Addiction — What Works?

Yesterday, Childhood Obesity News summarized John McC’s account of his half-hearted participation in a recovery regime about which he had ethical doubts. He left the program, and achieved 14 sober years up to the moment when he wrote his autobiographical memoir.

On the one hand, there is his less-than-glowing opinion of the traditional 12-step philosophy. But as the saying goes, “The program works if you work the program,” and he didn’t commit, and may not be the most qualified person to judge it.

But somehow John McC abandoned two addictors, alcohol and nicotine, and got better on his own. This illustrates again that all addictions are one, bound by their own kind of synergy. Although pathological dependency is like a big tangled ball of twine, there is more than one place to grab hold and start the untangling.

Another advantage is that if a person overcomes the most obvious addiction, and straightens out that area, there is a breathing space in which anything is possible, including the impetus to attack another addiction. The demonstrated reality of getting over one addiction is a signpost to the idea that it might be possible to overcome the root problem that enables all addictions; it might be possible to disarm that demon and neutralize its potency.

John McC published a web page, with the elegantly expressive title “What Works,” that we will review in the near future.

Radical Pride

The following words are from Kelvin Burnett, whose specific advice for other obese people can be found in an earlier post, “How One Man Lost 266 Pounds.” His story went like this:

By sophomore year, my relationship with food had likely reached the point of addiction… From what I’ve seen, the definition of an addiction is when your desire for something begins to interfere with the functioning of other parts of your life… I think I became addicted to the feeling of being full. So I ate, and I ate, and I ate. Food became my drug.

… And 484 pounds became his weight. To be accepted, Burnett adopted the identity of a “fat kid.” His normally mild-mannered grandmother issued a vigorous scolding and reminded him of how blessed he was to have recovered from a nearly-fatal childhood illness.

The shock jolted him right off his self-destructive track and into changing every lifestyle aspect. He studied nutrition and applied what he learned. Gym workouts became his favorite thing. As a grownup, he chose to adopt “losing weight” as his identity, and lost 266 pounds. He did it on his own, he told a reporter, with no tricks or gimmicks:

I was on fire. I accepted no excuses from myself…. It’s who I was. It’s what made me feel important. For the first time in my life, something gave me pride and confidence in myself. And I wasn’t about to give that up for anything, especially not for a bag of Oreos… I didn’t use any fancy exercise regimen, no crazy diets, expensive trainers or classes. I didn’t get surgery or join some crazy fitness cult…

As we recall from yesterday’s post about John McC, Burnett is not the only person to reference cults. As for his dedication, it seems he became what today might be called “woke”:

The way I did it is a method you probably don’t hear of very often. I got my mind straight.

We, as a society, can’t supply everyone with a loving grandmother who dishes out just the right amount of strictness. But we can make sure that gyms exist for those who want and need them. We can make education and therapy available to those who want it, and who will use it for their own betterment and also in the service of others, which is, incidentally, one of the pillars of recovery.

The main point Burnett makes is that before behavior can change, the mind and emotions need to change. This is almost universally accepted by therapists, but here it is confirmed by an actual over-eating addict who recovered.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Autobiography of ‘Orange,’ Author of ‘Orange Papers’,”, 2014
Photo credit: Spencer Means via BY-SA

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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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