Ep 81 - Being a Food Addict Can You Hear Why Tennie's Message Was Validating To Me?

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Today’s Episode of The Embrace Family Recovery Podcast continues to feature Tennie McCarty, author, and founder of Shades of Hope Treatment Center. If you have listened to Tennie in the prior two episodes, #79, 80, you will have a clear sense of her dedication to sharing the hope of recovery for people with addictions and their families. Today Tennie shares a story that was extremely risky for her recovery and vitally important to validating food addiction! Listen to Tennie’s encouraging words about the impact of family recovery. I add a colossal DITTO!!

See full transcript below.


You’re listening to The Embrace Family Recovery Podcast, a place for real conversations with people who love someone with the disease of addiction. Now here is your host, Margaret Swift Thompson.

Margaret  00:28

Today, we’re back with Tennie McCarty, the author of the book, Shades of Hope. Today, Tennie will continue to share her story, her life’s work, and treating sugar addiction along with other addictions and Shades of Hope. She also shares more about what help they offer the families. Let’s get back to Tennie.


The Embrace Family Recovery Podcast

Margaret  01:15

When I’ve worked with people in treatment centers who’ve had surgery, and then end up in the treatment center with chemical dependency, there’s tremendous shame. But the other one that I see the shame in is people who have eaten their way through the surgery, right, had the surgery, tremendous weight loss, and then end up gaining it all back. Was that part of your story? When you had the surgery? Did it give you what you hoped for? What was the challenges after the surgery for you?

Tennie McCarty  01:45

I had it in my mind that I can eat everything I wanted and lose weight. Well, that’s not true, I did lose a lot of weight at first, I got very ill. And the lost calcium I couldn’t absorb. And but then you know, the body wants to restore itself, my body began to kind of get within a normal frame and the eating, I could not stop the eating. I ate more after the surgery than I did before I had it, I could not stop. I didn’t gain all of it back, but you know, I had lost probably 70 pounds. No, I’d lost over 100 pounds. But I gained probably maybe 60 of that back. And you talk about the shame. Oh I was so embarrassed. And I and I have lost weight before and I’d gain it back within the year. But now I’d had surgery had half of my intestines cut out. And I still couldn’t stop the eating. And so, I gained a lot of it back and then that’s when the blaming started. Well, if I lost the weight because of the diarrhea, what I need to do is take laxatives you know, anyway, I got very sick, real sick with bulimia for 13 years. And not everyone has to get as sick as I did. They do not have to. I just didn’t know there was a solution until I heard about treatment. I heard about it one day, three days later, I was there. I did not know I could stop doing what I was doing. And we see people, we get them all the time in treatment that have eaten through it. And the shame of that and we haven’t they’ve had every type of bariatric surgery, they’ve had it all, you know, and until. It’s an inside job. Until we change on the inside. I don’t believe that there’s going to be any recovery. It takes doing the same thing over every day, every day, every day. There’s no quick fix in it.

Margaret:  Right? 

Tennie:  It’s making the decision of how we’re going to eat and no, I don’t believe in diets, I went on them for years. They don’t work because we go off of them. Meal plans we do a really good meal plan. Misty here is our Director of Food Services, and we believe in presenting very healthy, beautiful meals also I mean food can look good. It can smell good. It can taste good. Food is not the enemy. 

Margaret:  Right 

Tennie:  It’s what we do with it that is. But her mom has worked for us part time. And she went on Shades’ food plan and his lost probably 75/80 pounds just being on the Shades’ food plan and being around and hearing about the disease you know. So, people can recover but it’s like they’ve got to get an abstinence. An alcoholic cannot recover, you know this, while still drinking.

Margaret  04:50

Right. So, what differences do you see for family members? What did your services for family members look like? What do you see as being different for families of people with food addictions and eating disorders versus chemical dependency, is there a difference? Is it the same?

Tennie McCarty  05:09

I don’t see a lot of difference. Other than, and I’m not talking about mothers because I am one. But with eating disordered clients, a lot of times that enmeshment with the mother, that mother daughter struggle is so big, you know, where their daughter is trying to leave home. Anyway, the a lot of times the eating disorder is a vehicle that keeps the mother and daughter together, a lot of times they’ll even practice eating disorders together. 

But to get back to family week, I want to brag, I think we do some of the best family work, we used to do a full five days, and it’s not as practical, we cannot get people committed to that. So, we do a family program in three days. But there again, we work nights. And we get as much work done in the three days and evenings as we did in the five days. But our family, bragging on it, is very thorough, and there again, it’s not all just sitting around talking, we do give some education, but it’s really, we get to the core of the problem in the family. And a lot of times, you know, the healthiest one is the one that shows up to treatment. And we get the family in there. And we really get to see those dynamics. And it’s you know, we have had whole families, generations recover. And that’s the exciting part in this business is to watch people recover. And then their parents, and then their children. I mean we’ve treated parents, grandparents, you know, we’ve treated, been here long enough that we have treated children of people that have come through here. So, it’s definitely a family disease and families need to be involved and it’s not a bringing the parents in and beating them up, it is about seeing how we can help the, and really, the vehicle that gets them here is the disease, you know, and the love of a client. I mean, they love the client, or they wouldn’t be here, they would not be here. 

So, I love doing those family weeks, and I’m looking forward to getting back to them. 

Another thing that we’re going to start is doing some free standing family weeks, I’ve been asked to do these before. And you know, if we’ve got someone that comes in like for an intensive and they don’t need long term treatment, and if they do the intensive and maybe stay another week, we’re going to look at doing family weeks for those folks, because a lot of them don’t need 42 days of treatment. But they do need a family week, we have seen so many miracles. I say family week but I mean family work.

Margaret:  Right. 

Tennie:  So that’s something that we’re going to start offering and I’m going to do, that’s going to be kind of my project I wanna do a lot of them. I want to be involved in it as much as I can. Because that’s really why I went into the business, is to work with children and families. The whole system gets sick, the whole system needs to have an opportunity to get well.

Margaret  08:29

My language is they deserve it right? 

Tennie:  Absolutely.

Margaret:  They’ve been affected by this disease; they deserve the help. And a lot of family will do everything for their identified patient and neglect themselves so terribly and be so resistant to spending time and resources on themselves.

Tennie McCarty  08:47

Yep, but we have had them walk across the street from family week and check themselves into treatment. We’ve seen that many times. And so that’s the good news is that people can recognize that their own addiction or eating disorder or codependency. But bottom line, what we treat here is codependency because that’s the underlying underneath most addiction is that codependents peace, you know.

Margaret  09:16

Well and your story shares the hope that when one person starts their journey of recovery, the impact of the family can be seeing recovery leads to them wanting recovery, you know, because I think we get stuck in the shame when we have the disease that we’ve done so much harm to our family and they’re never going to be okay, and it’s all our fault and all of those negative tapes that click in. There is hope if people start changing in the family for recovery, you know your daughter handing you that bag of meditation books is such a powerful image of that exact truth.

Tennie McCarty  09:48

And today she’s my business partner, she started with me the day that we open Shades she’s on the money side, she’s the accounting side of it. And then, you know, I have one daughter that always danced to a different tune. You know, she is the one that really got us on first name basis with every principal that she ever had. She was our little acting out child. She is a therapist here and has been for over 30 years. And like I said, she is my co therapist, and during the intensives. And then my oldest daughter, she went back 10 years ago and got her master’s degree. And I never dreamed she would be working here. But she’s come to work for us. And she is wonderful. I’m bragging on my kids, but they’re good. I mean, I wouldn’t, we wouldn’t have them just because it’s a family business. I mean, they’re they do a good job. 

Margaret  10:43

I think that’s part of the beauty of your treatment center that the family is involved. Yeah, again, it speaks to the hope.

Tennie McCarty  10:50

Well, and then my grandson is 20. And he’s going to school in St. Louis. And during the summer, he comes and works. He’s a Phys. Ed major, he comes in the summertime and works with our clients on the exercise part. So he’s really getting to learn about you know what we’ve all done for years, and he fits in really good, the clients love him.

Margaret  11:15

I bet. I bet.


This podcast is made possible by listeners like you.

Margaret  11:23

If you ever want to gain support, education or coaching regarding food addiction, reach out to me on my ‘Work With Margaret Page’. If you feel you need inpatient treatment, make sure to take a look at the Shades of Hope website. You can find the links in my show notes. And as always, please subscribe and follow this podcast on your favorite platform.


You’re listening to The Embrace Family Recovery Podcast. Can you relate to what you’re hearing? Never miss a show by hitting the subscribe button. Now back to the show.

Margaret  12:04

One of the stories that stood out for me when I met you in Las Vegas those years ago was you had just done recently a experiment with brain scans. A risk I look at it as because you hadn’t had sugar and you introduced it into your system to see what difference the scan made. Can you talk about that experience because to me, that seems like such a high-risk thing and yet such a service opportunity to share and educate people about the way our brain reacts if we have the disease, and we introduce sugar. 

Tennie McCarty  12:37

Well, I have to admit when they called me you know we had the opportunity to do a an eight part docuseries for Oprah. And after that came out, we had a network, I think it was CBS, that wanted to come do an intensive, film an intensive and so they called me and want to know if I would be willing to come up and participate in this research that they were doing. Well, I was coming off of an intensive and I just had a few minutes to talk, and I agreed to go. And I had no idea of what they’re gonna do. I just went. So, I got there. And what it was they had the scientists and then the medical people there and they did an MRI of my brain. And so, the scientists told me that they would put me in the tube there and that there would be two tubes over my mouth. And that they would show me a picture of frosted glass of water and then drop two or three drops in my mouth and run the machine. And then they would do that with a frosted glass of milkshake. Now that is the first time that I, I believe that I was conscious that I was going to get sugar. 

Margaret:  Right 

Tennie:  And here I was getting ready to go in there and I just made the decision. Alright, I’ll do it. So, by the end of that, and it took a long time, I want to say 80 minutes, they took a long time. And by the end of that I was sucking that tube that had the chocolate and it just just sucking and trying to get more out of it, just that quickly. It activated that need for more. But when I came out, I’m so grateful I was deathly ill. I was throwing up. I was dizzy. And so, they took me back to the hotel. Yeah, that set it up but it didn’t make me want more sugar. I’m glad I had that bad experience with it. And they showed a brain of a normal person. And it had a little activity and then they showed my brain and they said that it looked like a Roman Candle had exploded in my brain. That my brain had more activity on it with sugar than most of the drug addicts, the heroin addicts, cocaine that they had tested. Now that’s on sugar but even today a lot of people want to deny that there is an addictive component to sugar. I mean not all of us have it. But the only way, you know, if you have it is, you know, you’ve got to get off of it and see if there is some withdrawal. And if you’re really a sugar addict, if you get off of it, you’re gonna get sick. And usually that looks like flu symptoms, maybe even hot and cold sweats, there’ll be a withdrawal. And then another guideline is, if you can’t eat just one small portion, the guideline for any addiction is if you can take it or leave it 

Margaret:  right, 

Tennie:  you can have two little ounces of wine and walk away from it, not everything about wine till the next dinner party or something you might not be an alcoholic. But if you drank that, and then had to go buy a bottle at the liquor store, before you go home or the grocery store, you might be an alcoholic, and it’s the same with sugar.  If you have to have it or if when you do eat it, if it creates that, the craving doesn’t start until the substance is put in the body. You know, the mental obsession, this there, we remember what it feels like.

Margaret  16:18

I was so stunned when sugar was coming out of my body, that I got to a point where I realized how numb I had lived from the neck down. I did not give prudence to the power of the addiction that I had. I thought it was still somehow different than chemicals. And so, when I saw that image that you shared, and I saw the change in your brain, it was like, again, a validation of what I knew to be true in me that is so easily dismissed by so many. I wonder how you continue your passion and your drive when there are naysayers and people dismissing the power of sugar, and addiction around food.

Tennie McCarty  17:06

Well, I’m past the years of waving a banner and trying to change everyone’s mind. Each person has to figure that out for themselves. And, you know, here it Shades, we detox people, we take them off of all sugar, and we take them off of gluten and I didn’t do that at first. But gluten, wheat doesn’t even have any similarity, you know, bread doesn’t to what it did there in our forefather’s days. And so, what take them off a caffeine, we take them off sugar, we take them off of gluten, it’s a nonsmoking center, one of the few nonsmoking centers. And what I tell people is I’m not saying you can’t eat sugar, or gluten, your body will tell you. And what I’ll tell them, when you get out of here, if you want to go back to eating sugar, eat it with intention, put it in your meal plan, have someone witness it, don’t sneak it, you know, because that’s what we do, or you know, food addicts, we’re sneak eaters. But have someone witness it and then notice what it does to your body and to your brain. And then it may not do anything, right that minute, but two days later that might be all you can think about is sugar, sugar, sugar. So, your brain and your body is your best way to know, for anyone to know if they have a problem with sugar. And a lot of times when they go in the halfway house, we’ve had them to experiment. You know, their dead set if they know they’re going to eat sugar, we’ll do it in the halfway house, do with intention, have an audience and then notice, notice the change. There are people I think that can safely eat sugar.

Margaret  18:52

I like the do it with intention and do it with a witness. Because left to my own devices. Even if I did it with intention trying to do it by myself without discussing it with a sponsor or a fellow or someone who understands this. I worry that my disease will be tripped, and I would completely lie to myself.

Tennie McCarty  19:10

Oh yeah, that’s what we do

Margaret  19:11

 really good at it. 

Tennie McCarty  19:15

Yeah. But if you’ve got someone there to witness it, it makes it a whole different deal and a lot of times it takes the fun out of it. 

Margaret:  Yes,

Tennie:  We’re so sneaky

Margaret  19:27

We are indeed. So, I want to be intentional with your time I thank you for doing this with me and maybe to leave the show with what’s your number one hope for families who face this disease in their family? What would you say that would be what would you want for families who are out there and the disease is in the family.

Tennie McCarty  19:49

My hope is for the family to get help if we can get the family. We’ve got the client. We see it all the time. It’s not the family’s fault. They didn’t cause it, can’t cure it, can’t control it. But if the family can get help, if they quit doing the behavior, the codependency part, the caretaking, the lying, all of that. If they can take care of themselves, if we can get the family some help, we’ve got the client. And because the client will not, once all of the enablers stop, the client will many times, they really see that they do have a problem. And when they don’t, people die from these diseases. They die all the time. But what about the families they need help, regardless of where the addict or the eating disordered person gets help or not. And my hope for families is get your own help and to know you love your loved ones, you want the best for them. But as when I was in my disease of codependency my best almost killed three really good alcoholics. I almost loved them to death. You know, I’d rescue them when they get about an inch from their bottom. So, it’s about taking care of ourselves loving an addict. And it’s not about deserting them. It’s about standing with them but not doing for them what they need to be doing for themselves.

Margaret  21:25

Well said, Thank you. 

Outro:  Tennie McCarty, I thank you. I thank you for being a woman who lives her recovery with integrity, and generously gives away what you have been given. I know you’re open, honest sharing touched my life. Many years ago, when I heard you, and it continues to touch me today. You inspire me to keep sharing my story. And I believe the fact that people can find you on your Tennie Talks on Wednesdays on Zoom is a blessing to their recovery if they choose. I am humbled that you took the time to be a guest on the podcast and I know my listeners benefited greatly from you. 

I want to thank my guest for their courage and vulnerability and sharing parts of their story. Please find resources on my website. embracefamilyrecovery.com 

This is Margaret Swift Thompson. 

Until next time, please take care of you!