Fat Boy Thin Man is Michael Prager’s memoir of “a fat and troubled childhood that lasted almost 35 years.” He spent more than 10 years over the 300-pound mark. When Prager hit 365, he opted for standard addiction treatment, just like any substance abuser might, upon realizing that he’s in the grip of a lower power. Now, coming up on 20 non-obese years, the author shares this story of overcoming food addiction in order to encourage and inspire others.
We were given a sneak peek at the book, which is set for October publication. Chapter 2 is a classic in the fields of both childhood obesity and food addiction. Have you ever noticed that ex-drunks and ex-junkies are some of the coolest people in the world? No matter which part of the moral spectrum we might privately consign addiction to, recovering alcoholics and addicts have undeniably faced trial by ordeal, and they have triumphed. And if you don’t believe there is such a thing as food addiction, this is the story that will convince you.
In babyhood, Michael was sunny and outgoing, but even as a toddler he ate like he didn’t have an “off” switch. His somewhat alarmed mother mentioned this to the pediatrician, who assured her that he would outgrow this omnivorous stage. If only!
The family’s eating patterns were certainly typical. Breakfast: toast, English muffin, or toaster pastries. Lunch: school cafeteria or brown bag. Dinner: two parents and three kids together around the table, eating Mom’s home-cooked meals. The author says,
Home life was neither idyllic nor depraved, but was far closer to the former and well within the normal range. I was well provided for materially and grew up amid plenty of extended family. I showed fair promise in school and was encouraged to excel. Undeniably, among the fates of birth, I landed a pretty good one.
As a 132-pound third-grader, Michael was embarrassed when the school nurse announced his weight out loud, but worse was yet to come. The school acted responsibly, and sent his folks a postcard (presumably so the mail carrier could also be informed) indicating that there was a problem. His mother was exasperated, and this is not a particularly pleasant memory. In fourth grade, Michael was taken regularly to a therapist, without success. Why?
… I always lied to him, trying to prove I was OK rather than trying to learn why I wasn’t.
Michael doesn’t even remember when he started to steal food, but the first bust was for taking candy from a store. The word “shame” comes up in this context. He stole waitresses’ tips and raided the household cash supply, taking as much as $10 at a time, “which was not insignificant money in the early ’70s.” Impressive. Where I lived in the early ’70s, that was a week’s worth of apartment rent.
Michael’s mother was in denial about the possibility that one of her own kids could be taking money, and also seemed oblivious to the fact that a 250-pound 14-year-old was somehow getting a lot of food from somewhere. His crack house was a nearby shop specializing in submarine sandwiches. Then came a part-time job in a neighborhood market. It was a doubly rich opportunity, which he has exploited both by taking food home, and by liberating cash from the register to buy more food elsewhere.
When Michael was 17, his folks signed him up for fat camp, and he had the same reaction that kids have reported to Dr. Pretlow’s Weigh2Rock.com: he really didn’t want to hang out with a bunch of fat kids. But it turned not so bad. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king; and in this place, Michael was, for once, one of the better athletes.
Unfortunately, three fat-camp summers had no ultimate effect on his size, which persisted in increasing again after he returned home. And yes, he was aware of the calorie-counting. He knew about good nutrition. None of it did a bit of good. And, if you can believe it, things got even worse. We won’t reveal everything, but the “shame” theme recurs over and over.
Prager believers that food addiction [PDF] needs to be legitimized so that the food addicts could get the treatment available to other addicts, and the insurers (if there are any left) would pay for it. In an article for Paradigm magazine, Prager wrote,
The medical establishment has yet to acknowledge the links among foods, food behaviors, and addiction either, and they ought to know better. More than 2,400 peer-reviewed studies establish the causes and conditions for food addiction…
Realizing that not everyone sees childhood obesity through what Dr. Pretlow calls the “psychological food dependence-addiction lens,” Prager says,
But I do think it’s possible to broaden the discussion of solutions to include something that actually works.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!