Addiction transference: It’s not the food. It’s the issues behind the food.

1-800-GET-THIN Billboard. Image source: http://thecurvynerd.com

Last week, I caught a local (southern California) morning TV news story about a forty-something woman who had gotten the lap-band weight loss surgery. She thought that getting thin would make her happy. She believed their marketing slogan, “Let your new life begin. Call 1-800-GET-THIN!” She lost over 100 pounds, but found herself as unhappy as she was when she was heavy and became addicted to meth. What? That’s crazy!  Maybe not. The commentator said it was an issue of “addiction transference.”

Addiction transference? Interesting. The news piece stuck in my head for several days. Whether a person loses weight because of surgery or via diet and exercise, it’s the same cautionary tale:

  • Being thin isn’t going to magically make you happy and solve all your problems.
  • Discarding the fat suit doesn’t magically transform you into a completely new person.
  • You can’t run away from yourself by changing your appearance.
  • All the crap inside you that made you fat in the first place? It’ll still be there when you’re thin if you don’t deal with it.

I scoured the TV station’s website to find a link to the story to share, to no avail. I did find an extremely interesting article on the lap-band website: Addiction Transference and Lap-Band Surgery:  It’s easy to trade another addiction for your food addiction.

I had two observations after reading the article.

  1. I was glad that the company acknowledged that addiction transference is a possible issue for their patients. Hopefully they make the patient aware of it ahead of time and take proactive steps to prepare for it.
  2. I was annoyed that the article emphasized the physiological reasons for addiction rather than the emotional ones. Here are a couple of examples.

“The first theory that has been initially proposed is the idea that patients develop addiction transference in order to fill the “void” that is no longer there because of their treated obesity. However, as more research begins to take shape scientists and psychologists alike have found support for the theory that the major addictive pathway in the brain that is responsible for alcohol and cocaine dependency is also responsible for obesity problems… In addition, researchers have suggested that obesity essentially acts as a cover or type of prevention for other major addictions such as those to alcohol, gambling, or even cocaine.”

“Treating obesity through a weight loss surgery does not necessarily mean that one would experience a compulsive disorder or other type of addiction. It simply means that obesity surgeries essentially uncover another type of problem that may be going on in the brain, such as an abnormal level of dopamine that has been found in those patients that do develop addiction transference.”

The article made addiction transference sound rare. According to the site, “the American Society for Bariatric Surgery estimates that only about 5% of individuals develop this problem. On the other hand, U.S. Bariatric, a major weight loss surgery center in Florida, puts the number at 20% or above.”

Consider the source: I’m reading an article provided by the providers of lap-band surgery. Of course they’re going to want to blame addiction on something physical in your brain. God forbid they should hold a person accountable for their emotional issues and choices. That’s not what they’re selling.

To be fair, I must add that the article concludes by saying that if someone is at risk, the patient should seek extensive counseling and possible medication to treat addiction transference.

While writing this post, I was playing Words with Friends on Facebook with my husband. This ad popped up. It makes Jennifer Hudson sound so healthy emotionally, like she is comfortable in her body, no matter what size she is. I hope it is true for her!

When I started my weight loss journey, I considered lap-band surgery for about two seconds. I know it’s helped a lot of people, but there’s just something about it that bothers me. I know I need to fundamentally change myself inside and that can’t be achieved by having a superficial surgical procedure. I know I need to change my habits, deeply ingrained in me for over forty years and it feels like cheating to take the short cut. I know it won’t solve the real problems of why I got fat in the first place. There is no quick fix for that. No way.

So I press on… 🙂

P.S. And let’s not forget that one “side effect” of lap-band surgery is Death. There’s that. In looking for a photo for this post, I found Curvy Nerd‘s: In the News: 1-800-Get-Thin woman dies after lap band surgery. Her concluding statement was startling, but true:

“This is what we do to people — they are willing to risk death in order to be ‘skinny.'”