April 12, 2007 — -- Hundreds of thousands of people undergo weight loss surgery each year, but for some of them, giving up comfort food means picking up other dangerous cravings, a phenomenon known as "addiction transfer."
Many patients who lose hundreds of pounds with gastric bypass surgery find that their food cravings become something else after they go under the knife. Their abuse of food is transferred into a new addiction, such as shopping, alcohol, gambling or even sex.
"Addictions are like a beach ball. You can push them under the water, but they are going to pop up somewhere else," said psychoanalyst Bethany Marshall.
One gastric bypass patient traded in her food addiction for a vice just as dangerous.
Marcy Rosenzweig Leavitt, a therapist from Beverly Hills, Calif., lost nearly 200 pounds after her surgery, only to sink $15,000 into debt with a shopping addiction.
Before the surgery, Leavitt said food was more than comfort, it was an addiction. She said with pressure from work and stress at home, she found that she was always grazing.
"I was anxious when I wasn't eating, content when I was," Leavitt said.
After reaching 375 pounds, Leavitt opted for gastric bypass surgery, unaware of the complications that would follow.
Afterward, she said she physically couldn't eat, so she began to search for something else. Two months after her surgery in the fall of 2003, Leavitt took up shopping, not yet conscious of the vice swap that was taking place.
She felt a compulsion to buy whatever she could get her hands on -- jewelry, shoes, bags and candles -- but with the new items came debt.
"I was compulsive. I had to go into a store and buy. I didn't go out and buy the $2,000 item. I live in Beverly Hills. I don't have to go to expensive places, but I'd go to the 99 cent store," she said.
After reaching the maximum of $12,000 on her credit cards, Leavitt, 42, then used a credit card she shared with her parents to charge an additional $3,000.
Her addiction to shopping came to a crashing halt last year when her parents received the $3,000 bill. Her family intervened, and she was forced to get the help she needed.
In therapy, Leavitt said she was able to identify the core issue for her addictions: anxiety. Through this identification, along with regular therapy, she now keeps her addictions in check.
She acknowledges it is an ongoing battle.
"I'm in recovery," she said.