Emotions, Eating, and Obesity — Continued

What's for Afters

At the University of Missouri, Sara Gable discovered that being stigmatized because of their body size has the same effect on kids as being stigmatized because of their race. To be a member of an out-group is, in itself, stressful. It leads to depression, anxiety, and loneliness. It has been shown that for both racial minorities and fat kids, the negative effects of depression, anxiety and loneliness can affect their academic careers.

This brings back memories of the experiment concocted by schoolteacher Jane Elliott, back in 1968, in response to the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the general racism that permeated the American culture. Corina Knoll wrote for the LA Times about what happened in an Iowa third-grade classroom when Elliott tried to convey to her white students, who had never seen a black person, what racism is all about:

For an entire day, she conducted her class as if the brown-eyed children were superior to those with blue eyes… Blue-eyed children must use a cup to drink from the fountain. Blue-eyed children must leave late to lunch and to recess. Blue-eyed children were not to speak to brown-eyed children.

The blue-eyed kids were characterized as slow learners and troublemakers. The brown-eyed kids, the superior “race,” became, in Elliott’s words, “domineering and arrogant and judgmental and cool.” They also became smarter — because they had been told they were. While some of the brown-eyed kids suddenly read much better than they ever had, the blue-eyed kids grew “stupid and frightened and frustrated and angry and resentful and distrustful.”

That was 45 years ago, almost half a century in the past, but the lesson taught by the experiment apparently still hasn’t sunk in to the general consciousness. Many adults in the helping professions have noticed that obese children have many of the same traits as Elliott’s artificially created inferior race of third-graders. Kids who are stressed by rejection and bullying tend to withdraw from both social and academic participation. They are tired and uninterested, anxious and depressed.

This is interesting in the light of something Dr. Pretlow has recently said:

A formerly obese teen in Houston said he was obese purely out of laziness. I’m not sure I believe him, but that’s another issue to look at.

Since being tired and uninterested is what happens when a person suffers from depression, it sounds like this youth doesn’t even know he’s depressed. The inability to be interested in, or to care about, anything is one of the torturous signs of depression.

This is a point made by Lonnette Harrell in an article titled “Food Addiction: Five Foods that Cause Physical and Emotional Dependencies.” She says:

The overweight person is often accused of being lazy…

Naming the five dangerous foods as chocolate, sugar, cheese, milk, and meat, Harrell looks to the research cited by Dr. Neal D. Barnard, author of Breaking the Food Seduction, saying:

… [C]hocolate acts like a drug (producing a food addiction), that causes us to crave more and more of it. […] Chocolate also contains other stimulant drugs, such as caffeine, theobromine, and phenylethylamine (an amphetamine-like compound.) According to Dr. Barnard, ‘Chocolate isn’t really a drug — it’s the whole drug store wrapped up in one.’

Dr. Barnard was one of the people who discovered cheese can be incredibly habit-forming to people, causing what he described as a “deep seated craving” that is very difficult to get over. Casein, the habituating element of milk, is concentrated in cheese. When it enters the bloodstream, it takes about 40 minutes to have an opiate-like effect on the brain. The lethargy and euphoria caused by opioids can certainly feel to the subject and appear to the observer as laziness.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Heavy Kids, Heavy Emotions,” NBCNews.com, 02/14/10
Source: “Brown, blue, and it opened many eyes to the meaning of race,” LA Times, 03/26/09
Source: “Food Addiction: Five Foods that Cause Physical and Emotional Dependencies,” Yahoo! Voices, 04/17/08
Image by Smabs Sputzer.

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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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