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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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Focus on Change, Not Your Problem

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A colleague sent me this quote I hadn’t heard before which was allegedly said by Socrates. When I checked, it actually wasn’t his, but I love the idea behind it: The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new. If you want to know one small way to succeed in recovery, there it is. I spend too much time listening to people talk about their problems and how much they want to overcome them. Then, when I share solutions, they often give a perfunctory nod to them and go right back to talking about what’s wrong. This is a bad habit, nothing more. I know clients want me to understand how difficult their eating problems are. I know they’re frustrated and disappointed in their inability to change to date. But how can complaining about a problem do anything to...
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How Your Brain Can Change for the Better

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An enlightening book I read, 7-½ Lessons about the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett, explains how our brains are sadly mismatched for current times. Remember, Homo sapien brains evolved to be as they are 35,000-100,000 years ago. Living in caves, we were hunters and gatherers suffering constant physical and mental stress from the elements, starvation, and other humans. I’m sure it had its moments, but for the most part, life was neither life nor pleasant and we had little control over it. In order to survive, we had to be exquisitely attuned and reactive to threats in our environment.  That’s why our brains developed as predictors. If we could predict what would happen, we could have power over our lives and a better shot at surviving. In fact, the premise of Dr. Barrett’s book is that the function of thinking is to predict and that we do this through learning. She...
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Book Review: Good Morning, Monster

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If the title of Catherine Gildiner’s Good Morning, Monster: A Therapist Shares Five Heroic Stories of Emotional Recovery does not imply that the real-life psychological horror stories within it actually had happy endings, it might be almost unbearable to read. Oddly enough, quite the opposite is true.  Gildiner, a seasoned clinical psychologist and acclaimed author, knows how to provide readers with just enough detail to get them hooked into rooting for each patient, but not so much to make them recoil from their gut-wrenching histories. With gentle humor and welcome candor about her own therapeutic shortcomings, she draws us into patients’ lives, then helps us let them go, both of which she had to do as their therapist. Good Morning, Monster functions on several levels. Readers with a general interest in psychology and human development will appreciate well-told stories of five pseudonymously named patients over the span of many years as...
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Social Phobia May Contribute to Your Eating Disorder

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Some dysregulated eaters suffer from social phobia, which escalates anxiety in certain relationships or socializing in general. Someone who has it is at risk in social settings, especially where they may feel judged, and it may cause them to eat unhealthfully before, during or after being in these situations. Criteria include:  "Marked fear or anxiety about one or more social situations in which the individual is exposed to possible scrutiny by others.The fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual threat posed by the social situation and to the sociocultural context.The social situations almost always provoke fear or anxiety.The social situations are avoided or endured with intense fear or anxiety.The fear, anxiety, or avoidance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.The fear, anxiety or avoidance is persistent, typically lasting for 6 months or more.The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is not attributable...
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Book Review: Delivered from Distraction

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When a client newly diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)— formerly known as ADD—asked me to read Delivered from Distraction—Getting the Most Out of Life with Attention Deficit Disorder, I thought I’d do it for my own edification. The book is a sequel to Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. and John J. Ratey, M.D.’s landmark book, Driven to Distraction, which I read when it first came out many years ago.  The book has important things to say about state-of-the-art treatment for ADHD, and for the authors’ reckoning of what constitutes mental health. For example, you might have a bright child doing poorly in school or might have had a parent who was so disorganized that they regularly lost jobs or “forgot” to attend your school events. Maybe your marital or relationship frictions are due, in part, to the other person having ADHD. I have at least one client with a rocky...
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Two Practices to Stop to Become a “Normal” Eater

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Dysregulated eaters have some unhealthy habits, and I don’t mean just with food. I’m talking about how you habitually speak to your selves. Two particular no-no’s stand out above the rest: finger-pointing and finger-wagging. Finger-pointing, aka blaming, is when you constantly accuse yourself of doing wrong, making mistakes, failing. It’s different than being accountable and taking responsibility for your eating or other actions. Finger-pointing is mean-spirited. It assumes that nothing bad can simply randomly occur in life. It doesn’t allow that people can lose track, slip up or even do their best and still fail. Its aim is to make someone at fault and assign blame for whatever is happening. An example is something a client we’ll call Fred does all the time. In his job as a manager, he’s always looking for who did what wrong. He ferrets out mistakes, then goes up and down the food chain to see...
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Healing from Parental Abuse

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Here are excerpts from a client’s letter showing her triumph over trauma from a highly abusive father. I hope her growth inspires you to continue on your path to healing. “I finally get it. I get that my father is incapable of loving me, feeling empathy by putting himself in my shoes, caring about my feelings, etc. I see that he is sociopathic and a malignant narcissist and it feels so very painful. I see that I have believed the lie that I am not worthy of being loved as he continues to put others needs over mine. I see that I have believed that I was crazy, wrong, a trouble maker, too sensitive, etc. I see that I have been abused. That my mother was abused and afraid and numb and couldn’t protect me. I see how I have been codependent in my relationships with men and friendships with women...
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What Love Is and Isn’t

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Love is one of the mysteries of the ages. It’s a term bandied about so much that most of us have lost sight of what it means and, more important, what it doesn’t mean. We also assume that when a person says they love us, their actions will automatically align with this message. Unless we fully understand what love means, we’re bound to fall into trouble in our interpersonal relationships.  To consider its meaning, let’s go back to 1956 and the publication of psychoanalyst Erich Fromm’s seminal work, The Art of Loving (which I highly recommend reading). He says that “What matters is that we know what kind of union we are talking about when we speak of love. Do we refer to love as the mature answer to the problem of existence, or do we speak of those immature forms of love which may be called symbiotic union?”  “Infantile love...
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Look for Answers to Today’s Problems in Yesterday

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“Boy,” said a client, “this childhood stuff really can mess you up!” I couldn’t help but chuckle. In fact, we had a long, shared laugh about the validity of this statement. What’s as true is that you might not realize in which ways and to what degree your upbringing is messing with you. The good news is that it’s never too late to learn. To do this, you must first erase blame from your brain. Your parents may have caused your problems, but they too had childhoods and parents, so it’s useless to point fingers at them. Who else is there, you might wonder, to blame, so you fault yourself for not realizing earlier in life that you’ve been barreling through it ill-equipped. Once you get blame out of your system, you can look objectively at how “this childhood stuff” might have messed with your head and heart. Here are some...
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Stop Eating Away Your Cognitive Dissonance

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I’d wager that one of the major unrecognized causes of runaway eating is cognitive dissonance. You may not know the term, but you sure know the feeling. We all do.    David Denniston, CFA describes cognitive dissonance in 7 Signs You Exhibit Cognitive Dissonance as “the distressing mental state people often feel when they find themselves behaving in ways which don't fit with their self-image, or having opinions that do not fit with other opinions they hold.” Here are some examples from my practice: mixed feelings about whether to leave a spouse or partner, how to set boundaries with children, parents or adult siblings, choosing to change jobs, and deciding to retire. Of course, these are the big internal conflicts we encounter. Smaller ones include what precautions and risks to take during a pandemic, exposing emotional vulnerability, and how to spend your money. Denniston explains that one reason for cognitive dissonance...
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How Co-dependence Leads to Non-hunger Eating

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A discussion with a client who was having difficulty finding enough pleasure during the COVID pandemic got me thinking about what makes for resilience under stress. Why are some people thriving and others going down hill fast? Why are some people enjoying having time to themselves and others feeling depressed or frantic? Part of the problem is due to co-dependence. My client even described the state by saying, “I always focused on other people and got pleasure from doing that. My parents never encouraged me to think about what I wanted and so I never did. Now that I’m alone and have all this time to myself, I have no idea what to do with it.” This led to talking about how co-dependence—over-focusing on the needs and wants of others to the exclusion of your own—left her lacking skills in her current situation. Fortunately, she was eager to discuss what might...
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Just Kidding—Not

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Occasionally a client reports that someone said something unkind to them and then insisted they were joking. These clients tend to minimize the pain of these interactions, sometimes going so far as to swear that their feelings weren’t hurt. I don’t buy it. As I’ve said to them, they wouldn’t mention these incidents if they weren’t bothered by them. The fact is that a pattern of someone being rude or unkind to you in any way then denying that they were serious and being adamant that they were joking is a form of immaturity and emotional abuse. Yes, emotional abuse. You may not like to think that it is, but that makes no difference to what is true. Here’s an example. You’re dressed up for a party and are about to go out the door when your partner says, “You’re not wearing that tonight, are you?” You look at them aghast...
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Princess Diana and Bulimia

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I hadn’t intended to watch Diana: In Her Own Words and then an eating disorders colleague asked me my opinion about it. After viewing it, I thought how profoundly classic her personality traits and ED symptoms were and wondered if seeing it might help some of you in your recovery. I realize that not all of you have access to Netflix, so here are some take-aways from the documentary, my views of what stood out to me. Diana never felt she fit in and worried about it. How often do I hear that from clients? She had several sisters but didn’t sound as if she was particularly close with them in a sharing of feelings kind of way. By her report, her father was physically abusive to her mother. She says he hit her mother in front of the family. I’m going to take a not very big leap here to...
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You Are Never the Only One

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One characteristic that many clients have in common is believing they’re the only ones who feel or think a certain way. How many times a day do I hear, “Well, I’m sure no one else thinks this way, but . . .” or “You’ll probably think this is really weird, but . . .”? My response to these questions is always the same: “Many, if not all people, think the way you do” or “I don’t think that’s weird at all. Why would you?” This kind of distorted thinking that clients have is due to several causes. One is that their parents told them that their thoughts or feelings were crazy and wrong and that no one believed or felt such things. The second is that, fearing being invalidated, shamed and ostracized for their innermost sentiments, they never bothered to share them with others to find out they are not alone....
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How to Know Whom You Can Trust

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It’s not surprising that dysregulated eaters, who often have little self-trust, also have difficulty with knowing whether or not to trust others. Knowing who to trust is a learned ability, a skill. One way to assess trust is through verification. Another is by recognizing what people do when they feel guilty. I had a client when I worked at a Boston methadone clinic who stored his stash of heroin under certain railroad tracks, convinced that no one would ever catch him burying or retrieving it. When I probed for fear or a sense of guilt if he got caught, he insisted he’d be fine, that his clever plan would work. Fast forward to when he finally got arrested at those very same tracks digging up his stash and was frantic with guilt when I visited him in jail. He kept repeating how stupid he’d been and how guilty he felt that...
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Beware of Becoming the Family Therapist

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I’ve blogged about being the problem in your family and now want to talk to those of you who’ve taken on the role of family therapist. I don’t mean you went out and got yourself a degree in psychology, but that you’ve volunteered for the thankless job of solving the problems of everyone in your family. In truth, you may think you’ve volunteered, but my guess is that you’ve been recruited in subtle ways and are actually sacrificing your own well-being in order to fix the lives of your parents and siblings. When You Become the Family Therapist: Avoid these amateur psychology mistakes when tending to loved ones’ emotional needs by Kelsey Ogletree (AARP Bulletin 11/20, pp 36-39) explains the downside this situation poses. When you’re constantly trying to put out family fires—Cousin George’s drinking, Grandma’s depression, your parents contemplating divorce, or your sister self-harming—you run the risk of exposing yourself...
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Stress and Self-care

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Recently I’ve come to understand what’s not working in clients’ view of self-care and stress. Hopefully this blog will give you a clearer perspective on how the two fit together. Here's what I hear from clients: I’m too busy for self-care right now, but when I’m less busy, I will certainly get right to it. You could also substitute the word stressed for busy with the same kind of thinking. Self-care is something that will happen in the future when stress somehow miraculously disappears on its own.  Here’s a typical example. A client we’ll call Julia has two kids, a part-time job working from home, and a husband who works hard but does little in the way of parenting. Julia has at times run marathons and eaten healthfully on diets. She loved how she felt when she ate with intention and mindfulness and exercised regularly. During this time she also made...
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Spend Time in the Yikes Zone

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It’s hard to believe that I’ve never blogged about the “yikes zone” though I talk about it frequently with clients. I learned about the “yikes zone” from a book called Women Ski decades ago when I was an avid downhill skier in New England trying to overcome my fear of moguls, which are those big bumps on the advanced slopes. The author described a gentle, paced, effective way to tackle difficult moguls—or any feared task. Her concept is to ski on a flat downhill slope near one that has moguls. Some trails are actually groomed to facilitate this either-or dynamic. The idea is to head onto the mogul side and bounce around as long as you can without freaking yourself out, then return to the groomed trail until you regain confidence and equilibrium—not just once but over and over, each time drawing out your stay in the yikes zone a little...
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A Crash Course on Avoiding Unwelcome People

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A subject that gets a major blast of air time in sessions is clients picking unhealthy people and suffering the consequences. They either complain (rightly) about being mistreated or are desperate for advice about how to get out of unhappy relationships. I spend so much time explaining how to identify mentally unhealthy people that I thought it would help to blog about them. Here are three easy steps to use to evaluate whether people are emotionally healthy enough to let them into your life as friends or lovers. Notice traits. Avoid rushing into a relationship and instead give it time to evolve. While that’s happening, observe the other person. Stop worrying so much about whether or not they’ll like or love you and focus almost exclusively on what kind of person they’re turning out to be. By nature, are they kind, generous, and thoughtful not only to you—and this is crucial—but...
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To Complain or Not to Complain

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Some dysregulated eaters don’t complain enough. They focus their complaints on their weight, the unfairness of not being able to eat certain foods, their lack of “self-discipline,” and how long and difficult the road to “normal” eating is. It’s a shame, really, that they confine their complaining to such a thin slice of life. I’m thinking that if they complained more, they might eat less. Coming from a mother who had no trouble finding things to grouse about and a father inclined toward stoicism, I saw how both the absence and presence of complaining could play out for better or worse. To complain, by the way, means “to say that you are annoyed, unhappy, or not satisfied about someone or something” (Oxford Advanced American Dictionary). I’ve been thinking about complaining lately as pandemic-weary clients have been doing a slew of it in sessions (and I’ve been doing more than usual) and...
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