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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. 

Do You Have Emotional Granularity?

Having high emotional granularity is a vital tool for reducing emotional eating. The term was coined by Northeastern University Psychology Professor Lisa Feldman Barrett shortly after the turn of the century and refers to the ability to recognize, identify and express a full range of emotions. People with high emotional granularity have “finely tuned feelings.” They value emotions and are in touch with them most of the time. Moreover, they don’t lump all emotions together but feel and can describe their nuances. Upset might be parsed as frightened, dismayed or exasperated. Angry might be viewed as frustrated, helpless or fearful. Says Barrett, “Emotional granularity isn’t just about having a rich vocabulary; it’s about experiencing the world, and yourself, more precisely. This can make a difference in your life. In fact, there is growing scientific evidence that precisely tailored emotional experiences are good for you, even if those experiences are negative.” (“Are...
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What Do You Mean by Parts of Yourself?

Here’s a phrase I hear often: “part of myself.” And here’s how it’s used, “There’s a part of me that wants to stop eating so much” or, “Part of me thinks I’d benefit from exercising and the other part thinks I’d be better off going back to sleep.” I’m sure you get my drift on how the term is used. But do you understand what you mean by using the word? Can you point to where this “part of you” is? If you’re talking about two parts, are they in different places? I’m not trying to be silly here but to make a point. The truth is that there is no “part” of you that feels one way or thinks another. What you mean is that you have conflicting/contradictory/mixed/opposing thoughts and feelings. We all do. When you use the word “part,” it sounds as if there’s a permanent installation somewhere within...
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It’s Time to Grow Up

There’s an I-won’t-grow-up quality to dysregulated eating. Denial of consequences or the childish hope of avoiding them. A rush from rebelling against authority, rules and being told what is right or what to do. Glee in getting away with something. The sly triumph of getting something for nothing. The magical belief of reaching goals without putting in a commensurate effort. Manipulation of others into setting your food boundaries, then resenting the hell out of them for doing just that. Yearning for what other people have without doing the work. Being ruled by irrational fears. Avoiding discomfort and pain. Giving in easily. Doing only what feels good and still expecting to have a great life. If you recognize yourself in these descriptions, sit a moment with your awareness. If you feel a ping of shame, that’s okay. A ping is just right. No need to do a number on yourself about how...
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Are You Too Porous?

While listening to a friend and retired psychologist, share her experiences about a trip to India many decades before, she mentioned how disturbed she was to see dead babies floating in the Ganges River. This led to discussing how some people are what she calls more “porous” than others. I find myself returning to this concept often in my practice, especially working with dysregulated eaters who generally are highly porous. Porosity, also called permeability, like most things, exists on a continuum. There are people who nothing seems to affect as if they have an emotional wall around them that prevents them from taking in the pain or suffering of others. No matter what’s happening to people, they appear to remain untouched by it. At the other end of the spectrum are people who are extremely sensitive to the feelings of others. They intensely experience the suffering of people, friends or strangers....
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Have a Love Affair with Yourself

If you read my blogs regularly, you know how adamantly I warn against using directives like should, need to, must, ought, have to and am supposed to. Unfortunately, you’ve probably been using them for years thinking that they’re going to get you to change your eating, exercises or other behaviors. And yet, here you are reading my blogs. These words are external motivators that get you exactly nowhere. There is another way. It’s called self-love. Think about what it would be like to have a love affair with yourself. Here’s how it would change your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. When you love someone, you care about and want to take care of them. No one has to urge you to do so. You do it automatically straight from the heart. You notice and value all the wonderful things they say and do. You can’t help it because you think they’re special....
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Tips for Dealing with Envy

I was talking with a client about envy—hers—but it also brought up the subject for me, as topics discussed in therapy often do. It’s so easy to fall into the envy trap and it can happen before we realize it. We may not even recognize that envy is what we’re feeling and, instead, experience it as anger at someone for something general or specific. Though I’ve blogged before on envy, here’s a reminder of what it is: a feeling between two people when you want something that the other person has. It’s different from a jealousy which generally involves three people and occurs when we fear that someone will take something we have. In envy, we want their boyfriend or girlfriend. In jealousy, we’re afraid they’ll take ours. Here are two approaches to banish envy, the second of which is a suggestion from a client. When you feel envious, try on...
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What Makes Us Angry?

I’ve been working with clients to help them identify what makes them angry in order to reduce emotional eating. I don’t mean why specifically—becoming angry when a spouse is late for dinner or getting mad because a friend blabs a secret shared in confidence. I mean recognizing that reasons for anger fall into broad categories and knowing which ones trigger you in order to avoid emotional eating. (“Parenting: helping kids manage relationships” by Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman, Sarasota Herald Tribune , 11/26/18, accessed 11/28/18). According to Stahlmann and Hagaman, we get angry for five reasons (they provide no source for them). Let’s look at how anger might be dealt with appropriately for each one. Pain: When we’re physically uncomfortable, we’re vulnerable to feeling irritated. Hence the term “hangry” (hungry plus angry). When we’re tired, we set ourselves up for life getting on our nerves and for being reactive. And, certainly...
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Beware of Flights into Health

What is a “flight into health” and why is it the opposite of what it sounds like and a dynamic to avoid? It is: “In dynamic psychotherapy, the early but often only temporary disappearance of the symptoms that ostensibly brought the patient into therapy; a defense against the anxiety engendered by the prospect of further psychoanalytic exploration of the patient's conflicts. (Flight into Health - Medical Definition from MediLexicon, https://www.medilexicon.com/dictionary/34029 , accessed 11/24/18) I see “flights into health” often in my practice. All psychotherapists do. So that you can recognize them in yourself and people you know, here are some examples. A client prone to depression who has no meaningful work and hasn’t found the right man comes back from a vacation abroad and is jazzed and hopeful about her future because of her experience. After a while, her depression returns. She’s been in therapy for years and this vacation →...
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What Makes Us (Truly) Happy?

As a therapist, I spend a lot of time talking about happiness. I’ve written blogs about it, posted numerous articles on it, and have a smattering of books on the subject sitting on my bookshelves for clients to borrow to learn more about the subject. Though information abounds about happiness, many of my dysregulated eating (and otherwise troubled) clients have problems finding and holding on to it. “Is happiness genetic?” by Jen Christensen ( www.cnn.com , 7/30/13, accessed 11/13/18) helps us understand why. There are two types of happiness: hedonic and eudaimonic. The hedonic type comes pleasurable experiences or instant gratification—that jolt or a bolt of happy which washes over you. This is the buzz we get from eating high-sugar/high-fat foods, shopping, or receiving a text from a beloved. The other type of happiness, eudaimonic, derives from a sense of well-being that arises from working towards and achieving goals which give...
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There’s a Big Difference Between Privacy and Secrecy

Several clients over the decades have insisted that they can’t share certain things about themselves because they’re “very private” people. While I understand their view, I see them as trying to protect themselves from the feeling of vulnerability that may arise from opening up. There’s a difference, you know, between privacy and secrecy. We all need privacy—to be free of observation or disturbance—both emotional and physical, in some aspects of our lives. That’s why there are enclosed spaces for trying on clothes in dressing rooms and stalls with doors and locks in bathrooms. That’s why we wince in horror at the thought of people reading our diaries or, worse, our minds. To feel emotionally secure, there must be a real or imagined space for us to retreat in which we’re free from prying eyes and ears and can just be our authentic ourselves. Privacy is a healthy, protective practice when engaged...
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How to Sense Enoughness

A question that crops up frequently in therapy—because it’s so prevalent in life—is when something is enough. Clients usually reference the term around food, but we could apply it to any aspect of life. Although sufficiency and satisfaction are key to balanced living, many dysregulated eaters (many of us, period) have no idea how to determine what’s enough. They have what I jokingly call an “enough disorder.” To learn more about it, read chapter eight in my book, Starting Monday. Enough is a felt sense–a physical or emotional sensation that draws attention to itself, a mind/body reaction to internal or external stimuli. An example of the former is how while noodling over what birthday gift to buy someone, say, your brother Joe, you say to yourself, “Well, that’s enough thinking about that.” This thought comes from a feeling of not wanting to continue putting attention on what to buy Joe. You...
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Use Regret to Improve Your Life

Ah, regrets. We all have ‘em. No matter how wonderful our lives appear to be or actually are, we can’t help but recall things we did or wish we hadn’t done and wonder about how our lives would have turned out if we’d acted differently. Many dysregulated eaters are beset by regrets which makes it hard for them to enjoy the present or plan well for the future. And, sometimes, the stress of regretting drives them to comfort eating. As wise and witty psychotherapist and author Lori Gottlieb says in Maybe You Should Talk to Someone (p. 166): “. . . regret can go one of two ways: it can either shackle you to the past or serve as an engine for change.” In truth, it’s neither the magnitude of your actions nor the consequences of them that dictate which attitude you’ll have about regret. Nor is it your current circumstances,...
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What You Need to Know About Suicide

One of the most difficult jobs of a mental health clinician is dealing with someone who is suicidal. Being a layperson with family members, co-workers or friends who want to kill themselves is even scarier. At least we have training in what to do and not do. Here are some things to consider when dealing with people who say they’re suicidal or who you think might be. (“Suicide rates on the rise: know the signs, ask the right questions to help them stem the tide” by Alison Lauria, Social Work Advocates, 10-11/18, pp. 13-20). You may believe that suicide is a rare occurrence, but the fact is that, “Nearly 45,000 Americans age 10 and older died by suicide in 2016, making it one of the leading causes of death in America. And the suicide rate is rising…more than half—54%—of those died by suicide did not have a known mental health condition”...
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Time to Take Down Your Façade

“Sometimes the façade becomes the building,” laments one of the characters in the entertaining and deeply moving novel, Rise and Shine, by Anna Quindlen, a favorite author. How sadly true. I see how that has happened to many of my clients, with and without dysregulated eating, and know that they must tear down that façade to become a whole and healthy person. It’s no mystery how we got to be the way we are. We are built psychologically to survive. That is how the human brain is wired: to adapt to an environment in order to make the best of it. Unfortunately, when this happens, we may think we’re growing toward the light, but end up growing toward the darkness when how we act, believe and feel, which is adaptive in childhood, become maladaptive in adulthood. I have many clients who are Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOAs) and they have the...
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Neurotic versus Personality Disordered

I remember being fascinated in my social work psychopathology class as my professor described two types of clients we’d be treating. One type would seek us out and the other likely would need to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into our offices. Although I’m not sure after 30-plus years in practice that I’d draw such a sharp distinction between the two types, I do think back to my professor’s description when I meet clients for the first time or listen to them talk about the folks who populate their lives. The first type has what we call a neurotic disorder. To paraphrase my professor, they think that all their problems are their fault. No matter what has happened to them, they brought it on. They made the wrong choice, didn’t see something coming, and berate themselves for staying too long in bad situations. They are mercilessly hard on themselves and shockingly...
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Fear Is an Excellent Motivator for Positive Change

I had a client decades ago when I worked in a Boston methadone clinic who used to tuck his stash of heroin under the trolley tracks in a hidey hole, so he’d know where it was but wouldn’t get caught by the police with it on him. He did get caught with and arrested and was then terrified about what would happen to him. When he was released from jail, we talked about how his fear response was working backwards—he felt fear after the fact when he should have felt it beforehand. The point of fear, from an evolutionary standpoint, is to keep us from doing or repeating behaviors that will harm us. We wouldn’t survive without this instinct. But some people push away useful fear and, therefore, continue to endanger themselves. For instance, I have a client with COPD who had difficulty talking about how cigarettes were destroying his health,...
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Give Saying No to Yourself a Different Meaning

Most emotional, mindless, compulsive overeaters consider saying no to themselves a huge drag, just about the worst thing that could happen to them. That’s because “no” has a negative connotation for them from childhood. Healthy adults see “no” as positive: it balances out all the many yesses they say to themselves and puts up the proverbial guardrails on the crib so that the baby doesn’t fall out and hurt itself. It’s a self-loving, gentle reminder to think ahead to the consequences of their actions, an expression of how much they value (in Jungian terms) both expansion and containment, the voice inside that cares enough to, as my father-in-law used to joke, “Save me from myself!” What exactly does no mean to you that it’s become such an unwelcome, outlaw of a word that you can’t bear to say it around food? Here are some possibilities: No means cut out the fun....
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How to Stop Being Permanently Aggrieved

If you’re ever going to end your eating problems and create a satisfying life for yourself, you’ll need to give up being permanently aggrieved. Perhaps you don’t realize that this is your view life (and how others may view you) and would be wildly distressed if you were to acknowledge that you see the world as constantly stacked against you, the helpless victim who’s been cheated by life. You may feel so distressed at the idea of having this worldview that you tell yourself you don’t. Understandable, but refusing to recognize your perpetual put upon-ness is only a barrier to living the wonderful life you yearn for and deserve. So, what do I mean by being permanently aggrieved? Read on. First is looking to blame others for why you’re not happy, successful, loved, etc. Because it’s so painful to think that you could have brought unhappiness, failure, and rejection or abandonment...
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The Dangers of Counter-dependence

I recently discovered that I’ve blogged about dependence and independence, but not about counter-dependence. I suspect that many of you don’t know what this dynamic entails, although it’s rampant in the eating disorder community. Read on to learn more. A simple definition of dependence is reliance on others, while independence means relying on oneself. Obviously, none of us can be completely one way or the other. As adults, we’re expected to do many things for ourselves, assuming we are able. Your spouse or friend might spoon some ice cream into your mouth for a taste, but it’s unlikely that anyone will take on the job of feeding you when you can feed yourself. Likewise, we can be highly accomplished and autonomous, but we can’t do everything ourselves (perform surgery, pilot an airplane, grow all our own food, fix our own cars). Counter-dependent people will do just about anything to avoid relying...
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Are You Stuck Between Blame and Shame?

One dysfunctional pattern you may be stuck in is cycling between blame and shame—being unhappy and wanting to blame someone else (or lots of people) alternating with blaming yourself and feeling deeply ashamed of your deficits, mistakes, etc. Nothing good can come out of ping-ponging between these two effects which both may trigger emotional eating. Here are two examples of this dynamic. You, an adult, have an alcoholic father whom you take care of more often than you’d like to. You often blame him for keeping you stuck living at home making sure he stays alive or gets to work and you feel angry that he’s dependent on you. Or you blame your mom who divorced Dad a long time ago. Alternately, you blame yourself for staying in the situation which makes you feel terrible about yourself. With blame comes deep disappointment and shame that you don’t do anything to help...
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