Karen's Blogs

Blogs are brief, to-the-point, conversational, and packed with information, strategies, and tips to turn troubled eaters into “normal” eaters and to help you enjoy a happier, healthier life. Sign up by clicking "Subscribe" below and they’ll arrive in your inbox. 

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The Difference Between Wanting and Deciding

Clients come to see me wanting to change their eating habits and I often have a hunch about which ones will fail and which will succeed. There’s a hesitancy in those who tend to fail (rather than a full steam ahead attitude) causing them to formally drop out of therapy or stop coming to sessions. I feel badly that I can’t help them enough, but also recognize that people often change a bit at a time, not in one fell swoop. At any rate, I was thinking about what makes for success or failure in altering habits when a column on transforming eating habits caught my eye. Its author, Bryant Stamford, PhD, is a professor of kinesiology and integrative physiology at Hanover College. His theory is that most people fail at reaching their health goals because they’re still in the stage of “wanting” something but haven’t “decided” to go for it....
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One Important Sign of Mental Health

I think it was in social work school that I learned about one crucial aspect of mental health: the ability to hold two opposing thoughts or feelings at one time. Clients are often surprised when I bring up this dynamic and why it might be important. Why do you think it has merit? Consider how hard it is to hold conflicting feelings or thoughts, how we’d much rather they line up single file and visit us one at a time than come charging at us en masse. I know that’s how I feel about emotions and thoughts.  Here are some client examples:  Caitlin wants to leave her emotionally abusive husband and is scared about losing their two-income status. She desperately wants out and also desperately fears not being able to live in her current lifestyle. Anne is plugging along in therapy to become a “normal” eater and also wants to lose weight...
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Food as Obsession

A client was describing to me what it was like for her when she used to be obsessed with food, said now from a vantage point of being a far more “normal” eater. She joked about how she used to be, but I could hear the pain in her voice as she remembered. Her description also brought me back to my binge-eating days which could not be more different than my life now.  My client described her “abnormal” eating days as follows: “I thought about food all day long. I agonized over what to eat, was consumed by the eating process and, post-eating, spent endless time ruminating about what or how much I’d eaten 24/7/365.” This description reminded me of how I was always mentally in two places as a dysregulated eater. I was in reality—at work, with friends or family, skiing, dancing, watching TV or going to the movies, or...
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Yes, You’re Allowed to Disappoint Other People

Many people have the odd belief that they should never disappoint others. The belief runs rampant in the eating disorders community. While it’s clear to me how this irrational belief came about, the concept of it being okay to disappoint others often comes as a surprise to clients. If you’re an adult walking around the planet trying not to disappoint people, finding out that you no longer need to think this way may shock you too. Where else did you learn that disappointment is a no no but in childhood. Here’s an example. Say, you’re an amazing artist and an outstanding soccer player but not so great in math which disappoints your dad who hoped you’d grow up to become an accountant like him. He lets you know frequently that he’s sad/upset/disappointed and, as a child, this makes you feel terrible because you love Dad and feel like the cause of...
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Facing Fear to Conquer It

You can only talk about something you’re afraid to do for so long in therapy before talk becomes superfluous and the only way to move past the fear is to push yourself into taking action. It’s one thing to discuss barriers to change and how to overcome them; it’s another to say you’re going to do something but do nothing to make that happen. Here are some examples of positive movement forward. You think you want to leave your partner and read up on your state’s divorce laws. You want to change jobs and use therapy to explore what work you might and might not be suited for. You’d like to become a “normal” eater and read books on how to eat mindfully. In each case, you still have the fear—of not knowing whether you want to be single again, will find a better job, or will ever learn to have...
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Why It Feels So Good to Feel So Bad

In one week during four sessions, I had discussions with clients about the difficulty of giving up self-pity and the victim mindset. It’s something that we generally feel icky about, yet there’s also something gratifying that draws us to it. Somehow to feel justified in being wronged brings us a weird kind of satisfaction.  One client told me, “Self-pity gives me a strange kind of comfort.” Another enjoyed how it was a kind of penance for things she did wrong in her life. She said she used to like how self-pity was so much easier than trying to change. All of these clients were, to greater or lesser extent, denied normal, healthy childhoods by their parents or families through abuse or neglect. None were effectively soothed or comforted by people who lacked these skills. So, these clients found comfort where they could: in rebelling and getting negative attention, in food/drink/drugs/sex which...
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Use, Don’t Lose, Your Temper

A client once said to me, “I hate losing my temper” which led to discussing exactly what she meant by the comment and what feelings and fears were behind it. To lose your temper means “failing to maintain composure.” Is that always a bad thing? Do we necessarily want to remain calm and self-possessed in all situations? I think not. There’s a difference between using your temper and losing it. For example, one of my former clients was married to a wonderful man whom she adored, except for his hoarding tendencies. For him, 10 packages of toilet paper were better than one and you never know when you’re going to run out of socks, so why not buy a set of three rather than a single pair. Worst of all, my client’s husband stored all the extras of everything he bought in his home office. One day, when he was out,...
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Book Review: Why Smart People Make Bad Food Choices

The goal of Why Smart People Make Bad Food Choices is to alter not only our individual eating habits, but to change society’s relationship with food. It is truly a book for our times and our appetites. (Originally published at New York Journal of Books) Author Jack A. Bobo, who has worked for 13 years as a senior adviser on global food policy and spent the last decade learning how behavioral science can improve our eating decisions, states at the get-go that his book is not about slimming down and confirms why weight-loss diets inevitably only make us fatter, saying, “The truth is that diets don’t work for most people . . . the research is pretty clear that a lack of self-control is not what’s making us fat . . . reducing obesity in America is not about diets or information. It’s not about reading labels or counting calories. Instead,...
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Getting Ready to Be a “Normal” Eater

Many clients have dieted and binged for so long that they can’t believe they could really eat “normally.” I don’t care how long you’ve had dysregulated eating; you can learn to eat according to appetite. In order to do this, you need to be ready for all the journey entails. Readiness doesn’t come in one fell swoop but grows gradually over time. Why is readiness important? If you’re not at the point where you really want to eat intuitively, you won’t be able to sustain motivation for the process this entails. Too many clients approach intuitive eating as they would a diet: I’ll do this for a while, and I’ll lose weight. That kind of thinking is antithetical to becoming a “normal” eater. It won’t work. Intuitive eating is nothing like a weight-loss diet which you feel rah rah about and do until you shed the pounds you want. It is...
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Something Better Than Hope

One of my clients was aghast when I suggested she might want to stop relying on hope as much as she did. Her initial reaction was, “If I give up hope, how will I move forward? There’s nothing left without it. I could never give it up.” This is an unfortunate mindset, because, as she now realizes, “Hope can be deceiving.” Hope is defined as “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen” (Oxford Languages Dictionary), and therein lies the problem. We think of hope as making something happen, causing it, when all it does is act as a space holder until other things we do, think and feel deliver a specific outcome. Hope makes us feel good and is fine if we understand that, in itself, it does not deliver results. Hope also has a substantial downside. Think of all the times you’ve hoped that someone...
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