Does obesity go hand in hand with trauma How one man lost 12st in one year, just by talking about his feelings
Trim: Jack Gorny shed 12 stone
For years, we’ve been told that being overweight is a failure of willpower. The most likely scenario for people with a large amount of weight to lose is that even if they shed it by dieting, it goes back on after they stop, plus more.
This yo-yo behaviour has led psychiatrists at the University of Connecticut to question whether obesity is a form of addictive behaviour – and if that’s the case, the solution needs to start in the mind.
The US study was the inspiration behind the TV programme Obese: A Year To Save My Life. On the Sky1 show, principles of cognitive behavioural therapy, an NHS-approved type of psychotherapy used to treat addiction, were applied to nine morbidly obese people.
The results were startling. The show’s fitness trainer Jasse Pavelka specialises in working with patients who have weight-loss surgery. He believes obesity goes hand-in-hand with trauma. ‘You realise people who are dangerously overweight have emotional problems,’ he says.
Nine men and women, who all used food as a crutch, took part. One woman turned to food after she was sexually abused in childhood, another began overeating after her parents divorced, another man was unhappy in his relationship.
Part-time delivery driver Jack Gorny, 25, a softly spoken man from Leeds, weighed 28st 10lb when he applied to take part in the show. At 6ft 6in, Jack was about 12st overweight. ‘His basic problem was that he was in a boring job with no prospects, had no girlfriend and no real hope of a fulfilling future. To compensate, he spent up to 14 hours a day in his room playing computer games, eating constantly,’ says Pavelka.
Jack agrees: ‘The fatter I got, the less I wanted to go out and the more I wanted to play my games.’
Jesse gave him alternative coping mechanisms: ‘I’d tell people to go for a bath or pamper themselves when they felt the urge to eat. Jack quickly took to exercising. It is a good stress release – much better than raiding the fridge.’
Jack had been fit, playing rugby, cycling and swimming, so he was delighted to get those skills back. ‘I had to get away from the computer and start believing I was worthwhile and deserved to be loved,’ he says.
Jack lost the weight after he gained more confidence and no longer spends hours playing video games
Psychologist Rose Aghdami, who runs a clinic in Windsor for people with emotional food problems, says: ‘We need to recognise overeating is an escape from difficult feelings. Instead of feeling lonely, bored, stressed, unhappy or depressed, you are distracted by food. Emotions don’t have to be suppressed – they give us information. If we’re bored, we need to know so we can address it helpfully. If we’re lonely, we need to know that so we can act.’
For Jack, addressing such issues was essential. ‘It was tough. When I got to six months, I wanted to give up but Jessie kept me going. I’ve now lost 12st 4lb. Being healthy opens so many doors. I now have a girlfriend and plan to join the fire service or become a paramedic.
‘This was a life-changing experience. I’m no longer controlled by food.’
Obese: A Year To Save My Life, 9pm, Sky1 HD, Mondays.