A Young Addict’s Story

Maze Puzzle

In an earlier post, Childhood Obesity News looked at the stages for adopting positive change, as explained by New York Times guest blogger A.D.A.M. This is probably the most important precept to keep in mind:

The decision to adopt a healthier behavior — whether it’s more exercise, weight loss, or quitting smoking — is not as simple as just deciding to do it. Behavior change expert James Prochaska and his colleagues outlined a theory, which has been supported by numerous studies, showing that people cycle through a variety of stages before a new behavior is successfully adopted over the long term.

Often this process is not a path but a maze, raggedly uneven and excruciatingly slow, with enough steps and stages to fill up a whole book. Comedian Moshe Kasher was a chubby kid in elementary school and even in middle school, but that wasn’t the main problem. The serious issue was multi-drug abuse. But often the substance chosen simply depends on availability, and food is everywhere. The underlying causes are the same for all addictive behaviors, and when it’s time to quit, the “two steps forward, one step back” pattern is all too familiar.

When a young person decides to escape food addiction, the struggle can be as monumental as if he or she were hooked on a hard drug. This is because hedonic, “more-ish” pseudo-foods are engineered to be addictive. Dr. Pretlow polled the kids who communicate with his Weigh2Rock website and discovered that although none of the biggest problem foods are essential for life, children are drawn to them for the same reason older kids and adults are drawn to alcohol and drugs. He says:

These substances perform as an anesthetic, a painkiller, to soothe feelings of stress, depression, and boredom. Eating comforts the wounded spirit with the worst kind of false comfort, the kind that does more harm. Kids even hate themselves for comfort eating, but cravings overcome them.

Now, hear what Moshe Kasher says:

It’s that feeling — the numbing bliss of self-medication — that makes people become drug addicts. It’s not the getting high that makes you an addict, it’s what the getting high does for you. If you start low and you get high, you make it up to normal for the first time…. It wasn’t the high, it was the feeling that I was all right.

Kasher makes a point that is applicable to any addictive substance — “If it’s the first thing that’s ever felt good in your life, you’re in trouble.” For a lot of kids, that first thing is sugar. They start getting it in baby formula before they’re old enough to have any knowledge or choice.

One kid’s meandering path

In his early teens, Kasher was enrolled against his will in a couple different programs modeled on the 12-step paradigm, and either resisted obnoxiously or participated insincerely. At one point he told his mother that the “amends” step would require paying back some people he had ripped off. She gave him money, and he bought more drugs.

There was a stage of weariness with failing at life in general, and a self-deceptive belief that things would get better on their own. There was a stage of believing that he could quit if he chose to. Eventually, he came up against the wall that all addicts eventually hit — the point where no amount of dope can to do the job. The door to relief had closed, and like all addicts he felt the pain of betrayal that comes from being abandoned by the last and only true friend.

He made the landmark decision to quit, which was quickly followed by the realization that he couldn’t. “The moment you need control,” he learned, “is the moment you realize you’ve lost it.” Then came a stage that will be familiar from our previous post. Kasher writes:

Every night I’d swear I’d never do it again…. Every night I quit. And every morning I woke up and forgot about the promises I’d made to myself the night before…. There was simply an empty space in my brain where the night before there had been a firm declaration never to do this again.

He specifies that it wasn’t a moral struggle or a wrestling match with his conscience. It was just that the resolution formed the night before had dissolved and vanished by morning. This seems to be an important factor to take into account if any quitting program is to work. Kasher had blown three rehab attempts when finally the thing happened that is the most difficult for any former addict to articulate: “Why that day was different, I don’t know. There comes a time. The pain of existence transcends the fear of change. There comes a time.”

Finally, the 12-step program worked because he worked it. By age 15, this severely troubled youth was in recovery and has been substance-free ever since.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Motivation,” NYTimes.com, 03/11/14
Source: “Kasher in the Rye,” Amazon.com, 2012
Image by FutUndBeidl

One Response

  1. Many people find help in Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous. Some of us have been diagnosed as morbidly obese while others are undereaters. Among us are those who were severely bulimic, who have harmed themselves with compulsive exercise, or whose quality of life was impaired by constant obsession with food or weight. We tend to be people who, in the long-term, have failed at every solution we tried, including therapy, support groups, diets, fasting, exercise, and in-patient treatment programs.

    FA has over 500 meetings throughout the United States in large and small cities such as Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Charlotte, Grand Rapids, Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Austin, and Washington, D.C. Internationally, FA currently has groups in England, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and Australia. If you would like more information about FA, please check out our website at www [dot] foodaddicts [dot] org. If there aren’t any meetings in your area, you can contact the office by emailing FA at foodaddicts [dot] org, where someone will help you.

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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.

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