Escaping Winter Holiday Hell

The Christmas FeastAll the winter holidays are basically the same: festivals of consumption that make it easy for a person to justify or excuse overeating. A helpful tip for any one of the holidays is likely to be effective for the others. Childhood Obesity News passes along some hints from a real maverick, Dr. Billi Gordon, whose life story could provide material for several movies.

From a classically chaotic and abused childhood, Gordon learned early that almost everyone probably shares the latent ability to bury feelings with compulsive overeating. To an American public that loves The Wire, True Detective, and Sons of Anarchy, this concept should not come as too much of a shock:

It is like we all have the capacity for violence. That is not the problem. The problem is what external and internal cues cause us to access that capacity. For the gang kid, the symbol of disrespect can result in violent assault or death. For the compulsive overeater that symbol can cause compulsive overeating, which is just a differently directed assault and a slower death.

Leaning on another analogy, Gordon says:

In many ways, being a compulsive overeater is like belonging to a powerful, ruthless pimp. You cannot walk away or run away. You have to slip away and stay away.

Why would anyone take health advice from a morbidly obese neuroscientist? Would it help to know that Billi Gordon used to weigh almost twice as much? He was 300 pounds in high school, Carla Hall reported for the Los Angeles Times, and 400 when he married his husband. After that he just kept gaining and got to almost 1,000 pounds—while sustaining a career as one of the highest-paid “alternative” models in the business.

In 2009, after losing hundreds of pounds, Gordon suffered from depression and gained back 200 of them, bringing his weight back up to around 700. He entered the hospital to see what could be done about a mass that grew from his thigh. The medical team didn’t really think it was a tumor. More likely it was a massive localized lymphedema, one of the rarer co-morbidities of obesity, and a miserable condition to manage even if surgical removal of the initial growth can be performed. But they couldn’t tell without an MRI, and Gordon was at least 150 pounds too heavy to fit into the diagnostic machine. Finally in 2010 he had the MRI, and there are more chapters to the story, but today, we concentrate on ways of coping.

For instance, in a post titled “There Are No Victims, Only Volunteers,” he suggests a literal version of “fake it till you make it” that results in a release of the feel-good hormone dopamine:

Now, take a pencil, put it in your mouth, lengthwise, and bite down on it. The muscles that you use to do this are the same muscles you use to smile. When you bite down on the pencil, your brain will think, “Oh we’re smiling, we must be happy…”

If you would like some endorphins and oxytocin to go with that dopamine — and really, who wouldn’t? — the next suggestion is plain old, “get some exercise.” People keep saying it, year after year, because it’s true. Take a walk or better yet, dance. Gordon says even a person in a wheelchair can dance with their top half, and he is absolutely correct.

Another one of his suggestions is that the brain dislikes Change with a capital C. It is all busy “processing trillions of commands” and resents being assigned any more tasks. So change has a better chance to stick if it is introduced in small increments. The key is disciplined eating, which is the opposite of compulsive eating. Gordon says:

Winning the war is not about what you eat, but rather how you eat. Therefore, the goal is to establish disciplined eating… Once you establish disciplined eating, your meals will naturally and easily modify themselves to promote excess weight removal. Within a month, your meal size and content will drastically improve, because where the mind and soul leads, body and behavior will follow.

This leads to another opportunity to recall that disciplined eating is what the W8Loss2Go smartphone app is all about. The program is designed to effect change by small increments. Please find out more about it and about the upcoming pilot study which still has applications available!

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Symbolic Eating,” PsychologyToday, 11/23/13
Source: “About That New Year’s Resolution Diet,”, 12/31/13
Source: “A body larger than life,”, 10/14/09
Source: “There Are No Victims, Only Volunteers,” PsychologyToday, 12/25/13
Image by Ben and Kaz Askins


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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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