TLC invites viewers into the world of “Freaky Eaters” — everyday people who just happen to be food addicts.
In the premiere of TLC’s “Freaky Eaters” on Sunday, Sept. 5 at 10 p.m. ET, we see Victor Munoz, a 34-year-old man who has only eaten cheeseburgers for every meal for nearly three decades. The thought of eating anything other than cheeseburgers fills him with anxiety, but he needs to make major changes because his health is already suffering.
On the show, Dr. Mike Dow — a psychotherapist and addiction recovery expert — and nutritionist J.J. Virgin work with Victor over the course of a week to retrain his approach to food and put him on the path to a healthier and happier lifestyle.
Dow talks to Zap2it about food addictions, the underlying problems and “Celebrity Rehab.”
Which foods are the most addictive?
Dr. Mike Dow: Fatty, sugary, and carby foods are the ones that release all those feel-good neurochemicals (a la crack cocaine as far as brain chemistry goes), so unfortunately, those are the ones people usually get addicted to. In a perfect world, kale and spinach would releases surges of dopamine, and then you’d hear of people binging on salad after a breakup instead of a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Some of the most common are the ones you think of: Carl’s Jr. burgers, ice cream, candy bars, pizza, soda, pasta.
Are there more unusual or interesting addictions, different from the ones you just mentioned?
Dr. Dow: Some of the most interesting food addictions come into the picture when there are obsessive compulsive tendencies around food. In these cases, sometimes the person can only eat things from a specific place in a specific way. For example, you will only eat cheese pizza but it has to be from one particular restaurant, and it must be served in the individual carton not in a box with a whole pie.
Dr. Dow: Also, raw meat, including raw chicken and ground beef, was an interesting one. This is one from [“Freaky Eaters”] which was caused by feelings of inadequacy in his family — 3 generations of military men — so this was a way to feel masculine/good enough.
What’s the big challenge of treating food addictions?
Dr. Dow: Like most addictions, it is primarily an emotional disease. And like most other addictions, it’s a progressive one. I treat from a bio-psycho-social-spiritual perspective, meaning we have to take it all into account. But I also know that unless we deal with the underlying food mantra (i.e. “If my day’s diet wasn’t a complete success, it’s a complete failure” or “Who would love me?”), any behavioral or biological changes will be short-lived.
Are food addictions comparable to other addictions (sex, drugs, etc.)?
Dr. Dow: While there is no formal diagnosis as Twinkie dependence, the neurochemical response is the same. It ruins people’s lives. It causes distress. There are emotional underpinnings. And remember, the fastest growing disease in our country is not alcohol related liver failure, it’s diabetes. So yes, it kills. People use it to self-medicate loneliness and sadness. To people, food is the most socially acceptable drug of choice, but your brain and body don’t care what society thinks.
What’s your take on Jeremy London’s claim about being forced on a drug binge?
Dr. Dow: I have one thing to say that may shock you: Addicts have been known to lie. That being said, I don’t know if Jeremy London is telling the truth or not. The important thing will be that he is honest in his recovery. You’re as sick as your secrets, and your secrets keep you sick. If “Celebrity Rehab” is the thing that forces him into treatment, because he’s getting money and attention from it, and if he would not have entered treatment otherwise, then so be it. Just being in treatment is what truly matters.
Does “Celebrity Rehab” help or hinder? In the same way, do the “Freaky Eaters” benefit from having their addictions made public?
Dr. Dow: There are a lot of celebrities who I believe would not have entered treatment without [“Celebrity Rehab,”] so in that way, I think it helps. Of course, we don’t want to create positive reinforcement for celebrities to become addicts, because then they can go hang out at a rehab in Malibu or get more media attention for being on a show. However, addiction also has so many negative consequences in the way that you feel and what it does to your relationships, the consequences are always going to outweigh the rewards.
Dr. Dow: Almost every single one of the patients on “Freaky Eaters” said that their motivation to go on the show was to help others in their situation. It was this sense of purpose that actually allowed themselves to be more open, honest and willing than they have ever been. It allowed them to put away the avoidance they’d been using for years and deal with the stuff they’ve never dealt with. Rehab is expensive and often not fully covered by those who are insured, so if our shows are providing treatment free of charge for people who need it…that’s a good thing, too.
Between you and “Celebrity Rehab’s” Dr. Drew Pinsky, who would win in a smackdown?
Dr. Dow: LOL. I think one of the production staff on our show told me that Dr. Drew is really ripped, so in that case, him. But since I’m not a fighter, maybe we could do a headstand competition instead of fighting, because in that case, me, definitely.
Check out Dr. Dow on “Freaky Eaters,” following “Hoarding: Buried Alive” Sunday nights on TLC.
Photo credits: TLC