, “What am I really hungry for?” As Werner Erhard once pointed out,

You can never get enough of what you don’t really want.

In a video clip, Oprah talks about her time of deep discouragement, and the “brown elephant in the room” — the weight gain that was so blatantly obvious to the entire world.

Michael Prager is a former Boston Globe journalist who experienced childhood obesity and has shared his suggestions in a soon-to-be-published book, Fat Boy Thin Man. Prager says food addiction is real, and believes that wide acceptance of this notion can only be a good thing. He mentions the new show scheduled to begin on Oprah’s OWN television network, “Inside Rehab,” which will cover food addiction treatment. Prager also expresses concern over the fact that the medical establishment doesn’t seem to be catching on:

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association is currently being revised for a fifth edition, and there appears to be no prospect for its recognizing food addiction.

That is regrettable, but, fortunately, there are people like Oprah Winfrey and Michael Prager, who are doing their best to raise consciousness and offer the beacon of hope to fellow addicts.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “How Did I Let This Happen Again?,O, The Oprah Magazine, 12/11/08
Source: “Food addiction treatment on ‘Nightline’,” Michael Prager, 05/19/10
Image of the elephant by Lucas Santana, used under its Creative Commons license.
Image of O, The Oprah Magazine cover by Matthew Rolston, used under Fair Use: Reporting.

4 Responses

  1. Figures like Oprah need to realize they are being watched in every aspect of their lives. One of the ways we can fight childhood obesity is setting the standard with our own lives. A unique way to combat childhood obesity and get the information needed to achieve that goal is the KIDFIT application and the GreenPS application. KIDFIT is the first child fitness mobile application designed specifically to combat childhood obesity. GreenPS gives nutritional education while locating fresh produce and meats by gps on a map. Check it out at kidfitkids.com!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

FAQs and Media Requests: Click here…

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Obesity top bottom

The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

Food & Health Resources