The Unknown Enablers

junk food

When 600-pound Hector Garcia died in December, his life had been documented for several years by a team from the San Antonio Express-News. His mother told the reporter that “if she tried to refuse his requests for food, her son would get angry.” Dr. Pretlow remarked on a situation from his own experience:

We recently had a 287-pound, 10-year-old boy in one of our studies. The mother told me that she gave treats to her son, because he would get very angry if she did not. Initially, a parent may give treats to get love from the child…

This may enable addiction to eating in the child, and parental co-dependence. Nevertheless, at some point the parent may realize that this is hazardous to the child’s health, and the parent tries to stop. The addicted child may then become very angry when cut off.

When a parent is enabling to the point of being toxic, is that parent a victim or a perpetrator? Unfortunately, toxic parents do exist, unbeknownst even to themselves. Enablers and codependents always give plausible reasons for their destructive actions. Some online forums are full of troubling details, like those disclosed about a dangerously obese 15-year-old with two obese parents and the right heredity for heart disease and metabolic syndrome. A worried relative deplored the mother’s fatlogic:

She complained that the diet is useless because the bully who tormented him isn’t in his class any more; because his pediatrician says that overweight people don’t need to lose weight if they’re fine with their bodies; … because she can’t cook two different meals; because he always asks to eat whatever unhealthy food they’re eating…

Simultaneously entering the four search terms “Reddit,” “obese,” “toxic,” and “mother” brings back 250,000 results. Still, probably 99% of parents are confident that they are doing the right thing, while observers wonder how some parents can possibly believe the precepts they apparently live by. No matter how innocently oblivious the enabler might be, and no matter how diligently the therapist tries to cultivate compassion, there must be times when a criminal level of cognitive dissonance seems to be involved. How could anyone possibly look at a child almost as wide as he is tall, and believe that his temper tantrum is weightier than the pounds of lard strangling his liver?

Buying Love With Food

In homes throughout America, more than half the pet dogs and cats are overweight, for no good reason whatsoever. In relationships between caregivers and animals, as well as between caregivers and kids, Dr. Pretlow suspects a certain amount of commercial intent. People are trying to buy love, as they have been advised to do by the hundreds of commercials produced by the food industry. This attempt accomplishes nothing except to undermine the quality of everyone’s life.

It is a truism in therapy that while the addict is hooked on the substance, the co-dependent is hooked on the addict. Fittingly, that co-dependent dynamic follows the arc of the addiction story. At first, an addict gets high. Then after a while, it’s all about shooting up so you don’t have to get dopesick — in other words, just to ward off the withdrawal sensations.

Likewise, an enabling parent (or partner) can buy love for a while, but the glitter wears off. Subsequently, it might be possible to buy a public display of love, which is not quite the same thing. Inevitably, the devalued currency can only purchase, at most, a polite concealment of contempt. Eventually, all it can buy is avoidance of active hostility. Maybe.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “My aunt’s fatlogic is ruining my cousin’s health”, November 2014
Image by cthoyes

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

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