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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Emotions and Actions

Emotions-and-Actions
People who grow up in dysfunctional families often are highly reactive in situations. How can children learn what to feel and how to react appropriately in relationships if parents and family are emotionally unhealthy? We need healthy role models for that to happen. For example, my client Mona was insulted by something a co-worker drew on a “community” board in the lunch room at work. Mona thought they’d had a decent relationship, so she was hurt and angry that this woman would make fun of her publicly. The back story is that Mona and her co-worker had a brief interaction previously which had, unbeknownst to Mona, bothered the co-worker.  Mona was hurt by the drawing. Who wouldn’t be? With her history of emotional abuse in childhood and adulthood, her reactions ran unsurprisingly in two directions—either she felt full of rage and wanted to hurt someone back or she wanted to isolate...
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Mature Hurt

Mature-Hurt
There’s a world of difference between the emotional hurt of a child and that of an adult. Because the human brain doesn’t fully develop until the late 20s, children and adolescents have only partially formed brains whose final part is our frontal lobes which are responsible for cognitive functions such as problem solving, memory and judgment. Prior to that, we rely mostly on emotions to assess and react to situations. Think about the nearly unbearable hurt and pain you felt as a child. No matter how wonderful and functional your childhood was, you suffered. Maybe you got lost in a department store at age 5, frantic to find your parents. Or at age 9 you listened to them screaming at each other night after night and were terrified they’d hurt each other and you’d end up alone. Or at 16 Dad left you and mom and you were sure it was...
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First Decide How You Want to Feel

First-Decide-How-You-Want-to-Feel
One way to transform yourself, is to name how you want to feel. Usually when I ask clients who are complaining about how they feel, how they would like to feel, they respond with either the reasons they feel as they do or what they think. This is especially true of clients who spend a lot of time in their heads to avoid experiencing feelings. Let me lay out a scenario to show you what I mean. Say, your brother is selfish, emotionally abusive and generally tries to bully you into doing whatever he wants. Occasionally you’ve had good times together—fishing or listening to music—but whatever fun you have is overshadowed by him reverting to character, narcissism in his case. You’ve spent most of your life trying to please him, but he still is critical and puts you down. Occasionally he belittles you in front of others, then pretends it was...
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Ways to Identify When You’re in Recall Not Reality

Ways-to-Identify-When-Youre-in-Recall-Not-Reality
It takes work to recognize when we’re in recall rather than reality. This happens when a painful memory echoes a current experience and we become mentally unmoored from the present and suffer what we felt then. Remember, memory is how we protect ourselves from bad things happening to us—the old “better safe than sorry” adage. As I’ve written before, recall memories co-opt the present and the best we can do is to realize when this is happening and mentally drag ourselves back to the present. To do so, you will need to be a keen, accurate observer of your thoughts and feelings.  Step 1: Notice the strength of your emotions. If someone cuts in front of you in line at the bank, you might be slightly annoyed. However, if you’re so enraged you want to shove them out of line or knock them to the ground, you’re being swept up an...
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To Diagnose or Not

To-Diagnose-or-Not
I was explaining to a neighbor that someone we were talking about had Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and she got miffed and said it was unnecessary to label people. This happened during the same week that a client mentioned to her sister that I suggested she (the sister) might carry the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder and that caused trouble in already dysfunctional family dynamics. In my first post-grad school job, I was required to submit a DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual) diagnosis. Ditto when I was an insurance provider. I didn’t think much about mental health diagnosing until a friend explained to me how it had negatively impacted her brother with schizophrenia and I started looking at it from the client’s point of view, that is, feeling that they were being reduced to a psychiatric label. I understood how harmful this could be. Years later, I had two clients in my...
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A Subtle Sign of Co-dependence

A-Subtle-Sign-of-Co-dependence
So often when I suggest to clients that they may be co-dependent, they say, “Who me?” They can’t see what I see about them because they’re so entrenched in their interactional patterns and fail to recognize that they’re more other than self-focused. Here’s a major clue that you might lean toward co-dependence.  One major tip off is when I ask a client about how they’re feeling and they don’t talk about themselves but start talking about another person’s feelings. For example, I was asking a client how she felt about a break-up with her boyfriend and she responded, “Well, you know it’s his choice. He thinks we should try to work it out, but I’ve tried everything to make things work. I guess I just don’t meet his standards.”  A slightly different example happened during a conversation I had with a client about his narcissistic mother. Again, I asked my client...
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To Take or Not Take Things Personally

To-Take-or-Not-Take-Things-Personally
We’ve all experienced the ouch of “taking things personally,” but what does the term mean? I saw a movie decades ago where someone told someone else, “Well, don’t take it personally” and she responded, “I’m a person, so how can I not take it personally?” The fact is that we can avoid doing so and will benefit from ditching this reaction. Taking things personally means being offended or upset by what someone says or does. However, we have a choice to not be offended or upset. We can avoid it by thickening our skin and giving a different meaning to what others say or do. As I’ve said a million times, just because someone says something to or about us—even if our name is attached—it’s about the speaker, the message sender, not us, the receiver. If someone tells me I’m a bad person because I drink alcohol and will burn in...
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How Embitterment Will Ruin Your Life

How-Embitterment-Will-Ruin-Your-Life
One of my clients mentioned how resentful his wife always seems to feel, as if life had dealt her a terrible hand and that was that. The word “bitter” came to mind when I thought of her and I realized what a powerful but rarely talked about emotion it is. When food tastes bitter, we scrunch up our faces in distaste and think “phooey” or “yuck,” as if we need to expel even the thought of something so awful. Think for a minute about what it would feel like to carry that kind of bitterness around with you wherever you go. My client’s wife’s did have an awful childhood. Dad was demanding, controlling and abusive, while Mom was passive and made excuses for his bad behavior. Nothing she did was ever right enough or good enough for Dad and he clearly favored his son over his daughter. Since she was smart...
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Stop Emotional Flooding to Avoid Dysregulated Eating

Stop-Emotional-Flooding-to-Avoid-Dysregulated-Eating
Back in the days when I was a world-class emotional eater, I was also highly reactive to my feelings. I was easily hurt, took things more personally, and wanted to lash out at others to defend myself. I still can be more reactive than I’d like to be (sigh), but I’ve learned to manage my feelings better and express them differently or even not at all. The psychological term for what happens when we’re over-reactive is emotional flooding which happens when an emotion builds up and takes over your brain. You’ve all experienced flooding—when something happens and you’re infused with an emotion while the the rest of the world falls away. It’s as if you’re seized by the feeling which is why the reaction is also called being hijacked by your amygdala.  Here's an example. You’re in a rush and have been waiting several minutes for a parking space at the...
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What Are We Looking for When We Fight with Others?

What-Are-We-Looking-for-When-We-Fight-with-Others
Many of my clients seem to argue alot.  A husband and wife bicker about almost everything, a divorced client and his former wife go at it over raising their daughters, and a mother and daughter are constantly at each others’ throats even as they swear they want to get along better. I’d attribute their behaviors to the COVID pandemic, but their battles started long before then and are still going strong.  At any rate, this got me thinking about why we argue (and that “we” includes me). It takes so much energy and effort, causes such grief, and often doesn’t get us anywhere. Why do we do it and what do we hope to accomplish when we get into verbal fisticuffs? We want what we want or for things to be a certain way: the toilet seat up or down, a vacation always by the shore and never in the mountains,...
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The Necessity of Connecting to Self

The-Necessity-of-Connecting-to-Self
I’ve had several recent discussions with clients about their male partners who are emotionally walled off, though women too are often disconnected from their feelings. This very human problem learned in childhood has sad ramifications in adulthood. One problem, as many of you know all too well, is that you’re disconnected from both emotions and appetite. You recognize you want food even when you’re not hungry but not what you’re feeling underneath, usually some sort of discomfort you’d prefer not to experience. Distancing from your emotions is bound to mean trouble because what is the function of emotions if not to move you toward happiness and away from pain.  One of my clients frequently laments, “But I don’t want to be uncomfortable.” As if she has a choice. What she means is that she doesn’t want to feel certain feelings because they make her feel badly, in her case, leaving her...
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How to Know You’re Stressed

How-to-Know-Youre-Stressed
Not a week goes by when a client doesn’t tell me a story about their overeating without adding, “I was stressed, and I didn’t even know it.” This is a common problem for many of us in this culture, being out of touch with feeling stressed and only finding out we were after the fact, often when we’ve eaten to try to reduce it. The problem is two-fold, being poorly connected to ourselves emotionally and physically and not respecting the signals we send ourselves when we’re stressed. A client and I were talking about this very issue. She’s a busy mother with a part-time job she does at home and raising two children pretty much alone because her husband travels so much. While we were discussing the difference between being busy (which she enjoys) and stressed (which she, of course, doesn’t), I started thinking about how any of us can recognize...
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Stop Saying Others Make You Feel a Certain Way

Stop-Saying-Others-Make-You-Feel-a-Certain-Way
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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Emotional Memories Now versus Then

Emotional-Memories-Now-versus-Then
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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How to Find Real Comfort

How-to-Find-Real-Comfort-
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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How to Brush Off Rejection

How-to-Brush-Off-Rejection
The potential for rejection is everywhere—friendships, romance, jobs, activities—and it can be a primary reason dysregulated eaters seek comfort in food. Since there’s no way to escape rejection, why not develop ways to help you live with it.  A Toast to All Rejects teaches us why rejection is so painful and how to manage it more effectively. Cognitive-science professor Barbara Sarnecka and her graduate student team have been changing the experience of professional rejection by encouraging people to “run straight toward it.” At first, that may seem like a crazy idea, but it turns out that it works, especially if we don’t keep rejection a secret but share it with others. Studies explain that rejection can hurt like the dickens because it “threatens our self-esteem and our sense of belonging.” In fact, we’re highly sensitive to rejection because “many of the same networks in our brain that activate in response to...
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How to Achieve Positive Self-regard

How-to-Achieve-Positive-Self-regard
If you’ve ever been in therapy or read self-help books, you know that loving yourself is key to living your best life. Self-love often seems like a squishy term. Here’s one that might be easier to swallow: learning the purpose and practice of positive self-regard.  The Surprising Benefits of Unconditional Positive Regard explains what positive self-regard is and isn’t. It means treating yourself as a fallible human being no matter what you think, feel, say or do. It’s knowing our actions are unhealthy even as we’re doing them, but still seeing them as the best we can do at the time. Or looking back at something we did in horror yet treating ourselves with compassion in spite of it. To be clear, positive self-regard is not unconditional acceptance of our actions. It means holding ourselves in positive regard and still not liking but wanting to change our behaviors. For example, you...
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Yes, There’s a Link Between ADHD and BED

Yes-Theres-a-Link-Between-ADHD-and-BED
Here’s an interesting factoid: “Studies show that someone with ADHD is 30 percent more likely to develop binge eating disorder.” When I read this statistic, I thought about my clients, formally and informally diagnosed with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, who overrate and binged and wondered why I hadn’t thought or heard about this connection before.  Most of my clients self-identify as dysregulated eaters if not binge-eaters, so let me explain what Binge-eating Disorder consists of from a blog of mine: “Criteria include bingeing at least once per week for a period of at least three months accompanied by a feeling of loss of control, eating large quantities of food quickly past fullness, and experiencing shame, upset, remorse or guilt afterwards.” According to Allan Kaplan, MD of the University of Toronto, BED is found in about one-third of higher weight clients. Several of my clients have ADHD, a neuro-developmental disorder characterized by distractibility,...
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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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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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