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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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Learn How to Enjoy Being Alone to Heal Your Eating Problems

APRIL 13 2017 LEARN HOW TO ENJOY BEING ALONE . .
Image by Debbie Digioia One of the major problems of dysregulated eaters is difficulty being alone. I’m not talking about the occasional feeling of loneliness that we all experience at various points in our lives. I’m speaking of actually feeling distressed when you don’t have people or a good deal happening around you. In too many of these situations, dysregulated eaters may become so uncomfortable that they seek relief from food. In “The Empathy Gap” (Psychotherapy Networker, Nov-Dec 2016, p. 32) psychologist Sherry Turkel stresses the need to learn to be by ourselves in order to have a functional adulthood. She says, “Children learn the capacity to be alone by being ‘alone with’ caring adults. Gradually, the child becomes comfortable being alone with him or herself.” There are many ways that this result may be derailed. Parents may be out working, too busy with their other children, or too preoccupied with their own...
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How to Calm Your Brain

HOW TO CALM YOUR YOUR BRAIN 4 6 17
Image by Debbie Digioia I was looking through notes I took at a workshop I attended last year on “Calming An Overactive Brain,” and found some ideas which speak directly to why it’s difficult for dysregulated eaters to not reach for food when they’re in internal distress. My hope is that by understanding what goes on in your brain and body, you’ll be better able to manage your emotions and, even when you don’t do so, that you will have compassion for yourselves when you can’t change brain patterns as quickly as you’d like. The brain processes the environment in two ways. In bottom-up processing, you encounter an environmental stressor that throws your body-mind off balance and your amygdala acts immediately, never mind what your higher-order thinking has to say. Top-down modulation is about controlling automatic reactions to keep the body in balance. Because visual stressors are so powerful in humans, seeing some leftover...
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Stop Measuring Everything Against Perfect

PERFECTION Blog March 27
Image by Debbie Digioia Perfect — what a seductive word it is. And what a lie it represents. And what pain it causes. I wish I had a dollar for every time a client says, “Well, my eating isn’t perfect, but…” or “It’s not a perfect relationship, but…” Tell me, why must anything be perfect? Why would we expect it to be? Is it really possible that it could be, or is perfection, most of the time, for most of us, made of hope and wishes? Consider what you your life would be like if you’d never heard the word or the concept. A lot better, I’d wager. I was asking a client how her relatively new relationship was going with her boyfriend and she said, “It’s not perfect, but we’re doing okay.” If she hadn’t looked a bit chagrined, I might have let the comment pass, because she was acknowledging that things were...
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Less Conflictual Relationships May Mean More Regulated Eating

Left alone many of you could probably eat quite “normally” much of the time. By left alone, I mean if people didn’t intrude into your lives. As much as they add joy to our world, humans can also be sources of stress, particularly when they’re what I call very difficult people (http://eatingdisordersblogs.com/difficult-people/). The problem is how VDPs press our buttons, causing us to react without thinking. Doctors Rick Brinkman and Rick Kirschner offer excellent advice on how to behave around VDPs to reduce stress and improve relationships in their book, Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst (McGraw-Hill, 1994). They help you understand what people want by breaking them down into four “intent” categories so that you can respond appropriately to others’ priorities. 1) When people want to get a task done, you’ll feel pressure to move quickly. To help them recognize that...
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Are You Teaching Your Children What's Enough?

Figuring out how much to eat is done through a felt sense in the mind/body. Knowing when to stop eating is connected to knowing when to stop working, playing, or doing any activity. In “The three faces of overindulgence” authors Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 9/26/2016, p. B2), explain how to talk to children about what’s enough. The effects of overindulgence described in the book, How Much Is Too Much: Raising Likeable, Responsible, Respectful Children in An Age of Overindulgence by Clarke, Dawson and Bredehoft, produce children who have “difficulty in delaying gratification, irresponsibility, disrespect and defiance of authority, incompetence, interrelational problems, and trouble developing a personal identity.” The first form of overindulgence involves parents doing too much. This includes over-focusing on children and asking them, “Are you hungry?” too often or forcing them to eat or eat more than is satisfying. Parents who constantly push sweets and treats...
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Use Laughter to Change Your Mood

We’ve all heard the saying, “Laughter is the best medicine.” Is there any truth to this maxim or is it an old wives’ tale? According to “Is laughter effective complementary medicine?” by Florence Chaverneff, PhD (Psychiatric Advisor, 9/26/16), it’s true. Then, why not use it to help manage the internal distress that drives dysregulated eating? The article about gelotology, the study of laughter, explains the neurochemistry of what happens to us when we laugh and how to put this knowledge to good use to manage pain. Studying the brain pathway for laughter, research tells us that laughter affects our bodies in several positive, healthful ways, including “muscle relaxation, improved respiration and enhancement of immune system defenses, mental functioning and pain tolerance.” It does this through four channels: “1. physiological effects on the muscular, cardiovascular, immune and neuroendocrine systems; 2. the promotion of one's emotional state; 3. the improvement of one's stress-coping...
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It’s Okay If Your Crystal Ball Is a Bit Cloudy

Many dysregulated eaters feel a need to have an airtight plan and absolute certainty about how things will turn out before moving forward on a decision. One client calls it “getting things all figured out beforehand.” A lovely notion, but not how life really works. Face it, the process of making plans is as much for the present as it is for the future. We tell ourselves that we make them in order to ensure that things don’t go awry in the future, but equally, we plan because it helps us feel less anxious in the present about what lies ahead. Who wouldn’t want to feel more confident about what’s around the next bend in the road? The problem is that we can’t get it all figured out beforehand because we don’t know—and can’t know—what’s out there that might affect our best laid plans. Many of our fears of what could...
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How Self-compassion Generates Motivation

The biggest misperception I hear about giving up being hard on yourself and, instead, practicing self-compassion is that self-criticism pushes us to achieve our goals. Really? In that case, wouldn’t you and your harsh inner critic be off doing something else right now, other than reading this blog? The truth is that troubled eaters do a bang up job of engaging in self-flagellation and, if it worked to sustain motivation, you’d have overcome your eating problems ages ago. Face it, guilt, shame, self-disgust, and self-contempt are lousy motivators, while being self-compassionate is actually the winning strategy. When you show no mercy in tearing yourself apart for food failures, slip ups, mistakes, and relapses, how do you end up feeling? Worse, I’d wager, than you did after doing whatever you perceive was your error. By piling on disgust, contempt, and disappointment atop the shame or guilt, you end up feeling hopeless, helpless,...
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Hating Ourselves May Make Us Hate Others

Who among us hasn’t had the feeling, shameful as it may have been, that someone else’s happiness has highlighted our own misery so piercingly that we hated him or her, even for a moment? I’m not proud to say it and I now have self-compassion for it, but I know I had this reaction back when my eating was out of control, my body was far from what I wished it to be, and my life was full of longings for things I didn’t, and thought I would never, have. I was reminded of how easy it is to slip into hate and envy mode when you’re unhappy with yourself while listening to a radio interview of Lindy West, outspoken feminist, fat acceptance movement advocate, journalist, and author of Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, a book I have not read. She was talking about the nasty social media insults she’d...
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Is the Election Making You Eat When You’re Not Hungry?

There’s never been an election like this one and I say this as someone turning 70 next year. Feelings are high and emotional restraint is low. You can practically cut the political tension among families, friends, neighbors and co-workers with a knife. What a perfect time to turn to food to regulate your feelings. Or maybe there are better ways to manage your emotions and still enjoy a positive relationship with food. There are a few reasons you might turn to food inappropriately when political hot buttons get pressed, whether yours or someone else’s. The first is to calm yourself down after a rousing debate that still has you reeling hours (or days) after it’s over. The second is to break internal tension if you’ve been holding in your sentiments and feel about ready to burst. Here are some emotional triggers that may come up for you regarding political disagreements: Wanting...
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Self-soothing, Self-talk and Self-regulation

Picture this: You’ve just raced out of a burning house and are still reeling from your narrow escape. Shaking and shivering, your heart is pounding, you can’t catch your breath, and thoughts are pinging around your head. Your nervous system is wildly dysregulated. So, would this be a good time to do a mental de-briefing about the fire’s origins or ways you might have prevented it? Of course not. After, fleeing that burning house, your first job is to get your emotional system to register that you’re safe and out of danger. To do this, you need soothing words and a gentle, comforting tone, a way to signal to your nervous system that all is well. You need to settle down, the same way a pot of boiling water requires time to stop bubbling away when you turn off the heat. This return to stasis won’t happen if you immediately launch...
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Curb Anxiety and Depression with Activity

If you turn to food when you’re anxious or depressed and are looking for a remedy with no side-effects, try staying active. Exercise actually changes your neurochemistry and helps lessen the blues, the blahs and the agita you may be feeling. Here’s how it works. “How exercise combats depression and anxiety” by Amanda Loudin (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, E18, 5/25/16) explains the power of activity in reducing these discomfiting emotional states. “Researchers at the University of California at Davis Medical Center found that exercise increased the level of the neurotransmitters glutamate and GABA, both of which are depleted in the brains of patients with depression and anxiety. The study shows that “exercise activates the metabolic pathway that replenishes these neurotransmitters.” Pretty simple and straightforward. If you tend toward emotional dysregulation as well as yo-yo eating, exercise can help. Richard Maddock, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and the study’s lead author, says, “This...
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Better to Cry Than to Eat Emotionally

Many of my clients with dysregulated eating have difficulty crying. It’s important to understand its function because my hunch is that many of you would do less emotional eating if you cried more. How do you feel about crying? Do you understand its purpose? Do you even know that it has one, and that—of all things—it may be connected to sex? According to Jay Efran, psychology professor at Temple University, who has a two-stage theory about tears, “people cry when something sparks anxiety or distress, and this is followed by a moment of recalibration or release…Both laughing and crying seem to be dictated by a rapid change in the part of our nervous system that controls involuntary actions such as heartbeat and pupil dilations.” (Sarasota Herald Tribune, p. E22, 5/11/16) When male mice tears are analyzed, they’re found to contain a pheromone that increases the possibility of females wanting to mate...
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Do You Eat When You’re Bored?

When I wrote about boredom in The Food and Feelings Workbook, I didn’t understand scientifically why we seek food when we feel bored. I only knew that it was an automatic reaction that often occurred when dysregulated eaters had nothing to do or were disengaged from what they were doing. Fast forward 10 years and science can explain why that happens. The findings of a preliminary study on boredom and eating were presented at the British Psychology Society’s annual meeting and I read about them in HealthDay (If You're Craving Cookies, You Might Just Be Bored). Here’s what was said by the study’s lead investigator, Sandi Mann of the University of Central Lancashire: "These results are in line with previous research suggesting that we crave fatty and sugary foods when we are bored. This strengthens the theory that boredom is related to low levels of the stimulating brain chemical dopamine and...
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Understanding Interpersonal Dynamics to Reduce Emotional Eating

One reason we get stressed (then engage in mindless eating or obsessing about food and weight) is due to how personally we take things in relationships. To avoid doing so and to see the larger picture, the key is understanding the intricacies and subtleties of interpersonal dynamics. Two important dynamics are simple projection and the more complicated, projective identification. Don’t get scared off by these terms. Once you understand and recognize them, relationships will be less upsetting. One example of projection is when we take a trait we dislike or are not comfortable with in ourselves, deny possessing it, and disdain it in someone else (who may or may not have this trait). This is why cheapskates look down on others who are tightwads, bullies accuse others of being oppressors, and people who refuse to be wrong will often accuse others of always needing to be right. When someone tells you...
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One Simple Way to Reduce Your Anxiety

The majority of my eating dysregulated clients have social anxiety and many have Generalized Anxiety Disorder as well. While curbing anxiety can seem like a daunting endeavor, here’s one strategy that’s easy to implement and gets results. It’s described in “Brain changer: using kindness to trump anxiety” by Amy Ellis Nutt (http://health.heraldtribune.com/2016/05/03/brain-changer-using-kindness-to-trump-anxiety/). Nutt says that “anxiety tends to turn people inward, make them more introspective and therefore, less socially engaged. Previously, scientists have shown that people who are more self-focused do in fact experience greater levels of anxiety.” She goes on to report on a study published in the journal Motivation and Emotion in which two University of British Columbia scientists tested out the idea of “whether acts of kindness, already shown by researchers to increase a person’s happiness, might also help alleviate social anxiety.” One group was instructed to perform three acts of kindness per day, twice a week for...
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How to Choose Happiness

Most people eat more mindfully when they’re happy or content, so it pays to learn how to generate and sustain these moods. “Want to Be Happier? So You Must Ask This Question Every Morning” by Harvey McKay, explains how to do just that.(https://bayart.org/2016/04/27/want-to-be-happier-so-you-must-ask-this-question-every-morning/) It tells us that Albert Einstein said, “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.” Consider how each perspective colors every aspect of your life. Is the world a friendly place where folks are generally nice and kind, or is it enemy territory, with them mostly out for themselves or out to get you? If you spend most of the day thinking about the pleasures you’re going to have—your cup of morning Joe, taking a walk in the park at lunch time, the witty co-worker you’re sharing a project with today, how great the weather’s been, or the...
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Why We Get Upset So Easily—and How Not to

Many of us have experienced going from 0 to 10 on the distress scale in a nanosecond and seeking food to calm down. For some, it becomes a habit. Unfortunately, if we habitually use food to re-regulate or to preventively tamp down our upset or anger, we never learn effective skills to manage emotional distress. That is why some of you still fear upset and losing your temper or your cool many decades into life. The first thing you should know is that we are biologically built to feel fear and hurt as strong emotions because they may signal that there is a threat to us in the environment. Experiencing surges of emotion can be a sign that something is very wrong, but they can also, equally, amount to false alarms. As Amy Alkon, the Advice Goddess (whose column I love and quote from frequently in my blogs), describes in her...
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Letting Down Your Guard to Connect up

Many dysfunctional eaters are woefully unfamiliar with deep, intimate connections and believe that having an honest and vulnerable connection is a rarity in life. In fact, sometimes the first authentic relationship they have is with a therapist. They are convinced that opening up and letting down their guard with people will only cause them hurt and harm. They are sadly mistaken and their self-imposed emotional isolation is no doubt a large contributor to their turning to food when they’re stressed or distressed. I was reminded of how intimacy can bond people together when my husband and I were dining with two other couples. We’d known each couple for some time, and they had recently formed a friendship with each other. Granted that three of us were therapists used to talking about feelings, although that doesn’t mean we were totally comfortable talking about our own. Over the course of the evening, the...
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When Anger at Your Children Triggers Mindless Eating

If you’re a parent, much as you love ‘em, your kids might trigger your unwanted eating. They may be thoughtless or careless. Sometimes when they’re upset, they take out their distress on you. Other times, you hurt their feelings and they lash out and try to hurt you back. Whatever the reason, you can learn to avoid getting so angry at your children that you mindlessly seek food to re-regulate your emotions by understanding your usual triggers. “Learn what’s causing your anger” by Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman (Sarasota Herald Tribune, p. B3, 4/11/16) provides tips to discover what’s going on inside you when you feel angry at your kids. Their point is that it helps to dig below the surface to find out what’s really triggering you. Ask yourself, is what you’re feeling due to:1. A sensory issue, in that you’re already overwhelmed, wiped out, dead on your feet, in...
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