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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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Are You (Unconsciously) Acting Out Childhood Conflicts in Adulthood?

Are-You-Unconsciously-Acting-Out-Childhood-Conflicts-in-Adulthood-
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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Do You Need to Have Problems to Feel Cared For?

Do-You-Need-to-Have-Problems-to-Feel-Cared-For
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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How Structure Gives You Freedom

How-Structure-Gives-You-Freedom
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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Optimism Can Be Learned

Optimism-Can-Be-Learned-
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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From Chaos to Rigidity and Back Again

From-Chaos-to-Rigidity-and-Back-Again
For a long time I’ve been writing about how dysregulated eaters relentlessly ricochet between structure and freedom, mostly through dieting and bingeing, but in other ways as well. Too much freedom and we feel uncertain, uneasy, and out of control. We long for ritual, grounding, sameness, a scaffolding around which to build our lives, and containment to make us feel more secure. Too much structure and we itch for change, variety, diversity, adventure, and the rush of something out of the ordinary. Another way to view this tug of war is via rigidity versus chaos (Daniel J. Siegel, PhD, clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine and executive director of the Mindsight Institute (https://www.crowdcast.io/e/PEPPTalk/6?hls=true).  being on a diet—1/3 cup, 6 ounces, 5 grams, and 2 servings of whatever—and self-doling out little pinches of portion-controlled pleasure? Or the scale staring up at us in judgment of whether we’ve been good...
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Two Tasks to Do When You’re Overwrought

Two-Tasks-to-Do-When-Youre-Overwrought
When we’re emotionally overwrought, we have two tasks facing us. The first is to manage our feelings and the second is to solve a problem that our emotions have called to our attention. For effective mental health, we must do both tasks well.  Here are examples of what we do wrong: Your 8-year-old daughter won’t do her homework. This has been happening a lot lately since her father moved out. You yell at her to get it done and tell her you’re taking away her TV privileges for a week if she doesn’t.Your mother keeps nagging you on the phone to see her beyond your weekly visit. Overwhelmed from having begun a new job, you coldly remind her how busy you are, that you have no time to visit her this week, then hang up.Your boss criticizes nearly everything you do. In response, you slack off whenever she criticizes you, which...
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Why People Hate and Buck Authority

Why-People-Hate-and-Buck-Authority
Observing public reactions to rules and policies during the COVID-19 pandemic got me thinking about exactly why people would ignore and defy safeguards instituted to prevent them from getting sick and dying. This rebellion is similar to dysregulated eaters insisting that they don’t like people telling them what to do even when they know it’s in their best interest. Here are some of the reasons this happens in both situations.  Low frustration tolerance. Through temperament, upbringing or both, some people get frustrated more easily than others. Not everyone has learned how to ease frustration by practicing optimism, pacing themselves and self-soothing when life gets tough. To their detriment, many people lack skills to manage frustration.Confusing care and control. Children raised by controlling, critical, demanding, and domineering parents often cannot tell the very real difference between being cared for and being controlled. As adults they’re convinced that others want to wrest power and autonomy from them,...
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You Can Be Competent and Cared For

You-Can-Be-Competent-and-Cared-For
Many clients are under the false impression that they cannot be both competent and get taken care of by others in a relationship. Not true. If this is one of your conflicts, it's time to resolve it so it won’t continue to be a barrier to “normal” eating, self-care and healthy relationships. Clients with this unilateral view often grew up as parentified children. Maybe they took care of parents who had mental health or addiction problems or had to mind siblings rather than heed their own needs. Doing a job well and especially doing it without asking for help was a way they not only received praise or gratitude but was the strategy they used (consciously or unconsciously) to feel good about themselves. In their world, competence and doing a job well or perfectly was their path to self-esteem. No matter how overwhelmed and inept they felt, they couldn’t afford to...
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To Sit Quietly in a Room Alone

To-Sit-Quietly-in-a-Room-Alone
According to French philosopher Blaise Pascal, "All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone." “All” is an overstatement in my estimation, but I do believe that some of our problems stem from an inability to be comfortable by and with ourselves. This seems especially true of many dysregulated eaters. An only child, I spent a great deal of time alone and sitting quietly in an adult world. I never thought much about doing so until I began to hang out with “Joyce” in junior high school. She had to keep busy whenever we were together. If she wasn’t with me, she was out with other friends doing something. When we had sleepovers at her house, she kept the radio on in order to fall asleep. When we did homework together, she needed the TV on in the background, which made it hard for me...
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Anger, Helplessness and Paralysis

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Many people who suffered abuse or other childhood mistreatment have become disconnected from their emotions. It’s not that they consciously wish to avoid their feelings; more that they don’t even realize they’re disconnected from them. This is a normal reaction to a budding nervous system being overwhelmed but is a maladaptive strategy for thriving in adulthood. Here's what happens. Let’s say your parents demand that you be the perfect little child and you are shamed or punished when you’re “bad” in their eyes. Maybe you don’t get all As, become excited and talk loudly in public places, or fail to clean your room. Or maybe you just don’t do what they want because you don’t want to. When this pattern happens often enough, it would be natural for you to become angry and resentful. This makes you respond to your parents in an oppositional manner. How well does that go over...
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10 Steps to Re-regulate When You Feel Overwhelmed

10-Steps-To-Re-regulate
One day I was talking with a client who was calmly sharing what had happened in her life since I’d seen her two weeks ago and she impressed with her calmness. With a history of anxiety, depression and having overcome serious drug and alcohol addictions, I wondered how she managed to handle the string of events she was relating to me: college classwork to become a therapist, frustration at bureaucracy dragging its feet when she had to have court papers signed by a specific date or she’d lose her scholarship, single-parenting her young son, dealing with the aftermath of her mother and step-father having been scammed out of a sizable amount of money, and being without a car for two weeks while it underwent necessary repairs. We talked about how we all suffer from discomfort when we lack control over outside circumstances and how growing up as an adult child of...
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You're Anxious Because (It's Not What You Think)

Youre-Anxious-Because
Clients tell me various and sundry reasons for having anxiety. Some say, “I know you tell me I shouldn’t worry, but I’m a worrier.” First, I eschew the word “should” and would never even tell them that. Second, what’s the point of condemning yourself to a worrier identity when it makes you miserable? The statement does no good and a lot of harm. Clients say they’re anxious because: I don’t know what I’ll be doing this summer. My husband may be fooling around.I can’t fit into my clothes.I don’t know where I’ll move to when my lease is up. My family is angry at me for telling the police that my neighbor tried to molest me.It’s almost hurricane season (note: I live in Florida).I have a wedding to go to soon and people will see how much weight I’ve gained. My child is having trouble in school.I need to have surgery on my ankle.My...
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The Only Way To Stop Causing Your Anxiety

Your-Anxiety
I know you don’t want to believe that you are causing your own anxiety, but you are. Sure, genetics play a role in calming agita, but they are not the instigator and promoter of your misery. That would be you, your worldview, and your specific thoughts.  This is not a bulletin hot off the press, although it may be new information to you. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and other clinical treatment approaches, philosophy, Buddhism, and meditation all espouse you having the power to alter how you feel and what you do by changing your beliefs and cognitions. “The School of Life presents: Forget finding happiness, instead find peace with anxiety” describes a major barrier to peace: clinging to a deep and fervent wish that you can make life risk- and danger-free. Instead, you must accept the paradox that you will experience less anxiety when you recognize that you—all of us— always will have...
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Success Doesn't Always Lead to Self-love

Success Doesn't Always Lead to Self-love
It’s theme time again in my practice. Suddenly the issue of clients turning themselves inside out for achievements and success to up their self-acceptance is cropping up everywhere. So, bulletin: striving and scrambling for success does not make you more lovable and failure does not make you less lovable.  It’s understandable that the two would get linked together so that people would think they’re one and the same. Understandable because of the success-oriented, achievement-dominated culture we live in. We worship those who are rich and renowned—whether they’re sports figures, business icons, or celebrities who are famous for just being famous. We don’t much care how they got there or what kind of people they were or are under all that glitters. I have many clients, dysregulated eaters, who value themselves according to their success. No matter how much they’re doing, it’s not enough. If they’re head of one board, why not...
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Can Optimism Help You Become a "Normal" Eater?

Can Optimism Help You Become a "Normal" Eater?
I’ve long written about how psychological traits—nuanced thinking, curiosity rather than judgment, persistence, patience, self-compassion and self-approval—affect eating. It turns out that optimism also can help improve your relationship with food.  “Dispositional optimism is defined as the general expectation that good things, rather than bad things, will happen in the future . . . It is a psychological trait that has been associated with positive health outcomes . . .” (“Optimism is associated with diet quality, food group consumption and snacking behavior in a general population,” W. Ait-hadad, M. Bénard, R. Shankland, E. Kesse-Guyot, M. Robert, M. Touvier, S. Hercberg, C. Buscail & S. Péneau, Nutrition Journal vol. 19, Article #: 6, 2020) This study concluded that “optimism was associated with better overall quality and less snacking. It was also associated with consumption of healthy food groups as well as unhealthy food groups typically consumed in social eating occasions. These findings suggest that optimism...
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What Happens When You Have Too Much Pleasure?

What Happens When You Have Too Much Pleasure?
What kinds of pleasure do you seek? How do you know when you’ve had enough pleasure? What happens when you have too much pleasure? Pleasure is different for different people. Because you’re reading this blog, I’ll assume that food is pleasure to you. But I bet you know people who find food low on their list of delights. Instead they relish swimming laps, reading a novel, watching the NCAA finals, planting flowers or touring Paris. Whatever your choice, you likely anticipate doing it and get a buzz of dopamine thinking about it. Then while you’re engaged in the pleasurable experience, you’re anywhere from happy to ecstatic. And either later that day or sometime in the future, you look back on your enjoyment and smile and smile.  Does the above happen to you when you’re eating mindlessly or overeating? Perhaps in the first few moments pleasure soars but, as quickly, it wanes....
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Is There Such a Thing as Hangry?

Is There Such a Thing as Hangry?
I can’t recall when I first heard the word “hangry.” I admit that I never actually looked up the definition, as it seemed cleverly obvious. Then I came upon an article explaining it. According to “Don’t get mad, but ‘hangry’ isn’t really angry” by Benedict Carey (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 12/17/19, p. E8), Although “Hangriness is a distinct sensation of urgency and growing impatience . . . psychologists are now trying to parse how, exactly, ‘hanger’ differs from the furious, simmering or righteous varieties.” Jennifer K. MacCormack, a University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill doctoral candidate in psychology and neuro-science, “found that people describe themselves, when hungry, as more annoyed than usual and less in control of their emotions.” Studying groups of people testing emotional awareness, she found that “Only the individuals in the second group, presumably less self-aware of their growing agitation, showed clear signs of stress and annoyance…” Her conclusion is...
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Personality Descriptors Are Value Neutral

Personality Descriptors Are Value Neutral
If you’ve read my book, Nice Girls Finish Fat—yes, “boys” can learn from it, too—you’d know that dysregulated eaters share many personality traits. Not every dysregulated eater has all of them, but most possess the majority of these attributes: perfectionism, all-nothing thinking, approval-seeking and people-pleasing, poor self-regulation and self-care, fear of confrontation, being hard on yourself, and being shame- not pride-based.   You may see yourself in this description and think, “Sure, I’d like to change and be different,” but you must understand that different doesn’t mean the opposite of how you currently think, feel and act. This view would be binary, a primary cause of eating and other dysregulation. Examples would be dieting or bingeing, holding in your feelings until you explode or being overly nice even when you dislike someone. Personality traits fall on a continuum and are value-neutral. Nice may be at one end and mean at the other,...
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The Importance of a Sense of Self

The Importance of a Sense of Self
What is your sense of self and how might it affect your eating and body image? Do you know what a sense of self means or what yours is? Do you understand what having a healthy one entails? Research by Christopher Basten, Ph.D. and Stephen Touyz, Ph.D. “lends some empirical support for the often-cited observation that eating disorders (EDs) occur in those whose sense of self and identity is weak.” (EDRS Post Presentation Summary 2018 Manual, “The relationship between sense of self and pathology in eating and body image,” Basten and Touyz, accessed 10/20/19). According to them, a weak sense of self includes “lacking a sense of wholeness, authenticity, continuity, and vitality.”  Many eating disordered clients hold a view of themselves that is fragmented, That is, they see themselves as parts that are unintegrated with other parts to form a sense of wholeness. For example, they view their work value as...
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Why You Must Do What Makes You Anxious

Why You Must Do What Makes You Anxious
Let me tell you about a CEU workshop I attended on rewiring the brain to reduce anxiety. Read on only if you wish to lower the amount of worrying you do. (“Rewire the Anxious Brain: Neuroscience-Informed Treatment of Anxiety, Panic and Worry,” presented by Daniel van Ingen, Psy.D. of Sarasota, FL, PESI, Inc., WI, 11/5/19). First off, let’s talk about your brain component, the amygdala, which is fear central and whose job it is to keep you emotionally and physically safety. Along with other brain structures, it’s your risk manager and captures intense affective memories in your life such as being bitten by a dog, smacked around by your father, screamed at by your mother, or just making it out of a car wreck alive. Any events it perceives as dangerous threats to you are stored in your amygdala and generate a fear response automatically. As I’ve blogged before, the amygdala...
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