Addicted to Reality TV

Oprah, what is an "Addiction Technician?"

When did an eating disorder become an "addiction?" I don't mean "seem like" or "act as" or "dependence" or "may function in a brain similar to" or "some people now believe." I mean wholesale accept that eating disorders are an addiction and therefore appropriate and effective treatment is the same? I missed that memo. (Along with the memo that established that the approaches included here actually work FOR ADDICTIONS).

Since when is an addiction, or an eating disorder, necessarily indicate a "hole in the soul?" Doesn't it worry you to possibly add to people's pain by putting these kinds of sweeping psychobabble on people? Isn't there incredible HUBRIS here and don't you worry that you may be hurting people? What if you're just replacing a set of wrong ideas and directions for another set? When you're done with your dramatic orchestration are you going to be there? How long? Will you be back after these 42 days of tough love to tell me how these people you are using are in six months, a year, five years. And if they are NOT well, who are you going to blame? Them? (No need to answer, I think we already know.)

Well, in the spirit of well-meaning but possibly misguided proclamations made by people without qualifications, here's mine: our society is addicted to tough love transformation entertainment, and it keeps us all from really doing the work of understanding what we're dealing with. It's lazy and as distasteful as a circus freakshow.

Addicted to Food, "Welcome to Treatment"

P.S. Your promotion team told me "Laura's Soap Box is a crucial resource for people suffering from eating disorders, overeating and food addiction" so I know you'll agree that using my blog to tell you my real feelings about it are okay? And yes, I watched the whole first episode. I felt very sad.


  1. WELL SAID!!! and thank you! if eating disorders were addictions, and "tough love" was the cure, then i would have been recovered DECADES ago. kudos to all the parents and loved ones who are willing to get in the trenches with their children/loved ones and effing FIGHT the eating disorder with nutrition and as Carl Rogers so aptly established, unconditional positive regard.

  2. YES!!! That is my biggest issue with her new show - the title.. I do think they are similar - but similar and the same are two entirely different things.

    I am so glad someone finally said something about this, truly!

  3. It doesn't seem to be possible to watch the video from the UK, but I agree with much of what you state in this post Laura.

    'Reality' TV is one of my Pet Hates, amongst the 'Cult of Celebrity'. Over the last 10-12 years both of my Pet Hates have become hugely popular in the UK. Night after night the main British TV channels are filled with awful 'reality shows' (some of which are not real anyway, but staged and scripted...) and magazine stands are filled with celebrity gossip comics. I just don't get it.... It's all such vacuous, rude and vulgar nonsense, as well as being incredibly boring.

    I am going off topic a bit, but I especially dislike it when reality TV tries to tackle mental illness using untested (but apparently 'entertaining') techniques. I strongly dislike 'pop psych', for starters, but the individuals who feature in these programmes are often very unwell. Such 'reality' TV is Victorian freak show stuff aimed at those who enjoy the voyeuristic. And meanwhile, vulnerable individuals are exploited.

  4. Ah, it's very sad.

    I have been asked for years whether or not I think ED's are "like addictions". I have always said "I don't know enough about addictions to compare them", because I have never been comfortable with this paradigm. In the sense that both of these conditions are steered by underlying brain chemistry, this model could be de-stigmatizing, I suppose, but I think the resemblance ends there. But I don't know and I think no one knows.

    I do hesitate to place EDs in the same world as drug and alcohol addiction, since attitudes are so pejorative about these illnesses, they are widely seen as choices and often associated with antisocial or even criminal behavior. What does that have to do with my little ten year old patient with AN?

    To compare "food addiction"(whatever that is) to "heroin addiction" is probably as informative as comparing a bad sore throat to cancer of the throat.

  5. I have heard that Oprah has a binge eating disorder-not sure if that is true? At any rate, I wonder if we could lobby her and if she would be interested in having a good show about eating disorders with some of the new neuroscience researchers to talk about the new brain theories and some modern clinicians like Dr. O'Toole to talk about her 10 year olds!!!

  6. I am so disappointed in Oprah and in all the "professionals" that didn't turn away from this project!

    What eating disorder therapist approved posting online the patients age, height and weight next to a picture and a short bio?

    Was it explained to the patients that there info was going to posted online on the OWN website and that people where going to be allowed to make comments?

    Before I was refeed, I couldn't concentrate and I wasn't in a place to make life long decisions. (Their names and faces will forever be associated with eating disorders.)

    On Elizabeth K.'s page people are already making judgments about her appearance.

    Didn't Oprah watch the documentary "Thin?" One of the patients, Polly, committed suicide.

    On "Addicted to Food" Camile R. openly talked about suicidal thoughts. Right now, she is interacting with people who leave her comments on the OWN site. I can't image having the pressure of strangers wanting to interact and "check-in" with me during recovery!

  7. I believe that, if we are going to insist that EDs are not addictions, it needs to be for the right reasons (because EDs and addictions are two distinct mental illnesses), not because it makes us uncomfortable to have ED's compared to addictions.

    Personally, I see many similarities between the two:
    1.) Both are biologically-based mental illnesses
    2.) The core symptom of each disorder is a brain-based inability to self-regulate around a particular substance (around food or alcohol/drugs)
    3.) Neither addictions nor ED's are choices (although it may feel that way to the sufferer)
    4.) Both involve symptoms which, once set in motion, become self-perpetuating and extremely difficult to stop (restricting or binge/purge in EDs, drug use or drinking in addictions)
    5.) Therapy is ineffective when the sufferer is high, drunk or underweight. But therapy can be highly effective once the person is weight-restored or sober.
    6.) Re-feeding is analagous to detox.
    7.) The sufferer typically cannot choose to recover, so often an "intervention" by loved ones is necessary.
    8.) Both disorders are often triggered by benign behaviors that most adolescents engage in (dieting, drinking, experimenting with drugs)

    Frankly, though, the reason why I don't like to compare EDs to addictions is because addictions are so poorly understood, so poorly treated, and so stigmatized - perhaps even more so than EDs in some ways. The recovery rates for addictions are abysmal and the relapse rates are extremely high. This is an indication that we, as a profession, don't really understand addictions and don't have a clue how to treat them.

    Also, I think we as a society need an operational definition of "addicted." This word is misused all the time, just as "disordered eating" is confounded with "eating disorders," which leads to misconceptions and misunderstanding. People say they are addicted to love (wasn't that a song in the '80's?), or to their iphone, or to facebook, or to chocolate. I highly doubt that these things bear any resemblence to addiction to cocaine. Just as chronic dieting bears little resemblence to AN.

  8. I am anonymous from above.

    I just wanted to add that I attend OA every week because there are no eating disorder support groups in my area.

    Attending the meetings has kept me in recovery because I can relate to the people in the group. (In therapy, it's just me, my ED and T.)

    I've heard them say in OA that this is an addiction. Thanks to reading your blog and ED Bites, I know that it's not entirely true but I can't deny the similarities.

    I am going to keep going to OA because one of the Steps requires us to make amends to the people that we've hurt because of out ED.

    As a sufferer, I know that I carry around a lot of guilt. It might not have all been my fault but it will make me feel better to say I am sorry.

    I am proud to say that I am in Step 4 and that requires me to list my character assets. I honestly couldn't even list one. (I'm sure you've read that people with EDs have low self-esteem.) Thanks to the group, I am able to say that I have some character assets!

    I do agree with you, treating Eds like and addiction is not an effective treatment. I am also in therapy and I attend another group during the week.

    I wouldn't suggest that people use OA solely to recover from an eating disorder because it would be heartbreaking for someone with an ED to think that this is our fault or something that we chose.


  9. Thank you Dr. Ravin for your comments. I feel demeaned when people refer to my eating disorder as an addiction. I realize this is because of my own projection, and my desire to be a "good girl," and my feelings that I am doing a "bad thing" (bulimia).

    I can recognize that I have many things in common with other people with classic "addictions."
    I have lost friendships, incurred huge financial debt, had poor job performance, physical problems and all the while lacked insight into my behavior minimizing it or truly not understanding how bad it was. I also recognize that the behavior allows me to emotionally "check out" from stressful situations.

    The problem with treatment is that people with eating disorders are not allowed to decide that they will just avoid their "drug of choice." I don't really understand the people in OA who abstain from white flour or processed because my hope is to live everything in moderation.

    What we do have to "give up" is a poor coping choice.

    The only other similarity we have to other addicts is high frequency of anxiety disorders.

    I am not an addict.
    I am me.

  10. glad to see i'm not alone in my thinking. when someone from the show contacted me after i sent a remark saying that i actually would not wish to be treated by 'someone famous', i was then told that was an angry statement. i explained my reasoning and further explained that of course i would be concerned about anyone soliciting me for treatment that i had not consulted. i mean, whatever happened to 'help isn't help unless it's asked for' or not taking someone else's 12 step 'inventory'. it sincerely made me wonder if they believe what they're selling or if the more important issue is simply to sell it. *sigh*


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