Remembering A Vivid Description Of Food Addiction

News & Notes producer Sonata Lee Narcisse talks with Tony Cox about a memorable segment she produced on food addiction.

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TONY COX, host:

All this week, we've been talking to the people who work behind the scenes here at News & Notes. And today, we turn to Sonata Lee Narcisse, a producer here at News & Notes, about her time on this show. Hello, Sonata.

SONATA LEE NARCISSE: Hi, Tony.

COX: You know, you are the youngest person on the staff here at News & Notes, and you started off as an intern back in 2006. And then, you came back as a producer and now, as a director.

NARCISSE: That's right. I was still in graduate school when I started here. I really loved the show. I was really excited to start working here after I graduated, so I'm really happy to be here.

COX: And we were glad to have you here.

NARCISSE: Thank you.

COX: So what has been one of the most memorable stories that you have produced?

NARCISSE: One of my very first assignments on News & Notes was for a month-long series on addiction. It looked at things like gambling, shopping, substance abuse. And I was assigned the segment on food addiction. So at first, I wasn't sure what route to take with this segment. In our editorial meeting, we discussed possible guests for this show, like nationally syndicated radio host Big Boy, or American Idol's Randy Jackson. They've both had weight-loss surgery. So I thought that they wouldbe great for the show because I knew people would be able to relate to them, but I didn't know if their stories really represented food addiction. And that was something we really tried to define in this segment - what is food addiction? Is there a difference between someone who overeats, and someone who is literally addicted to food? So for the answer to that question, we turned to addiction specialist Marty Lerner. He directs the Milestones in Recovery eating disorders program. News & Notes' former host, Farai Chideya, asked Marty Lerner to explain when someone crosses the line between overeating and food addiction.

(Soundbite of Interview)

Dr. MARTIN LERNER (Addition Specialist): It's very similar to other addictions. For instance, if I can borrow an analogy between a heavy social drinker and an alcoholic, there comes a time when someone wakes up in the morning and they look back and they realize, instead of them controlling their consumption of alcohol, now the alcohol is controlling themselves. So one of the earmarks of food addiction - or any addiction - is to find yourself in the quagmire of wanting to not engage in a behavior or consume a substance, and finding yourself compelled to do that despite the consequences. So a loss of control is one earmark that delineates someone with a bad habit versus someone who has an addictive process they're involved with.

COX: So who did you end up finding for the piece?

NARCISSE: I turned to Overeaters Anonymous for our guest, Vic(ph), who is a recovering food addict. And Farai started off the interview by asking Vic to give an example of a day when she completely lost control of her eating.

Ms. VIC: It wasn't a day. It was the day before, and that day, and the next day. But anyway, OK, so I wake up in the morning, totally hung over. Dr. Lerner, Marty, described very well, you know, having lost control. So I wake up. I feel terrible, and the last thing I want to do, I think, is - in my rational brain - is eat because I feel so bad. And yet, I know that if I take one bite of anything, I'll be off and running. And I'm scared. I'm really scared. I'm living a totally isolated life and I'm - because of this food addiction. And I'm scared because I'll do it to myself again but...

CHIDEYA: Let me - let me just ask one thing. When you say hung over, do you mean hung over from overeating or hung over…

Ms. VIC: Oh, yes, purely overeating.

CHIDEYA: But what's an overeating hangover feel like?

Ms. VIC: Well, OK. I've just woken up from a night of terrible sweat, tossing and turning because of the excesses in my gut. I - my head feels like it's stuffed with concrete cotton. Every nerve in my body feels like its got acid on it. I feel completely demoralized, ugly. I'm also physically bloated. It's just like - stuffed. OK. I don't - it's hard for me…

CHIDEYA: I think that you've given us a lot of descriptions, you know.

Ms. VIC: OK, great. All right. So now you want to know what happens next?

CHIDEYA: Yeah, what did - yeah, you were saying that you were afraid to start eating but I'm...

Ms. VIC: OK. But then - OK, I would be afraid to start eating but there was nothing else to do because I was dirty, I was - I couldn't fit in my clothes. I had no friends left because I was so isolated with the food. So there was nothing left to do but eat, and if I stopped eating for one second, I might remember something. Oh, and by the way, all the time that I would be eating, I - well, not all the time but at the beginning, when I would start out eating, it would like the - a break for my imagination and I'd sit there stuffing my face and thinking of all the great things I was going to do when I got through eating, what a success I would be. But soon those thoughts would be supplanted because I was just terrorized by what I was doing to myself. ..TEXT: Ms. NARCISSE: We also spoke to Libby Bier, a food-addiction counselor at the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery.

(Soundbite of interview)

CHIDEYA: It sounds to me, and maybe I'm wrong, that what Vic has been going through was an extreme case. How extreme was it and what, you know, and you hinted at this, what make someone an addict as opposed to a social overeater?

Ms. LIBBY BIER (Food Addiction Counselor, Illinois Institute): Sure, and to be honest with you, I don't really think that Vic's case is too far from most of the cases that we work with here at our center. I don't know if maybe Vic, if she's been in treatment, if she could speak to maybe some of the other people that she knows but her case really does just seem like one of the - just - if I can use the word, normal cases, that we see here quite often with someone who truly has food addiction; it is this severe.

COX: So Sonata, what was it about this piece that stood out for you?

Ms. NARCISSE: Well, Vic described her struggle with food addiction so vividly. I think we hear people depict their struggles with drug addiction in movies and on television, but I don't think we've ever really heard of food addicts speak so candidly and descriptively about their addiction. I also thought Libby Bier was an important component to this segment because she explained that although Vic's story seemed to be an extreme case of food addiction, her struggle really is not that unique.

COX: Let's talk about you for a minute, OK? We said in the beginning that you came here as an intern, and I know that you have worked - you worked at a newspaper for a while and I know you worked at CBS. But in terms of on-air or working in a television - I mean, in a radio talk show, news opinion setting, this is the first time you've really done that.

Ms. NARCISSE: That's right.

COX: So, how would you describe that experience for people who are trying to do what you've already done?

Ms. NARCISSE: Oh, my goodness. A huge adrenalin rush would be a description I would give. You know, we're a live show so we've got a certain amount of time to get it done and get it on air. So, you're operating off of instincts, a lot of times.

COX: So, do you feel that you are - this show maybe helped prepare for your next spot?

Ms. NARCISSE: Oh, definitely, I've learned so much here. It's just been incredible.

COX: So, we're proud of you. We feel like we - you grew up with us.

Ms. NARCISSE: And I feel like I did.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: That was Sonata Lee Narcisse, a producer and director here at News & Notes, taking - talking about a segment she produced on food addiction.

(Soundbite of music)

COX: That's our show for today. Glad you could join us. To listen to the show, visit our Web site, nprnewsandnotes.org. News & Notes was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Tomorrow, March Madness is sweeping the nation. Let the bracket-busting begin. New York Times sports columnist Bill Roden gives us his picks.

I'm Tony Cox. This is News & Notes.

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