Famous Food Addict Carnie Wilson

Christmas in Harmony

Carnie Wilson’s dysfunctional relationship with her world-renowned musician father was, she feels, the root cause of her lifelong struggle with eating disorders. Then in 1993, her own singing group broke up. A couple of years later, Wilson admitted that she was a 300-pound food addict, and began to explore bariatric surgery as an option. She told interviewers that she felt there was no choice.

Why Wilson decided to have a gastric bypass in 1999 is pretty clear. Why she wanted to do it live, on the Internet, witnessed by millions of people, is less clear. Someone suggested that she is also addicted to attention. Of course, you could say that about anyone who works in show biz. People join bands and appear on TV for a reason, which could be called attention addiction. It’s just that most performers and entertainers don’t usually co-star with their own internal organs.

It was brave and admirable of Carnie Wilson to demonstrate how to muster up the courage to change a life. She strove to set a good example. Unfortunately, as subsequent events showed, it might have been exactly the wrong example. Okay, she did lose 150 pounds, everybody knows that. Half of a woman disappeared, and the remaining half seemed to be doing all right, for a while. She underwent plastic surgery to have loose extra skin removed from her arms, stomach, and other areas, and had her breasts perked up. Playboy magazine offered her half a million dollars to be a pinup girl, and she took them up on it, wearing a lovely mauve corset for one of the photos.

This precise type of opportunity could only have worked for the first person who tried it. Playboy has not featured another formerly fat, post-operative model since then. On the other hand, a large number of Playboy models have gone on to become overweight or obese. At any rate, for Wilson it seems to have been a very therapeutic and almost spiritual step. She told ABC news reporter Deborah Roberts,

This is my redemption. This is for all the women who are ashamed out there.

The singer told TV Guide‘s Lauren Kane that one reason her life had gotten unmanageable was disappointment over the breakup of her band. To the reporter, she said some words that could only have come from an addict, foreshadowing her ultimate inability to stick with the recommended post-op routine. Regarding the choice for surgery, Wilson is quoted as saying,

I kept reading how a lot of people felt free after the surgery, that they weren’t so obsessed with food. I was really excited about that, because I could not satisfy my cravings, ever.

Oh, the euphoria-floating good times lasted for a while. In 2000, Wilson married guitarist Rob Bonafiglio. A couple of years later, her own Wilson Phillips group got back together. But she felt oppressed by an enormous weight, the responsibility of being a human symbol and the need to succeed on behalf of all overweight surgical candidates. If she failed, she would somehow be guilty of letting everyone down.

Harassed by anxiety, Wilson drank more and more, and ran into a phenomenon known as “addiction transfer.” Apparently, she had not been warned that this could happen. Because the tiny stapled stomach would no longer let her continue to be a food addict, she soon became an alcohol addict. As she later told Oprah Winfrey,

The weight loss surgery didn’t cause me to be an alcoholic. I’m a born addict.

Five years into the marriage, Wilson’s husband delivered an ultimatum. If she ever hoped to have a child with him, she would have to sober up. One version is, she “stopped drinking right away” and became pregnant three weeks later. She has said that she didn’t go to rehab, and has called herself “just a recovering alcoholic.” At any rate, after all the worry about being the poster child for gastric bypass surgery, instead, she wound up being the poster child for addiction transfer.

Weight started creeping back. In 2005, baby Lola Sofia was born. By 2006, Wilson was a contestant on a TV show called “Celebrity Fit Club,” which helped her lose 22 pounds, though not for long. In 2006, seven years after the surgery, she told TV personality Dr. Robin about the devastating impact of addiction to food, alcohol, and other substances. Acknowledging that no one should expect gastric bypass surgery to “fix” obesity, and emphasizing that the work of resisting addiction is constant, she said,

I used food as a coping mechanism for many, many years, and it was my best friend for a long time.

The following year, Wilson sat down with Bonnie Siegler of Women’s Health Experience, and divulged that at some point she did have therapy and go through a 12-step program for a “brief bout with alcohol addiction.” Plus, she had avoided fried foods for eight years! But despite her three-times-a-week workout, Wilson also admitted to a great fondness for the smell of baked goods in the air. She told the reporter,

Sugar is my downfall so I’m very careful with sweets… My great joy is cooking and baking for other people.

Uh-oh! But she hastened to add, for the sake of her two years of sobriety,

I’m here to get the message out that after you have a gastric bypass surgery, you need to focus on what’s in your head. Before the surgery, you focus on it. During the surgery, you focus on it. After the surgery… it is ongoing forever.

In 2009, the couple had a second daughter, Luci Bella, and Carnie Wilson was once again hitting the scales at more than 200 pounds. Then, she took a job as spokesperson for Fresh Diet, a company that delivers food to people who are reducing their weight, starting at $1,400 per patient per month. She lost a few pounds, and gained them back again. But worse than that, in what the company perceived as a clear conflict of interest, Wilson started a home-made cheesecake company. So they canned her.

You’re not gonna believe this, but there are even more complications to the story of food addict Carnie Wilson, which we will spare our readers. Bottom line: surgery alone won’t do it. Surgery and dabbling in a little therapy won’t do it. Even the formidable big gun, the 12-step program, won’t do it, not alone. The steps don’t work unless you work the steps, and that’s an all-day job, every day, for the rest of your life.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Suddenly Skinny,” Oprah.com, 10/24/06
Source: “Newly Slim Carnie Wilson to Pose for Playboy,” ABCNews, 05/30/03
Source: “Carnie Wilson: Playboy Playmate?,” TV Guide, 11/03/00
Source: “Carnie Wilson,” Oprah.com, 10/31/06
Source: “A Lighter Life,” Womens Health Experience, Spring 07
Source: “Carnie Wilson fired as Fresh Diet spokesperson for selling cheesecakes,” Celebitchy, 11/26/10
Image of Christmas in Harmony album cover used under Fair Use: Reporting.

11 Responses

  1. This article saddens me! Carnie was the reason I had my surgery march 6 2001… At 5 ‘1 I was 258 pounds and 29 years old… I lost 135 pounds and have kept most of it off for the last 10 years I have gained 15 pounds back and I struggle every day w food addiction..most of the time I pay attention to what I’m eating and I HAVE to work out. I also went to counseling but you can’t stop doing any of those things ever! It’s sad but everyone has their cross to bear. I have to admit that she still inspires me to continue to work at it! I don’t ever want to be that person I was 10 years ago. I have worked far too hard. Thank u for this article!


    1. Wanda, you can tweet to Carnie Wison on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/#!/WilsonCarnie/
      You wrote that food is your “friend and companion.” Yet, it sounds like you are quite distressed about your weight, as you are considering gastric bypass surgery. Perhaps there are associated health problems? Diabetes? If you had a friend, who was causing you to develop significant health problems, would that be a friend you would want to keep? Remember that it is not every food that is addicting, mainly highly pleasurable foods, that are also comforting.
      There are groups out there like Food Addicts Anonymous (http://www.foodaddictsanonymous.org/) and Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous (http://www.foodaddicts.org/), who can help you break your addiction and find a new friend, who does not hurt your health. These groups are free and have meetings in every city. We wish you good luck on your journey. – RP

  3. my name is Sherman Bunnell,I,am 6ft 4in tall. My weight use to be 570 pounds. I have been as low 168lbs. My surgery date was February sixth 2006, I am now 205lbs (thank you Jesus) and it not a problem keeping it there, because I have a completely new attitude change towards food. My favorite channel is the food network. Food 4 me isout not an addiction but it is exciting time to create new dishes I can eat and rstill stay compliance with what the Rouen-Y bariatric calls for. There must be an attitude change.

  4. I have had the sleeve and the gastral by pass .doctor didn’t do it right so I had the by pass because of a back injury ..I recomend the sleeve but if I had the choice again no to the by pass……

    1. Katherine….In process of either having the sleeve or the gastric bypass. Have diabetes and previous aorta valve replacement. am 63. Would like to hear more from you regarding this. You would be a really big help to me. Thanks….Ali

  5. I am “not young”, and weight has been an issue with me since I “was young”. My parents, who I am sure thought they were doing what was best for me, took me to my pediatrician when I was 8 years old….Im not sure why, but I was prescribed diet pills; I was in the THIRD grade !! As I look back at photos of me at that age, I was not a heavy child, but evidently my parents thought so. I began to think, even at this young age, that if I had been to the doctor and he gave me medicine to “help me not be fat”, then there must be something wrong with me…. because you only go to the doctor if something is wrong with you! They took me because I was fat, and I need to be “fixed”, and the medicine will fix my fat”. I was not an unhappy child, I was not bullied or made fun of, but I had the feeling that my parents didn’t like me the way I was. By the time I was in the sixth grade, I was 5’5″ and weighed 112 pounds (oh, to weigh that now !!!) However, at age 11, my height and weight was not in the range the doctor’s chart said I should be in (too heavy), so every Friday my mother picked me up from school, and took me to the doctor to be weighed. I was humiliated, but assumed my parents were right……I was fat; why else weigh? My father, although I’m sure he thought he was helping, began to make remarks about my weight, which was normal. It got to the point that I wouldn’t eat around him because I felt like he was watching every bite I put in my mouth. By the time I was a junior in high school I would eat no breakfast, no lunch at school, come home and eat a canned diet product (Metrical?) While my family ate dinner, I went to my room and exercised for an hour, then ate two slices of dry toast and drank a cup of black coffee. This was my junior year….every day!! As I look back I wonder if I might have been borderline anorexic, but nobody had heard of it then. After I was an adult I began to think about this journey…..I began my period at 11years old, and as I know now, girls sometimes gain a little weight before puberty…..could this be why my parents had thought I had a weight problem? They were wonderful parents, very loving and supportive, and I certainly don’t blame them in any way for my weight problems, which I battle still. I am not, and will never be, a size 10, but I still have that little voice in my head that asks ” If my parents hadn’t made me feel that I was not okay the way I was, how would I have turned out?

    1. Thank you for sharing your story, which might reach the eyes of confused parents who are trying to figure out what, if anything, to do.

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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.

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