Tinisha Hall Smith comes from a family of addicts. But unlike her relatives, Hall Smith doesn't abuse drugs and alcohol. Instead, she's overindulges in a substance many of us can appreciation: food.
The 32-year-old is one of the stars of 'Addicted to Food,' a docuseries which premiered last night on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network. Viewers who tuned in were introduced to eight eating disorder patients, including anorexia and bulimia sufferers, at treatment facility Shades of Hope Treatment Center in Buffalo Gap, Texas. There they receive therapy that helps them to uncover the sources of their addictions and offers steps for them to conquer their weight issues and maintain a healthier lifestyle.
DeJuaii Pace, member of the gospel group The Anointed Pace Sisters and sister to gospel singer Lashun Pace, also stars on the show, where she discovers that her overeating was due to her hiding her sexual attraction to women. (Yep, she comes out to family members on the show, according to a recent interview she did with 'The Root.')
Hall Smith, who is married with two adult step-children, has struggled with her weight for most of her life. At 5'1 and weighing close to 300 pounds, Hall Smith thought she was going to die. She weighed 286 pounds at her heaviest and by the time she arrived at Shades last August, she got down to 265.
Hall Smith, who spent six weeks at Shades, shares her story with AOL Black Voices.
(As told to Aisha I. Jefferson)
I am pretty much a compulsive overeater. I eat when I'm bored. I eat when I'm tired. I eat when I'm angry. I come from a family of addicts. My mother, my father, and one of my aunts – a lot of the people around me growing up were all doing drugs and drinking a lot of alcohol. My grandmother was a gambler and my grandfather was an alcoholic. Seeing all of that growing up, I said I was never going to be a drug addict or an alcoholic.
Even though I've stayed true to this pledge, I have the same addictive behavior that my family members have. I even gamble like my grandmother. It wasn't until I sought treatment at Shades of Hope that I was able to identify that I had a food addiction and get an idea on how to properly treat it.
When I first got to Shades, the first four days were pretty tough. I experienced a withdrawal similar to someone who's addicted to drugs. I really and truly was like a drug addict going through recovery, because food is ultimately the same thing. I would wake up in the middle of the night, very weak, sick and craving sugar. I had been used to drinking a lot of Coca-Cola so my body was just full of sugar.
You're supposed to wean yourself off of things before you arrive but I didn't. I ended up getting sick, experiencing cramps, vomiting and was a very a cranky person. Even if there was nothing left to throw up, I still felt like I wanted to throw up. My body was just used to having that sugar and caffeine every day. And going from consuming so much to consuming nothing at all was a very big adjustment.
Like many people who are overweight or obese, I've tried a lot of diets in the past. Ninety-day diets, Atkins diet, South Beach Diet – you name it, I've probably tried it. My problem is that I start out fine but can't stick with them. I discovered at Shades that the diets didn't work because I am addicted to food. Diets say eat this and not that but do not address the issues underneath the addiction.
It was through treatment that I first learned why I wanted to eat the food I was eating. It also helped to be at a facility where people controlled what you ate and offered assistance as you become more disciplined in a regular daily routine with exercise and a healthy meal plan.
Treatment also allowed me to discuss my childhood and participate in spiritual classes. If a person is a compulsive overeater and finds it hard to control their eating, I would say, don't try to give up everything at once. I learned that it's not really about will power. If you have problems with food, you can only be on a diet for so long before you just give in or go back to your old ways. Even if you're on a diet and you lose the weight, you may say, "I can eat what I want because I lost the weight," then gain it all back. If you can leave it all alone and just eat the healthy stuff, great. But it's not something that most people can do on their own, especially if they don't figure out what their triggers are.
For me, it's not like I sat around and ate just because I wanted to. I was eating because I was trying to fill up a hole in my heart, like I was missing something. I felt like I didn't have a spiritual connection with God, with my family and friends, or even with myself. I really felt empty and my food consumption and gambling were outlets I used to fill that empty space up. I would keep eating until I couldn't eat anymore.
Instead of eating all day now, I try to eat three moderate meals a day. I haven't been going to gym regularly like I did at Shades, but the goal is to go to the gym five times a week and just move more! You don't want to just be a couch potato. I do exercise while walking my dog and I will walk around the mall. I no longer have the strong fear of dying like I did just a few months ago.
I still am pre-diabetic and have high blood pressure. Even though I lost weight, I still have arthritis in my knee, so I will need to lose more weight to get rid of that. I did gain a little weight when I returned from Shades and currently weigh 250 pounds. But I'm very hopeful and would like to slim down to 160 or 150. The smallest size I remember wearing as a young adult was a 12. So, if I can lose the fat and feel healthy and feel good about myself and feel good about my body then I'm good. I think a size 8 is reasonable.
I really do feel like a new person. I'm not cured, but I know I can have a better life. I think that therapy is important because you need to be able to express your feelings and your innermost thoughts; things that other people may not want to hear or know how to help you with. You really need to be able to get all of that stuff out. It helps to have professionals help you find out what's the best route for you to lose weight. It definitely had a big impact on my weight loss journey.
Talking to people who understand and can empathize and knowing you're not alone helps more than you can know. I am grateful for the opportunity to go to Shades of Hope, and even though I didn't plan to have it all shown to the world, if it helps others to see that there is hope and help, then that makes me feel good. And I am ready to feel good.