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"Hunger in soul" dooms dieters.

The standard approaches to weight loss--encouraging more will power, liquids or grapefruit only, low-fat or starvation diets, even serious programs incorporating behavior modification--all too often fail when a person is trying to conquer a lifelong weight problem. These approaches frequently end in frustration because most people view the excess weight as the problem, when, in fact, it usually is merely a symptom of an underlying emotional disorder, explains Kathy Onley, chair of the Department of Clinical Dietetics, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

She maintains that virtually all weight-loss programs available today, even those which include behavior modification, do not take into account that food can be an addiction, every bit as serious as drugs or alcohol. In the case of anorexia (self-imposed starvation) and bulimia (bingeing, then purging), this type of addiction can have serious, even life-threatening, consequences.

"Everyone will occasionally eat for emotional reasons. However, people who continually overeat and binge do not do so out of hunger or a lack of will power. This type of behavior has its roots in stopping pain and blocking feelings. These are people who have learned to blunt their feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, pain, anger, etc. by using food. The only difference between people [afflicted] with anorexia, bulimia, or overeating is how the symptoms are manifested. The feelings and the pain are the same. Actually, if you wanted to equate bingeing with hunger, you could think of it as an attempt to feed a hunger of the soul or of the spirit, rather than the body."

Onley and psychologist Hoyt Morris, director of the Oklahoma City Center for Eating Disorders, have had considerable success with a weight-loss program that incorporates very intense group therapy sessions with a strict weight-loss plan. "Other programs offer diet, behavior modification, and exercise--ours just goes a step further in that it also does the emotional work. Weight loss is important from a health perspective, but unless the participants can change the way they respond to life and deal with conflict, the chance of maintaining any weight loss is practically zero."

The six-month program includes bi-weekly group therapy sessions that are not easy, either for the participants or the moderators. "Dredging up and looking at one's personal pain and emotional issues take a great deal of courage. We tell all of our clients that This will be the hardest thing you will ever do.'" Despite the emotionally intense nature of this type of program, Onley says she receives a tremendous satisfaction from seeing the participants emerge as happier--and slimmer --people.
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Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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