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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Book Review – Let Go of Emotional Overeating and Love Your Food

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I’m always interested in reading a book by a seasoned psychotherapist who, like me, has also recovered from emotional overeating. It’s the perfect combination to educate and counsel people who want to manage both their emotions and relationship with food. In Let Go of Emotional Overeating and Love Your Food, Arlene Englander, MA, LCSW, offers a 5-point plan that, when diligently and joyfully followed, will change your relationship with food. She describes emotional eating as “eating neither to satisfy hunger nor for enjoyment, but in a desperate attempt to distract oneself from painful thoughts and feelings.” In short, when we emotionally overeat, we not only abuse food but also mistreat ourselves. To help readers understand and identify with what she says, she shares experiences from her own emotional eating days and uses case examples from her clinical practice.  Her major focus is to teach readers how to connect with themselves and...
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How Co-dependence Wrecks Your Life

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Care to guess what percentage of my current clients are co-dependent? A whopping 76%. I made this count after reading an article (written for clinicians) on the subject: “The Neuroscience of Codependency for Client Understanding and Treatment.”  Due to learning maladaptive patterns in childhood, you are co-dependent if you: are overly selfless and trusting, repeatedly put others’ needs first at your expense, over-empathize and over-identify, often are taken advantage of and victimized, and surround yourself with your opposite type—narcissist or sociopath. The article’s author, Mary Joye, maintains that, “Abandonment, abuse, neglect, parental addiction, death of a parent or any childhood trauma can result in a lifetime of grasping for love like a frantic infant or to become submissive to a narcissistic or demanding partner.” Sound familiar?  Joye explains the neurobiology of co-dependence, that is, how it affects people emotionally, cognitively and physically from infancy on: “If a child does not experience...
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You’re Only as Healthy as the Company You Keep

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I’m often amazed to hear about clients’ unhealthy friends—substance abusers, unstable people with mental or physical health problems who refuse treatment, dangerous risk-takers, perpetual victims in abusive relationships who won’t acknowledge problems or leave, and narcissists who take advantage of clients financially or emotionally or both.  Clients tell me story after story about these “friends” and come up with all kinds of reasons they keep them in their lives: feeling sorry for them, having been friends for years or since childhood, their possessing many redeeming qualities, or friends having no one to care for them. Clients accuse me of being coldhearted when I suggest that these so-called friends don’t add much to their lives and take away a lot.  I explain why it’s hard to detach from friends or at least reduce contact or closeness with them. Sometimes clients have too much compassion for them. Or they overidentify with them. Or...
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The Dilemma of Parent Care

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Years ago, between writing books on eating and building my therapy practice, I tried my hand at writing novels and screenplays. Although none were published or produced, I see the story line of one script play out over and over in my clinical work: that of adult children taking care of parents who abused or neglected them in childhood. Many of these clients don’t even realize the dilemma such a difficult situation presents to them. Here's what I’m talking about. In my screenplay an insecure, introverted 20-something, raised by her widowed father who sexually abused her, ends up taking care of him when he develops Alzheimer’s. She’s never processed the rage she feels at him nor her fierce yearning for an apology for the unspeakable harm he did her. In fact, part of her reason for taking care of him is to get the love and caring he failed to give...
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Stop Saying Others Make You Feel a Certain Way

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We grow up hearing things like this, “He made me so angry that I hit him” and “She made me feel bad, so I didn’t go to her party.” For decades I’ve been correcting clients when they make statements like this because they’re, quite frankly, ridiculous. Exactly how can someone get inside your head and make you feel something? If that were possible, I’d get into heads everywhere and make people feel better. Hell, I can’t even “make” my clients feel better and I’m a therapist. Believe me, I wish I had the power. Then why do we so often make this statement and what do we mean by it. First off, how do you think people can make you feel something? How could they plant an emotion inside you? Can anyone really do this? Or now that you’ve stopped to think about it, do you see how mistaken you’ve been? ...
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Make Self-care a Given

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Talking with a client we’ll call Essie about maintaining self-care, I chuckled when she said she usually stopped taking care of herself when things were going poorly in life—at work, as a single parent, and caring for her elderly mother. I realized that this is true of many clients: paradoxically, they give up self-care just when they need it most.  I asked if she didn’t walk or feed her dog when things weren’t going well in life, and she looked at me like I was nuts. “Of course not,” she insisted. “If I don’t take care of him, who will?” When I was silent and looked right at her with a “Duh?” expression, she got my point. But, the truth is, she really did think that a person only did self-care when they were up to it and when things were going well. To her, it was normal to stop certain...
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The Benefits of Becoming a People Observer

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More often than I’d like, I’m saddened at clients getting themselves into nasty situations because they’ve ignored obvious red flags in people. Understandable, as many are trauma survivors who have difficulty interpreting danger. The way to grow more astute is to develop the habit of tuning up your emotional antennae around everyone. The skills of observing and assessing should not be confused with making judgments, though that is part of the process I’m encouraging. The goal is not to judge people as “bad,” but as not appropriate for you. This means watching people like a hawk, noticing everything they say and do, learning their histories, recognizing their patterns and, most importantly, paying attention to how you feel when you’re around them. I suppose I’ve always been an observer, or why become a therapist, the ultimate observer and processor? I do know that my noticing skills have improved immensely as my clinical...
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Emotional Memories Now versus Then

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A client said she wished desperately to learn how to not be reactive. Specifically, she wanted to learn how not to be triggered by her traumatic, abusive childhood. We’d talked a great deal in therapy about trying to stay out of recall and stay in reality, so I valued her desire to pursue being grounded in the present. We can’t erase memories or stop recalling how we felt in them, especially events which threatened our survival, being reactive to previous threats is meant help us outwit current dangers. Memories are guideposts for our journey in the future. We need the ability to recall the threats we faced to recognize future encounters with them.  However, we only need a general idea of what we felt to keep safe; we don’t need to relive the suffering we had at 4 or 7 or 19. A quick identification of the emotions we experienced is...
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What Is Toxic Stress?

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You may suffer from toxic stress and not know it. Eating disorders and substance abuse problems, chronic depression or anxiety, difficulty in relationships, and sleep issues all may be symptoms of toxic stress. Because I know the childhoods of all my clients, I’d wager that many of them suffer from it, but don’t know it because they think what they feel is normal though it’s anything but. Here’s an excellent description of toxic stress and its causes from “What Does “I Feel Fat!” Really Mean? by Carolyn Coker Ross, MD, MPH, CEDS (2/224/222, Gürze-Salucore Eating Disorders Resource Catalogue). “Abuse or neglect or any other negative experiences in childhood can lead to what is called toxic stress. Toxic stress causes an overproduction of stress hormones: cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. This leads to physical changes in the brain. The brain of a traumatized child resets itself to be in fight-or-flight—regardless of whether there...
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How to Find Real Comfort

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Dysregulated eaters talk a good deal about seeking “comfort” through eating, but what is comfort and how can we find real reduction or elimination of distress? As I’ve blogged, although turning to food occasionally to manage the blues or the blahs is fine, comfort eating as an emotional management strategy is nothing more than a bad habit.  If you’re readying yourself to learn more effective strategies, consider how you might learn to comfort yourself through both words and actions. In my experience, clients tend to use one strategy or the other, that is, they rely entirely on either taking action or trying to talk themselves down. Using both is a more effective combination.  I’ve been thinking about this subject due some client conversations. One client described how she handled a distressing situation: she got busy, which is a common strategy used by people to dissipate anxiety. She cleaned her apartment until...
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