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Oprah Winfrey Network’s “Addicted to Food” Tackles Emotions Behind Eating Disorders

The cast of "Addicted to Food." Photo courtesy of OWN.

Most weight reality shows focus on which contestant can lose the most pounds. However “Addicted to Food” on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) takes a different approach.

It gets participants to focus on the underlying emotional problems that cause them to binge eat or purge and be anorexic.

“The food and weight are just symptoms of the problem,” said Tennie McCarty, CEO and co-owner of Shades of Hope, an addiction treatment center in Buffalo Gap, TX that is the setting of “Addicted to Food.” “There is no quick fix. Sure, exercise is good but there is much more to it.”

“Addicted to Food,” which premiered in April, follows eight people who travel to Shades of Hope, which is 200 miles west of Dallas, to overcome their obsession with food. All have suffered some form of trauma.

For instance Tinisha Hall-Smith, 32, stands at just five feet six inches but weighs 265 pounds. She grew up in a home filled with drug addiction and violence and began overeating to comfort herself. Meanwhile Elizabeth Kovic, 48, who weighs less than 100 pounds, had a difficult childhood and started binge eating and purging food when she was just 14.

Tennie McCarty. Photo courtesy of OWN.

McCarty, who held a conference call with National Association of Social Workers staff on May 9,  said she is in a unique position to help  clients because she has been where they are.

Her father was violent and sexually abused her. So McCarty turned to food, hitting 139 pounds by the time she was in first grade.

“I remember using food to feel better,” she said.

McCarty later became bulimic and only broke her food addictions at the urging of a therapist colleague. Later McCarty founded Shades of Hope when she realized there were few places  to help people with food addictions.

McCarty’s work attracted the attention of renowned intervention specialist Brad Lamm, who has worked with Dr. Mehmet Oz. Dr. Oz has frequently appeared as a health expert on the Oprah Show and “Oprah’s Allstars” on OWN. Lamm began referring clients to Shades of Hope and eventually approached OWN with the idea of making McCarty’s work a reality show.

Part of McCarty’s therapy involves getting participants to confront and release the trauma that fuels their eating disorders, including acting out scenes where they confront the person who hurt them. The therapy segments on “Addicted to Food” often show the raw emotions that are unleashed.

“There are a lot of people out there who have been abused in different ways,” McCarty said. “I get letters, letters, letters from people saying they have spent 10, 12,  15 years in the therapist’s office but never done that kind of release work.”

The first season of the show has been taped and is still airing. However, still asked what happened to Hall-Smith, Kovic and the others after the cameras turned off and they returned to their day-to-day lives?

McCarty said  the program’s first eight participants are in “good recovery” although each has had a bump in the road.

“Eating disorders have the highest rate of relapse of any disorder,” said McCarty, who added that staying free of a relapse is a “lifetime process.”

McCarty used to have a social worker as executive director at Shades of Hope and is looking to bring a social worker back on staff.

“We would love to get a good social worker,” she said. “Now If they can look into their own issues and know that they’re not going into it to get their needs met I’ll tell you they make some of the best therapists and some of the best workers in the helping professions.”

McCarty is unsure whether the Oprah Winfrey Network will renew “Addicted to Food” for another season.  She said the program is taped literally “a heartbeat at a time.”

No matter whether she stays on television or not, McCarty said she is committed to helping people overcome the trauma that can cause eating disorders. 

“It is a passion. It is a mission,” she said. “I’ll be doing this for what I believe will be the rest of my life.”

Social workers can help clients overcome eating disorders. To learn more, visit the National Association of Social Workers’ “Help Starts Here” Eating Disorders Web page by clicking here.

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  1. This is a wonderful post…I do hope that they find a great social worker…I know there are many qualified ones out there. I would also like to add that probably it would help if after the clients leave the umbrella of Shade of Hope that they be followed by a social worker in their area.

    A statement of Ms. Mc Carthy’s that I would like to address here…

    “Now If they can look into their own issues and know that they’re not going into it to get their needs met I’ll tell you they make some of the best therapists and some of the best workers in the helping professions.”

    Everyone is looking to meet their own needs through their work with others. this is actually a plus. It becomes a problem when the social worker’s needs become primary and the client’s secondary.

    We are trained professionals and are educated and skilled to recognize when we identify too closely with the client…we ourselves consult other social workers through professional supervision so that this does not become an issue.

    Tennie should feel very free to ask any social worker about “transference and countertransference” issues that they have experienced and what they have done about them. This should help her choose a competent therapist to help with her tremendous work.

  2. I love addicted to food. I have never gotten through one segment without crying. I hope Oprah will renew this show because it is so eye awakening

  3. Will the 8 episodes of Addicted To Food be available for DVD purchase?

  4. Please, please, please renew this program for a second (and more) seasons. Tennie is awesome and speaks from experience, not just a degree.

  5. I always thought that if I were affected by a tragedy, I would be one of the people that took the bull by the horns and championed a “cause.” When tested, I was humbled. I hold Tennie McCarty in the hightest regard along with everyone she works with…She is an AMAZING PERSON and I can’t get enough of her caring, straight-forward inspiration. If OWN doesn’t renew, I will second guess their capacity. I hope we get to see more of Tennie, whether it be the show entitled Shades of Hope, or whatever form her platform takes. I thank her and her staff for the clarity they bring to their viewers.

  6. This programme is on in the UK now. It is amazing what good work is done at Shades Of Hope !

  7. I’m grateful the show has been meaningful to you. When I shared the notion of a doc-series called Addicted to Food to Oprah and Lisa Erspamer, we took about a year to gather some stories and delve into how we might story tell in a meaningful way.

    I’m so grateful Addicted to Food is on in the UK now! That’s awesome.

    My book JUST 10 LBS is available in the UK too. I welcome you to visit us my work now at too.

    Creator + Producer / Addicted to Food doc-series

  8. Hi

    I would love to get a bluray/dvd of this series to show folk at my rehab here in Australia. Is there any release planned for this series at all? It’s awesome, and runs similar therapies to our facility. Be good for the clients to watch this while they were in treatment.

    Thank you

    Simon Bowen
    Managing Director

  9. Please could we get an update as to how they’re all doing now?

  10. Available on Netflix in Belgium now. Sad it didn’t get renewed.
    Like Nicci Cox I’m kind of curious as to how everyone (clients who were filmed + staff at Shades) is doing.
    They are all wonderful people.

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