'Curb Your Enthusiasm' Star Struggles to Curb Appetite, Lose Weight

"Curb Your Enthusiasm" comedian dishes on his love-hate relationship with food.

Feb. 17, 2010— -- Even if you don't know his name, you might remember comedian Jeff Garlin as the overweight co-star in the movie "Daddy Day Care," or recognize him as the voice of the rotund captain of the axiom spaceship in "WALL-E."

But it's on the hit HBO show "Curb Your Enthusiasm" where Garlin is best-known. His character Jeff Greene struggles with marital problems and his weight. His wife, Susie, is almost uncomfortably direct, calling him a "fat f***" in their screaming matches.

"People ask me if it bothers me, 'I'm like, why would it bother me, we have a good time," Garlin said of his on-screen nickname. "If I don't want to be called that anymore, all I have to do is lose some weight, like, that's all I have to do."

If only it were that simple.

Garlin has penned a new memoir, "My Footprint: Carrying the Weight of the World," which gives a funny and honest account of his lifetime struggle to lose weight. Like many overweight people, first he had to admit he had a problem.

"I am a [food] addict, no doubt about it," he said.

Food addiction is a physical or mental craving for food -- not unlike addictions to alcohol or drugs -- according to experts. Food addicts' habits are often characterized by obsessive or emotional eating.

"You're doing it to, to push down feelings. That's really the reason why," Garlin said. "So, you can never get enough, it's just never enough."

To get a sense of his addiction, "20/20's" Elizabeth Vargas joined Garlin at one of his favorite places -- the Los Angeles farmer's market.

"I bet you I've spent over the years at least $500 to $1,000 on donuts here," he told Vargas.

At Coffee Corner, the haunt Garlin frequents for breakfast, the comedian used to order half a dozen items off the menu.

"I would get a big vanilla milkshake and two or three donuts," he said. "I'd get lox and bagel with cream cheese and eggs and onions and another bagel and a couple of apple juices."

CLICK HERE to see photos of Jeff Garlin battling weight loss through the years

Garlin: I Never Feel Full

But even a three-course meal wouldn't tide Garlin over for long. "There's never a time where I feel full," he said. "I feel, like, bloated and sick, but once that goes away, I want to eat more."

Garlin said he would frequently stop at a burger joint on the way home to eat dinner.

"A lot of times I'd be, like, 'Oh, I know we're going to have this for dinner, that's not going to be enough. Here, I'll stop over here at In and Out Burger and get a double-double' -- It's two double cheeseburgers."

And on the set, a table full of free gourmet sandwiches, pop tarts, and Garlin's favorite cereal, Cap'n Crunch -- present an endless temptation.

"When I am working, this is as much as I want. There is no cash register. I walk up and I take what I want," he said.

Garlin said he didn't try to hide his compulsive eating from his wife Marla or colleagues.

"If you're fooling yourself, somebody with food, you're only fooling them for a brief second, because all you have to do is look at you and they know what you've been doing," Garlin joked.

Larry David on Garlin's Eating Habits

Larry David, co-creator of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," said he's known about Garlin's issues with food.

"Most people who are overweight have issues with food, right?" David said. "I suspected as much when I constantly saw him eating. I put two and two together."

David admits that, at first, he didn't understand Garlin's compulsion to eat.

"I was on him, like, the first ... five years maybe, 'Well, you know, you don't, you don't, you don't need me with the Snickers mouth, do you? You know? Come on.' And he'd go, 'Yeah, you are right,' and he'd throw it away," David said.

Many don't realize that food addiction is a disease, not an addiction, Garlin said. Even his wife took a while to comprehend what her husband was battling.

"For years I always thought we could help him, he could help himself, and why isn't he following a diet? Or whatever, why isn't, why is he eating this? He doesn't need to eat it, he's full," Marla Garlin said. "I guess I was in denial. And I needed to be educated."

CLICK HERE to read an excerpt of Jeff Garlin's new book

Compulsive Eating Affects Men

Compulsive eating and food addiction has been a topic discussed more among women than men.

"There's something more masculine about being an alcoholic than being a compulsive overeater. You know, a guy, hard drinking guy, you know. The big, eating guy is not thought of as, as somebody with a problem," Garlin said.

Garlin said he stayed in denial even after his food addiction almost killed him. Ten years ago, just before starting the first season of "Curb," Garlin suffered a stroke.

"I was seven months pregnant and we had a 4-year-old," Marla Garlin said. "It was really rough, that was a rough time for us."

For years, Garlin would announce he was finally getting serious about losing weight. But all of his efforts would ultimately fail. Like many addicts, Garlin had to hit rock bottom.

'Living XL' Catalog Pushes Garlin to Edge

Surprisingly, Garlin's bottom came in the guise of a catalog called "Living XL" he received in the mail.

"The premise of the catalog is, it says unique innovative products for tall and plus-size men and women. What it really is, is a catalog that helps you stay fat. Like, if you don't have a chair that can hold you, we've got the chair. A thousand-pound capacity!" Garlin said.

Among items in the catalogue was the "Living XL Wearable Sleeves Blanket" and the "Big John toilet seat," but what really changed Garlin's life was when he saw a man modeling the "Cabin Comfort Inflatable Pillow," who looked just like him.

"This is the last page of the catalog that I got, hey, fat person on the plane, wait, is that me? I had to look twice. I don't remember posing for this. It looks just like me," Garlin said. "And so that was a big motivating factor. I refer to that as my bottom, not my stroke, but seeing, it took vanity to see myself in the catalog."

'Chubby People Are Funny!'

"Curb" fans probably noticed that Garlin's slimmed down in season seven -- thanks in part to Garlin getting his bad eating habits backstage under control. (He now opts for grilled vegetables, instead of bagels and Cap'n Crunch).

Unlike many large comedians, Garlin didn't worry that by losing weight, he would lose his comedic edge.

"There are fat comedians that I have known in the past who were very fearful of that, some of them even died, you know," Garlin said. "It has nothing to do whatsoever with me being funny."

David agrees. "I don't think his humor is, is dependent on what he looks like. He is just a naturally funny guy. And listen, let's face it, chubby people are funny! I think there is a greater preponderance of funny chubby people than thin people."

Garlin now weighs in between 260 and 270 pounds, down from about 320 at his peak.

"I'd say [I'm] about 50 percent there, yeah, 50 percent or so," Garlin said. "It's the new Jeff Garlin -- I hope that it stays."

"The thing that I really want to get across, if there is any message, that it's not a diet, it's not a, you wake up and do this, it's over time it happens. And it happened to me over time," he said.

Watch Elizabeth Vargas' interview with Jeff Garlin on "20/20" Friday at 10 p.m. ET

CLICK HERE to read an excerpt of Jeff Garlin's new book