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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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Stand Up for Your Needs-Food and Otherwise

Friends eating
A client raised a common problem about dysregulated eaters: How to assert food needs when you’re with others. I vividly recall learning to get my eating preferences met in social situations and know that it can be difficult, but not impossible, to do. First, as someone who’s been fully recovered from emotional/mindless/binge eating and chronic dieting for 30+ years, I still dislike being very hungry or full because they’re reminders of my old messed-up-with-food days. Second, I’m now a far healthier person emotionally and physically than I was back then. Taking care of my body is a job I welcome and enjoy and doing so comes first, before most things and people in life.Here’s what happened to my client who spent the day with a group of people who kept passing on stopping to eat. Though she thought she’d planned well for it according to the schedule of activities, she ended up...
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Reducing Emotions From Wild to Mild

Emotional eating
Not a week goes by when clients don’t come in with stories about how their emotions have gotten the best of them and into trouble with food. They blew up at their supervisor when their feelings were hurt by critical evaluation, then polished off the bag of M&Ms they keep stashed in their desk drawer. They had two large pieces of ice-cream cake at their friend’s birthday party because they didn’t know many people there. They felt so guilty refusing to accompany a nagging, narcissistic parent to the doctor that they picked at food all day long though they weren’t hungry in the least.These are situations in which one might feel mild distress, while emotional eaters often feel wild distress. The goal isn’t to turn off a feeling but to scale it way down to what might be considered natural or normal in a situation, then deal with it minus the...
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Can a Genetic Score Predict High Weight—and Do You Care?

Studies
Watch out for studies that predict “obesity.” There’s science on both sides of the question, but other issues to consider. One is a person’s reaction to what weight they’re predicted to be. Telling people that they’re genetically inclined to be of high weight, can backfire and cause them to throw up their hands and think “Why bother eating healthfully or exercising? I’m already doomed.” Moreover, shouldn’t we be focusing on health rather than weight, since people can be healthy at different weights? Researchers such as Amit Khera of Massachusetts General Hospital and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and his colleagues studying obesity prediction do so in the “hope that the score will help erase the stigma associated with obesity and shed some light on the biology behind the condition. Although people with high genetic risks may have a harder time avoiding weight gain or losing weight, they also might be...
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Sleep-care Is Part of Self-Care

Sleep
How would you rate your sleep-care on a scale of one to ten: 8, 4, 1, minus 6? Getting enough rest and high-quality sleep is crucial to your mental and physical health—and to improving your relationship with food. It’s amazing how many smart and successful dysregulated eaters think of sufficient sleep as incidental to their lives. To me, it’s a sad indication of poor self-care.Thomas Rutledge explains the importance of sleep, especially in relation to weight, in “Three Ways Your Sleep Habits May Cause Weight Gain” (Psychology Today, 6/20/19, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-healthy-journey/201906/three-ways-your-sleep-habits-may-cause-weight-gain?utm_source=pocket-newtab, accessed 6/22/19). Here are some take-aways from his article which assesses the research in the area of sleep’s impact on eating and weight.Sleep-deprived people may be too tired to exercise, even if they try to push themselves to suit up for a run or start the car to get to the gym before it closes. Due to sleep deprivation, people might...
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Could More Creativity Heal Your Food Problems?

Could More Creativity Heal Your Food Problems?
I wish I’d engaged in more impassioned activities in my binge-eating days. Back then, other than work, socializing, reading and downhill skiing, I didn’t have much going on to joyfully fill my time. Since then—half a lifetime ago—I’ve become, to my surprise, a highly creative person. If I’d had or pursued more creative interests long ago, I suspect I would have turned to them rather than eating mindlessly. Then, again, maybe my creativity slowly emerged because I wasn’t stuffing myself with food. Who knows?Whether you’re making jewelry or refinishing furniture, writing a poem or designing a garden, when creative juices are flowing, you’re fully engaged, body and mind. This is why creativity is such a powerful antidote to mindless eating: you’re in the moment and yet you’re also inexorably moving forward—on a magical, transformational journey.Never had creativity or had it and lost it? According to Deena Bouknight in “How to be...
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How to Take Feedback and Criticism

How to Take Feedback and Criticism
The task of receiving negative feedback well is hard for most people. It’s especially difficult for dysregulated eaters who often strive to be perfect in order to get validation. Although it’s a lovely fantasy to live in a world in which everyone approves of whatever you do, it’s not reality. Better to learn how to handle criticism.Hence, some tips from “How to Be Resilient in the Face of Harsh Criticism” by Joseph Grenny (Harvard Business Review, 6/17/19, https://hbr.org/2019/06/how-to-be-resilient-in-the-face-of-harsh criticism?utm_source=pocket-newtab, accessed 6/19/19). Grenny explains that receiving negative feedback (especially unexpectedly), “threatens two of our most fundamental psychological needs: safety (perceived physical, social, or material security) and worth (a sense of self-respect, self-regard, or self-confidence). Such threats to self are particularly upsetting if you’ve experienced them in excess in childhood as many dysregulated eaters have. If Mom or Dad (or anyone in your youth) regularly violated your sense of safety and denigrated your...
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Watch Out for Internalized Weight Stigma

Watch Out for Internalized Weight Stigma
Many higher weight clients feel ashamed of their large bodies and what they perceive as their failed attempts to trim them down. However, some high weight clients don’t feel that way at all. They understand that a complex, partly random, combination of factors, including, paradoxically, their considerable and repeated efforts to lose weight through dieting, have contributed to their size. The difference between the two groups of clients is that one internalizes weight stigma and the other doesn’t.Weight stigma is the culturally-induced perception that being high weight is bad and that someone is bad because they are higher weight. According to the Binge Eating Disorder Association, weight stigma—aka weight bias or fat bias or weight-based discrimination—is discrimination, negative judgment, shaming or stereotyping based on a person's weight, size or shape. Such prejudice may happen in dating, health care, education, friendships, employment and in any aspect of life. Such judgment is not rooted...
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It’s Time to Forgive Yourself

Forgiveness
Many dysregulated eaters go on to forgive others who’ve harmed them before ever considering forgiving themselves for self-inflicted harm. I have clients who are quick (sometimes too quick) to pardon parents for abuse or neglect, sociopathic spouses or partners for abominable behavior, and bosses who have badly mistreated them. And yet they still beat themselves up for hurting a friend or for bingeing and purging. There is a time and reason for forgiveness. Some clients jump in and forgive others without deeply acknowledging the harm done to them. They don’t want to be angry at others because it feels uncomfortable and unfamiliar, they feel responsible for causing the harm inflicted on them, or they believe that someone didn’t mean to do whatever he or she did. This is faux forgiveness. It’s crucial to take time to arrive at forgiveness so that it is authentic and meaningful, and you can truly put harm...
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How Alike are Weight-loss Dieting and Internet Addiction?

Internet Addiction
Many people with eating problems have other addictions as well, such as spendingmore time on the Internet than they’d like or is beneficial for them. In fact, weight-lossdieting and Internet usage have a great deal in common. To learn how, read on.David T. Courtwright, author of “Caught in the Web” (Newsweek, 6/14/19, pp. 12-13),says that designers format games to hook you in and ensure you’ll come back formore—like how food companies whip up combinations of sugar, fat, and salt to ensureyou can’t eat just one. Gamers get hooked on 1) “goals just beyond the user’s reach; 2)unpredictable but stimulating feedback; 3) a sense of incremental progress and hard-won mastery; 4) tasks or levels that gradually become more challenging; 5) tensionsthat demand resolution; and 6) social connections to like-minded users.”Sound like weight-loss dieting? Many are designed to keep you hooked on them, not tohelp you become happier or healthier. Forget being realistic,...
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Reimaging Your Childhood

 A big psychological shift that dysregulated eaters can shoot for is to understand that, no matter how they coped with family dysfunction in childhood (and how maladaptive these behaviors are now), no child could have done a better job. A different job, maybe, but not a better one. When you understand that you couldn’t have done anything differently than what you did, you’ll stop berating and shaming yourself and start changing your coping mechanisms in the present.Say you were the oldest child of five children born into a financially distressed family. Your physically abusive father was hardly ever in the picture—you all were better off that way—and your narcissistic mother could barely take care of herself, never mind kids. Mom brooded, angered easily, and mostly wanted to go out and party, leaving pre-adolescent you in charge of your younger siblings. You took your responsibility very seriously and did the best you...
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What Are You Most Proud Of?

 Shame often fills every molecule of airspace in my office. It comes in waves off clients describing making small mistakes that are gigantic in their minds, transgressions that occurred years or decades ago that remain alive in their memories today and imagined harm they’ve inflicted on others that under the spotlight of exploration becomes nothing of the sort. To combat dysregulated eaters being shame-based, I focus on pride and what clients are proud of. Prying this information out of them is no easy task.When I ask clients what makes them proud of themselves, they usually go silent and need to think long and hard to give me an answer. Sadly, some have no idea what I’m asking about—do I mean what they’ve achieved, done well, what others like or praise them for? Pride is the positive feeling of doing something well according to your own standards. Sometimes these standards mesh with...
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Do You Need to care for Others to Be Loved?

 Many dysregulated eaters believe they must take care of others to be loved, along with its corollary that they won’t be lovable unless they take care of others. This puts them in caretaking overdrive and living in a world of daily maxi-stress. Moreover, it deprives them of the joy and comfort of being taken care of by others so that they feel protected and cherished.For mental health, the flow of emotional energy should look like this: dysregulated eater ↔ others. It should not look like this: dysregulated eater → others. Think of words like interdependence and mutuality to describe the dynamics. Notice that I use the term emotional energy. It’s not enough that someone does tasks for you to show their love, although this is an excellent way of expressing caring. For emotional health, there must be an easy exchange of empathy, active listening, compassion and support to and from one...
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Betrayal and Feeling Unsafe

 Many clients who have difficulty trusting and depending on people had childhoods in which they experienced big T or little t trauma. It’s one thing to have your brother sexually abuse you (big T), another to have an alcoholic parent constantly berate and belittle you for not living up to his or her expectations, and another to have both parents leave you hungry and cold night after night, neglecting your needs because they’re out partying. All three examples illustrate not only traumatic experiences but betrayal.In “Trauma and Betrayal: Complex Combination” (Social Work Today, May/June 2019, pp-23), Scott Janssen, MSW, LCSW argues that “Betrayal originates in action, or a failure of action, by individuals, groups, or institutions that causes harm to those who have given their trust.” In most childhood cases, we’re talking about parents or relatives who care for us. Scott goes on to say that, “The effects of betrayal can...
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Trauma Can Make You Freeze Up Emotionally

 Common reactions to trauma include flight or flight. But many trauma victims and survivors also react with a freeze response. According to Stephen Porges, professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, what we call the freeze response is immobolisation, “…the critical point of the experience of life-threat trauma events.” (“Stephen Porges: ‘Survivors are blamed because they don’t fight,’” by Andrew Anthony, The Guardian/The Observer Psychiatry, 6/2/2019, accessed 6/6/19). He describes it as “… this inability to move, the numbness of the body and functionally disappearing.”When you ask trauma survivors what they felt going through an initial trauma or reliving it through later threatening experiences, they’ll often say they felt paralyzed or dumbstruck. For example, a client whose childhood and marriage had been filled with emotional abuse underwent psych-testing with a large, rather boisterous psychologist who kept firing questions at her without giving her time to think or respond. When...
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How Has Your Eating Disorder Helped You Cope?

 I have a client who binges and purges whenever she’s stressed. If this describes you, consider this: What if it’s the best way you know of to cope with the vicissitudes of life? What if you’re trying to save yourself from worse pain by these actions?I don’t know if you know the story of Aron Ralston who cut off the lower half of his arm to free himself from being pinned by a boulder in the Utah desert. I remember hearing his story and thinking that he believed amputation to be his last resort or he wouldn’t have done such a painful thing. Most people, I assume, probably agreed.Ralston’s heroics drifted into my consciousness when I was talking to my client about her stress-induced binges and purges. I asked what words came to mind when she thought about them and she blurted out, “Disgusting, repulsive, shameful, foolish, disheartening, and stupid.” She...
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To Understand Yourself, Understand Your Legacy

 Most of us receive some sort of legacies from family members—a ring from Mom, Dad’s fishing pole, or Grandma or Grandpa’s car which is old but still running. These are obvious inheritances. The ones I’m talking about aren’t tangible or material. They’re the experiential legacies of the people who raised us.One of my clients was reading an old classic I’d loaned her, Dr. Patricia Love’s The Emotional Incest Syndrome, and started thinking about her mother’s mixed bag of a life growing up. Another client brought her father into therapy to improve their relationship and sessions often consisted of her hearing for the first time about the horror of Dad’s early years in foster care. Another client discovered that her aunt was actually her sister because her grandmother didn’t want anyone to know that Mom had an “out of wedlock” child when she was only 15 years old (a shocking but not...
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You Don’t Need to Know Your Whole Future Today

 One of the best ways to drive up anxiety is to try to plan for your whole future today. It’s fine to have general goals like wanting to be a surgeon, travel the world, or be able to send your kids to college, but it’s absolutely unnecessary to think you need to know every bend and turn in the road for your future right now. If you lean in this direction of trying to control everything that’s going to happen to you in your many tomorrows, you’re setting yourself up for heightened anxiety and turning to food to reduce it.Here’s why. If you’re still under 30, you may not realize that life has a way of doing what it wants regardless of your desires. Maybe your life has gone swimmingly so far. You’ve been fortunate enough to have a great family, no major losses, enjoyed friends and getting your way from...
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The Child’s versus the Adult’s View of Events-Part 2

 In order to stop being triggered by painful memories, we need to recognize that our stories about events change as we age and learn. Fortunately, our brains mature and add new features that make us see things in a different light. When we’re 4, we may believe in Santa Clause, but this is unlikely at 14 because we understand and know more about life. If you’re older than 25 and still buy into an interpretation of harsh events you formed as a child, it’s time to update your story to better sync with reality.Our interpretation of events at any age drives our actions adaptively to survive. Childhood interpretations are simplistic, naïve, and lack complex, critical thinking. Because our frame of reference is narrow due to circumscribed life exposure, especially before we enter school, we often know little more of the world than our family’s dynamics—we generalize and conclude that if Mom...
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The Child’s versus the Adult’s View of Events-Part 1

 If painful memories trigger you turning to food for comfort, recognize that your memory of an event is a recording of how you perceived it at whatever age it occurred—4, 11, 15. The memory is your immature brain’s interpretation or story of and feelings about the event at the time. The mature brain, which develops in the late 20s, provides a more realistic and valid explanation of human nature and mental health and reinterprets painful events more rationally and accurately. Here are examples of childhood events and their “immature child” and “mature adult” interpretations, meanings and emotions.You’re 7 years old and Dad has promised to take you to the circus—again. You’verarely seen him since your parents’ divorce, begged him for weeks to get circus tickets, and are excited about the outing even though Dad didn’t want to go and yelled at you to stop nagging him it. Driving to pick you...
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What Is Your Dysregulated Eating Saying to the World?

 Most people think that dysregulated eating and body size is all about choosing the “wrong” foods and eating them in excess. But eating disorders therapists recognize that behaviors often speak louder than words and convey our innermost thoughts, even ones that are hidden away from ourselves. Here are some messages that dysregulated eaters may struggle to express to someone or to the world.Starvation:I don’t need you or anyone. I have such supreme powers that I don’t even need nourishment. I’m special and can live on air. My will power is exceptional.Don’t look at me. I don’t want you to see or notice me except for what I want to be noticed for which is my ability to control my world.Help me, feed me, and take care of me because I can’t take care of myself.Look at me. I can do what you can’t. I’m better than you are.Binge-eating:You can’t make me...
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