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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. 

[No unsolicited guest blogs accepted, thank you]

On Rugs, Anxiety and Eating

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One day I had two sessions in a row in which clients expressed fear that the “rug would be pulled out” from under them. One talked about how anxiety about things going wrong drove her straight to the cookie jar and the other shared that it made her go over and over things she’d done and planned to do to make sure things would work out. If you ever have constant fear that a rug will be whipped out from under you, read on. I also recommend that you read my blog Are You Often Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop. When either Mom or Dad is poorly attuned to their child’s needs, there may be loss of consistency, stability, security and predictability. Sometimes this is due to parents being narcissistic or ill-suited to having children. They tire easily with and become frustrated from having to meet the demands of...
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Are You (Unconsciously) Acting Out Childhood Conflicts in Adulthood?

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We all, to greater or lesser extent, are trying to work through old conflicts in adulthood. That’s fine when we’re conscious of our issues and working to stay in the present and heal old wounds. That’s not so fine if we don’t realize that we’re playing out the same old tug of war that we engaged in growing up. Take this couple I treated. John and his husband Terrence argued constantly about doing household chores. John worked off a rigid schedule and was proud when the house sparkled. He missed out on the happy childhood he deserved after his father died when he was nine and he was put in charge of his two younger siblings. As an adult, even after his chores were done, he felt uncomfortable sitting down to relax without feeling downright guilty.  Terrence was used to having things done for him, raised by a mother who barely...
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Your Poor Self-care Hurts Others

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Here’s a letter I wish I could have written back in July. Instead I turned it into a blog.  Dear Woman Behind Me at CVS Pharmacy: Yes, you, the 30-ish woman with the dark hair and black-framed glasses standing behind me on line at the prescription pick-up counter. Remember me, the white-haired woman speaking to the pharmacy assistant about how COVID-19 cases were falling in upstate New York while rising like crazy here in Florida. You seemed to think it was fine to pipe up and contradict me, butting in with, “It’s because of more testing that numbers are going up.” If you recall, I turned around to face your mask-less self and insisted, “No, not really” (the truth at the time). I left it at that because I live in a state where it’s legal to conceal carry a gun and didn’t want to start an altercation which would leave...
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Becoming Body-wise and Media Literate

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When you look at images of women and men, what’s your response? Do you see them as more beautiful/buff/handsome/pretty/toned than you are and feel less than? Or are you media literate and know that most of them have been air-brushed into looking so perfect, and wonder what they really look like? If you’d like to learn how to recognize what the media does to images to make us feel badly about ourselves, read on.   In “Why teach media literacy to teen girls?” (About-Face, https://about-face.org/why-teach-media-literacy-to-teen-girls/?mc_cid=4a819dcb05&mc_eid=00a877d57d, 7/20, accessed 8/9/20), About Face Executive Director Jennifer Berger explains how we’ve gotten hoodwinked by the media and the damage it’s done to girls and women: “Sure, in the 1970s, airbrushed photographs made women’s skin poreless and ageless, setting an impossible beauty standard. But today, Photoshop not only banishes every “imperfection”, it also sculpts inches off celebrity thighs and waists – often without the women’s consent and against...
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The Truth about Eating Disorders Recovery

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Do you want to know why you still have your food problems after years of struggling to end them? You might not understand why, but I do, all too well. The answer is actually quite simple. As I write in The Real Reasons You’re Not Becoming a “Normal” Eater, you are not consistently doing all you are advised to do to recover.  To your credit, many of you are in therapy, attend regularly, and are changing in many areas of your life. You’re thinking and acting differently to generate the changes. Nearly all clients make interpersonal changes more easily than food ones. For instance, maybe you’re getting along better with your mother/colleague/son/spouse because you’re letting more of their remarks slide when you used to become defensive or challenge them more often.  Many of you have underlying anxiety or depressive disorders. Some of you are trauma survivors. And most have suffered from...
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Book Review: Embodiment and the Treatment of Eating Disorders

Book-Review-Embodiment-and-the-Treatment-of-Eating-Disorders
Although Embodiment and The Treatment of Eating Disorders, originally published at the New York Journal of Books, is a scholarly work for clinicians, understanding its premise and promise may help you overcome your eating disorder. Psychologist, author, professor and researcher Catherine Cook-Cottone, herself recovered from body obsession, dieting and overeating, bases her treatment approach on the concept that troubled eaters are dis-embodied and that the way to recover is to move in the direction of wholeness. Being disconnected from emotional and physical needs is exactly why you are often filled with internal conflict. What I mean by conflict is, for example, yearning to be noticed and cherished while remaining steadfastly emotionally tucked away, lest relationships lead to getting hurt; pursuing others’ approval while hating how infantile and dependent this makes you feel; knowing how you want your body to look but not who you are inside it; and driving yourself harder...
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An Interesting Correlation about Sitting and Weight

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All of you sitters out there, listen up! I don’t mean people who sit occasionally— that would be all of us. I mean folks who choose to sit rather than stand or move. I suggest you read this blog not from the perspective of how to shed pounds (which it won’t tell you), but to recognize how complex and mult-factored the whole issue of weight is. “The lightness of sitting may work to keep us fat” by Gretchen Reynolds (Sarasota Herald Tribune, 7/28/20, E14) describes the results of a new study that “suggests that our bodies are capable of judging how much we should weigh, and if we abruptly rise above that level, nudging us into dropping pounds.” The idea is based on the concept of homeostasis which is basically the drive to return to how things have been.  The article explains that “There are many theories about why extra pounds...
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Embrace Documentary Will Improve Your Body Image

Taryn Brumfitt
Embrace: One Woman’s Journey to Inspire EveryBODY is an engaging, enlightening 2016 documentary, the story of Australian photographer, wife and mother Taryn Brumfitt who decides to stop hating her body. Here are quotes about the film that I hope make you want to see it. You can watch it on Amazon Prime, find the video on Apple iTunes, and check out the trailer at
.  From MEDA Inc. (I’m a former advisory board member): “The protagonist and director of the documentary, Taryn Brumfitt, struggled with her body image. After she had multiple children, she became obsessed with obtaining a ‘perfect’ post-pregnancy body as efficiently as possible. Even though Brumfitt spent years manipulating her body and weight in order to participate in a bodybuilding swimsuit competition, she eventually came to a life-changing realization after reaching her ‘goal’: ‘In my ‘perfect’ body, I’m not happy.’” After coming to peace with her body, Brumfitt decide...
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Why People Don’t Believe the Facts and Believe Falsehoods – Part 2

Why People Don’t Believe the Facts and Believe Falsehoods – Part 2
If you’re someone who leans toward believing falsehoods and lies in the news or those spouted from the mouths of ignorant people, you might not like the reason why this might be so. Of course, you not liking it might be the reason you tend to be so easily flimflammed. Humans, some more than others, want to believe we’re smart and can distinguish truth from fiction, which is part of the problem.    According to Cognitive Ability and Vulnerability to Fake News, research on why people persist in believing fake news says, “a person’s cognitive ability reflects how well they can regulate the contents of working memory—their ‘mental workspace’ for processing information. This theory holds that some people are more prone to ‘mental clutter’ than other people. In other words, some people are less able to discard (or ‘inhibit’) information from their working memory that is no longer relevant to the...
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Why People Don’t Believe the Facts and Believe Falsehoods – Part 1

 Why People Don’t Believe the Facts and Believe Falsehoods – Part 1
I spend a good deal of clinical time explaining to clients why things they’re doing or people they’re with aren’t good for them. Sometimes they even tell me that friends or family agree, and admit they ignore advice and still cling to the belief that all will be well.  Then, not long ago, I came across an explanation for this dynamic in “Bad Thinkers: Why do some people believe conspiracy theories? It’s not just who or what they know. It’s a matter of intellectual character” by Quassim Cassam, PhD. Bad thinkers include conspiracy theorists, Holocaust deniers, people insisting they’ve been abducted by aliens, and astrology adherents, to name a few. In my work, I’d throw in chronic dieters who’ve regained lost weight but continue to diet and people who stay with abusers. Cassam says that “Intellectual character traits that aid effective and responsible enquiry are intellectual virtues, whereas intellectual vices are...
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How to Reduce Anxiety about Getting Tasks Done

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Many of my clients describe seeking food when they’re not hungry to put off doing tasks or because they feel anxious that they haven’t done them. This is a habituated response to emotional discomfort, nothing more, nothing less. The way to break the habit is to attack the problem from both ends: do the tasks and not feel anxious if they’re not accomplished.  “The psychology behind to-do lists and how they can make you feel less anxious” explains how to-do lists can help you stop putting off tasks and actually get them done. Says its author, Lauren Kent, “The trick is to reframe your to-do list as a set of miniature goals for the day and to think of your checklist items as steps in a plan.”  E.J. Masicampo, associate psychology professor at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, adds, “Goals are interesting as they are almost these autonomous agents...
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Do You Need to Have Problems to Feel Cared For?

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Wouldn’t it be awful if you were holding onto having an eating problem—or any other kind, for that matter—as a way to get people to pay attention to and care about you? As I explained in my secondary gain blog, this dynamic isn’t as strange or uncommon as it sounds. Here’s why you might be clinging to problems to feel loved or cared about. If you were physically neglected in childhood, you might feel starved for someone to do things for you now. Let’s say you were the third of five children and always felt kind of lost in the shuffle. Dad worked three jobs and Mom expected you to be independent because she was overwhelmed. Living in the country, you often wandered the woods alone and managed on your own. Mom had you dress and feed yourself early on, was too busy to help much with homework, and once forgot...
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The World Wasn’t Always This Fat Phobic

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Once upon a time, the world didn’t hate fat or fat people and dieting wasn’t a $72 billion US industry. Take yourself to an art museum or thumb through an art book (not modern) and see for yourself. Or read Ken Mondschein’s article, “Fatness and Thinness in the Middle Ages.”  To be sure, fat has been associated with greed, gluttony, excess, and other negative traits. However, he says, there were times when fat was viewed more positively: “So, too with foreign lands—the fictionalized John of Mandeville tells of how foreigners ate inordinate amounts, and the romancier Rusticello has Marco Polo report on the prodigious appetites of the mighty men of Zanzibar.”“There was no shortage of defenses of largeness, or even positive depictions, in the less well-born. Peasants rarely got enough to eat, so positive associations between fat and plenty—‘fat’ soil, the ‘fat’ of the land, and the pre-Lenten ‘fat Tuesday’ feast—are not surprising...
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One Story of Recovery

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Being in Recovery from Binge-Eating Disorder A guest blog by Dustin LindenSmith   I’m a 47-year-old married man with three kids living in Atlantic Canada and I self-diagnosed with Binge-Eating Disorder about five years ago. I first discovered how to use food for emotional comfort as a young child, but an alcoholic and abusive step-parent pushed me to turn towards heavy binge-eating in my early teens. I would consume vast quantities of food in secret—I could never seem to get “enough”—and then I’d go on a diet to lose the weight I had gained. In this way, I “dieted my way up” to over 300 pounds in college, and I repeated that cycle several more times in my life. I estimate that I’ve gained and lost over 850 pounds since the age of 10. Binge-Eating Disorder is often described as a chronic and compulsive binge-diet cycle, but to me, it felt...
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Do You Have Adult Post-bullying Syndrome

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Many clients with eating disorders report that they were bullied in childhood. Are you one of them? Are you sure you even know what bullying is? Truth is that many people minimize the mistreatment they had at the hands of peers or family members and don’t realize that what they endured is bona fide bullying.  Kate Baggaley in “How Being Bullied Affects Your Adulthood,” says this about adult post-bullying syndrome, or APBS (not a clinical diagnosis): “Bullying is corrosive to children’s mental health and well-being, with consequences ranging from trouble sleeping and skipping school to psychiatric problems, such as depression or psychosis, self-harm, and suicide.” She says that “roughly 1 in 3 students in the United States are bullied at school” and that “Years after being mistreated, people with adult post-bullying syndrome commonly struggle with trust and self-esteem, and develop psychiatric problems . . . Some become people-pleasers, or rely on...
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How Structure Gives You Freedom

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Working with dysregulated eaters (and clients with other self-regulation problems), I talk a great deal about structure versus freedom. I’ve always thought about them as being opposite ends of a continuum, but recently was struck by something jazz musician Branford Marsalis said about music in a radio interview: “There’s only freedom in structure, my man. There’s no freedom in freedom.” That’s one to ponder, eh?  Although I don’t know that he meant what I’m going to suggest about structure and freedom applied to music, here’s my take on what he’s saying in general. By structuring some things in life, you get the physical freedom to enjoy other things. Say you abhor the same old same old and love change. All well and good, except you might think, “Gee, I’d love to go to the gym now, but I might want to work on my novel later or go visit grandma, so...
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How to Know If People Are Keepers or Not

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It may be difficult to know whether or not to keep someone in your life—significant other, spouse, friend, or relative. Do you want to remain close to them or with them at all? Many clients entertain this dilemma and unwisely rely on self-trust or intuition to make decisions rather than rational thinking. Worse, they decide out of fear and anxiety. Here are some examples. A client is deciding if he wants to divorce his wife. Another wonders if she can continue to live with her emotionally stunted sister. A third is trying to figure out if an alcoholic friend is worth the trouble. If we live long enough, we’ll all face similar dilemmas, some of which will stress us out enough to trigger emotional eating.  One way to know whether someone is a keeper or not is to make a list of what they need to do over time to stay...
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Optimism Can Be Learned

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Within one hour I received emails from two friends about the Corona Virus. One expressed great fear and described giving up many social and volunteer activities, while the other lamented the hysteria gripping the country. You can pretty much guess which friend is the optimist and which is the pessimist.  “Researchers from the School of Medicine, the National Center for PTSD at VA Boston Healthcare System, and Harvard University’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health have found that . . . individuals with greater optimism are more likely to live longer.” They define optimism as “a general expectation that good things will happen, or believing that the future will be favorable because we can control important outcomes.” (Bostonia, “Never Underestimate the Power of Positive Thinking,” winter-spring 2020, p. 63) What does optimism have to do with dysregulated eating? For one thing, “research suggests that more optimistic people may be able...
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The Empowerment of Attention

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Want to know what the key to recovery is? After 30-plus years of treating people with eating disorders, I can tell you that it’s in large part paying attention to what you say to yourself and changing your thinking and self-talk. On a more basic level, we might call it changing your neuronal connections. Although it may not be as easy as flipping an on-off switch, it’s also not nearly as difficult as you might think. This process is described by Daniel Siegel, MD, author of Aware: The Science and Practice of Presence—The Groundbreaking Meditation Practice (TarcherPerigee: NY, 8/18, p. 39): “Where attention goes, neural firing flows, and neural connections grow.” Another way of saying this is that the areas of your lawn which you water will sprout green, while the parts you don’t will go brown and die. Or consider this: If you had two hypothetical children and you paid...
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What Makes for Mentally Healthy Friends?

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It’s easy to understand why we’d have problems with parents whom we didn’t pick and bosses or colleagues about whom we had limited choice, as they usually come with the job. But ongoing problems with friends, people we freely elect to have in our lives? It’s not even one-offs that clients complain about. Rather they vent about the same one or two “buddies” who drive them crazy or why they can’t seem to find the kinds of friends they want. Here are some patterns I’ve observed from my caseload over the decades. Picking friends who are victims and complain constantly about being treated unfairly, taken advantage of and how they’re put upon. Clients tending toward victim-think feel right at home. Surrounded by a Woe Is Me Club that does little actual problem solving and are poor role models for empowerment, clients avoid being accountable. They only ditch this mentality when they realize...
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