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Health Team

Author: Addiction fuels obesity

Posted September 15, 2010 1:57 p.m. EDT
Updated September 25, 2010 4:52 p.m. EDT

— Health care leaders often try to fight the obesity epidemic with nutrition and exercise, but a local author says they need to look at another cause: addiction.

Jennifer Joyner, an assignment editor at WRAL News, chronicled her lifelong struggle with obesity in a book released this month called "Designated Fat Girl." The memoir recently made the top 10 list of book recommendations in a recent issue of Oprah Winfrey's "O" magazine.

Joyner says she was driven to write by a realization: "I didn't just simply have a weight problem. I had a food addiction."

She tried many diet and exercise plans, but Joyner says problems went much deeper than learning self-discipline.

"You're not 336 pounds because you like pizza too much. There's something else going on," she said.

When Joyner had her second child, her weight problems became a serious threat to not only her life but her son's life too.

"I had Type 2 diabetes. I had given birth to a 12-pound baby, because I couldn't get my gestational diabetes under control," she said.

At 34 years old, Joyner was faced with a lot of health problems because of her weight.

"Doctors were going to put me on daily insulin shots, so I was looking at a lifetime of being treated for diabetes and hypertension," she said.

Joyner turned to gastric bypass surgery to force herself to stop over-eating. She says she found that although the surgery physically prevented her from eating too much, she still had the urge "to abuse food."

"I realized, 'Wow, there's something really serious going on here,'" Joyner said. "This isn't about calories and fat grams. This is about trying to hurt myself. This is about trying to self-sabotage, and I had to find a way to stop that."

She has to keep an eye on herself to keep the self-destructive part of the addiction from manifesting itself in other areas of her life, she says.

She has lost 153 pounds since the surgery, and her diabetes and hypertension are gone.

Writing the book was therapeutic, Joyner says, as well as an effort to help others – the morbidly obese, those who judge them too harshly and doctors who need to realize that addiction is part of obesity.

"I've had people tell me, 'I will never look at an overweight person the same again now that I've read this,'" she said. "And that is the highest compliment that can be paid."