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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How to Handle Bullies

How-to-Handle-Bullies
It’s impossible to go through life without running into bullies. They’re in our families, at school, at work, in our neighborhoods and in governmental bureaucracy. Whether we’re talking about a bully in your personal or professional life or one in the political arena, there are best ways and worst ways to manage them—and manage them you must.  In case you’re not sure what constitutes a bully, here’s a general description: self-centered, angry, controlling, demanding, lacking empathy, shaming, disrespectful to others, and acting outside of civility to get their way. They have no sense of fairness and are pretty much all take and no give, though some might appear charming, which might mean they lean toward sociopathy. They may not try to push you or others around all the time, but this behavior is characteristic of them, especially when they want their way. People who’ve grown up in dysfunctional families, with maybe...
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The Benefits of Dance

The-Benefits-of-Dance
I’ve been dancing since I was about six-years old. There have been years (more like decades) when I took no formal classes and now, at 75, I take two a week: tap (check out the video) and jazz (due to COVID, on Zoom). I can’t tell you how much joy I get from dance and how much it has contributed to my health and well-being. I don’t mean as exercise for heart health or bone strength, but how much it simply makes me feel connected to my body and good all over. Maybe because I grew up in the 50s and 60s, before thinness became a cultural obsession, I never thought of dance as exercise. It was just, well, fun. And also, a family affair, as my parents, both excellent dancers, took lessons from an instructor with several other couples by rotating hosting houses. Many were the nights when my father...
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How to Choose Beneficial Pain

How-to-Choose-Beneficial-Pain
Although there’s no such thing as escaping pain in this life, when faced with it, we can (and must to thrive) choose the pain that will be most beneficial in the long run. I have one serious quote in my office and it’s the following by Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing:  “There is a great deal of pain in life and perhaps the only pain that can be avoided is the pain that comes from trying to avoid pain.” I was reminded of this pain dilemma talking with one of several of my clients who’re thinking about leaving a marriage. Of course, there are many other painful decisions in life, but this one is common and both sides of potential suffering are easy to identify with. My client expressed dissatisfaction with her husband on several legitimate counts—lack of physical attraction to him, their large age difference, and wanting to feel more passion...
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How to Be the Best Learner You Can Be

How-to-Be-the-Best-Learner-You-Can-Be
The most common complaint I hear from dysregulated eaters is that they’re not becoming “normal” eaters fast enough. Their frustration and disappointment are due to misunderstanding what the learning process is all about. It is explained beautifully in How to Keep Learning All Your Life, which also offers a prescription for finding happiness and satisfaction at every stage of life. Authors Robin Abrahams and Boris Groysberg describe a key component to learning: “Experiences of mastery teach people that they can learn, that the initial state of helplessness or confusion in the face of a new challenge will dissipate and be replaced by competence. A healthy learning environment, therefore, provides plentiful and diverse opportunities for people to experience mastery.” They add that such an environment includes, “safety to fail. No one achieves mastery—at crawling, coding or anything else—without some initial awkwardness. Learning inevitably involves getting it wrong, taking too long, forgetting key...
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Turn to Your Wiser Power

Turn-to-Your-Wiser-Power
A client was talking about learning to self-validate, then brought up seeking advice from her higher power. I asked, “What about your wiser power? What does it have to say?” I suggested it might be helpful to consult with it, since it was easily accessible.  I’m a big fan of wisdom and have blogged about it before. Wisdom is knowing what’s best for you based upon the information you have. It’s mostly comprised of knowledge and experience with a little bit of intuition thrown in. It’s what you’re seeking when you ask everyone else what to do and what you want when you keep playing out scenarios in your head, not knowing which one to pick. Here's the thing with higher versus wiser power. Seeking guidance from a higher power is a way of still looking outside yourself for answers. There’s nothing wrong with that. We can’t know how to do...
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A Last-ditch Strategy to Make Things Happen

A-Last-ditch-Strategy-to-Make-Things-Happen
I‘ve always found ultimata useful even though many people find them unacceptable. The word means to make a demand that has consequences either way. Frankly, doing that has always sounded very much like simply taking care of business: giving someone choices that have repercussions. But saying that someone must do this or that “or else” sounds to some as if they’re going beyond wielding power appropriately. I beg to differ. Here are some examples. My client Joshua would get calls in the middle of the night to pick up his alcoholic brother, Larry, and drive him home. Joshua complained repeatedly about Larry’s selfishness yet continued to do Larry’s bidding. Joshua tried explaining to him how it ruined his sleep and caused him to make costly mistakes at work after a midnight run. He also tried reasoning with and begging Larry to call someone else.  When nothing worked, I suggested giving Larry...
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Freedom from Suffering versus Liberation

Freedom-from-Suffering-versus-Liberation
I read an enlightening article entitled Total Liberation: A Buddhist Approach to Healing (Psychotherapy Networker, Nov/Dec 2021, p. 75 ) by Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams and want to pass on one of the ideas in it. For those of you who know nothing about Buddhism, it’s a very practical religion. I’m not touting religion here (I’m secular) but want to pass on a particular bit of wisdom about the difference between “freedom from suffering” and true liberation. Before I go on, let me explain that one of the Buddha’s teachings is that there is suffering in life and that we have choices about it based on wanting. That is, we can’t avoid suffering, but we can avoid consciously choosing it. Here’s an example. Say, I want desperately for one of my books to become #1 on the NY Times bestseller list. Because the likelihood of that happening is slim to none,...
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How Did Your Parents Take Care of You?

How-Did-Your-Parents-Take-Care-of-You
When I listen to clients with poor self-care describe their childhoods, it’s pretty obvious why it’s poor today. How in the world could an infant grow into adult who values themselves when they’ve never been well taken care of? What is most painful to hear is how self-critical clients are for drinking too much, smoking, binge-eating, or other self-harming behaviors.  Take Florene, the child of parents with alcoholism who sought help from me for food and alcohol problems. When her father stopped drinking long enough to get a job, he was happy and loving to Florene and her younger sister and when he was on a bender, he disappeared for days at a time. Her mother’s drinking, more constant and even, led to her lack of attention to her daughters. Typically, she’d come home from her waitress job exhausted, tell the girls to do their homework, then head into her bedroom...
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Choose the Best Self-talk to Support “Normal” Eating

Choose-the-Best-Self-talk-to-Support-Normal-Eating-
I don’t know about you, but I heard enough commands, demands, and admonishments as a child to last me a lifetime. We all did because that’s pretty much how adults talk to children and, age appropriately, how things should be. You don’t ask a five-year-old if she wishes to hold your hand crossing a busy street, but tell her, “Take my hand.” You don’t ask a 10-year-old if he wants to be playing with matches and, instead, say, “Please stop doing that.”  However, if that’s all you ever hear as a child and adolescent, that is, what you should or shouldn’t do, you’re going to start resenting not being able to use your developing mind to make decisions yourself. And the more you’re subject to demands and commands, the stronger your resentment will grow until you feel like you can’t stand and won’t tolerate anyone bossing you around.  The problem is...
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Why It’s So Hard to Give Up Wanting Parental Love

Why-Its-So-Hard-to-Give-Up-Wanting-Parental-Love
If you’re hoping to win your parents love and attention or change them in any way, you are not alone. One week not so long ago, I had intense conversations with five (adult) clients on this subject when they were upset by feeling rejected, abandoned, shamed, invalidated, or simply dismissed by a parent. The best news I could give them was that all 7.9 billion people on the planet, along with all our human predecessors, have struggled, to greater or lesser extent, with this very same issue, including yours truly. Although we may seek love and approval from others, yearning for it from parents is in a class by itself. We will frequently turn ourselves inside out to get a scrap of praise or avoid a tongue-lashing, far more so than we do with folks who aren’t our parents. This is true whether we live next door to them or across...
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How to Become Guilt-trip Proof

How-to-Become-Guilt-trip-Proof-
If there are people in your life who often try to guilt trip you, it’s time to polish up your defensive moves to protect yourself. Let me be clear that guilt tripping is nothing but a passive-aggressive maneuver, be it conscious or unconscious. The good news is that you don’t have to buy into it. The even better news is that it’s not hard to learn how. An example: Cory, age 36, lives at home with his mother, stepfather and grandfather. Cory says he’s used food ever since he can remember to comfort himself around his family when they try to guilt trip him. “It’s how my family functions or, more accurately, dysfunctions”: everyone blames everyone else. My mother tries to make my father feel bad for his drinking, he tries to make my mother feel sorry for driving him to drink, and my grandpa insists that if I’d just move...
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The Art of Enjoying a Well-paced Life

The-Art-of-Enjoying-a-Well-paced-Life
When I speak of improving the pacing of your life, I’m not saying that you can tinker with it once and that it will regulate itself. Life simply doesn’t work that way. But I do believe that we can engineer our lives to give us a balance of what we need in terms of up and down and self and other time to bring us maximum satisfaction. My hunch is that when your life is paced to better suit your needs—and adjusted as necessary—that this shift will lead to a decrease in mindless eating.  Step back from your life and, without judgment, consider the amount of time you’re busy and energized versus relaxed and wanting to chill out. To repeat, don’t make any judgments about not being productive enough or feel angry that you don’t have enough time to relax. Just note, in the average day or week, how the times...
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The Difference Between Wanting and Deciding

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

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

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

Yes-Youre-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

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

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

Use-Dont-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

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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