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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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6 Quick Self-soothing Strategies for Anxiety

One of the most challenging aspects of recovery for dysregulated eaters is soothing themselves when they’re anxious. Sometimes you might not even realize that you’re brimming with anxiety until you’ve eaten half a bag of cookies or find yourself at the McDonalds window giving your order. It’s vital to know your signals of experiencing anxiety, so you can soothe yourself before it drives you to mindless eating. Start by identifying three ways you know you’re anxious—difficulty focusing, feeling jumpy, thoughts running amuck in your head, clenching your teeth, tightening your jaw, shoulders and neck muscles tensing, a knot in your gut, rushing around (that’d be me), feeling inner pressure “to do,” or raising your voice when you don’t need to. Anxiety signals are both physical and mental. Make sure you recognize your signals before reading on. Now you’re ready to consider self-soothing actions. Here are three physical and three emotional strategies...
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A Tale of Emotional Re-regulation

My tale of emotional dysregulation and re-regulation happened earlier this month when I was enjoying myself at picnic given by a group I belong to. As I was leaving, I was introduced to a man loosely in the field of psychology and started talking to him—and the fun stopped. I share this experience to help you consider what you want to do and not do when you run into a very difficult person (see my blog Difficult People). He had been talking with a therapist friend of mine on a psychology-related topic and I gave my opinion. He pounced on me immediately, calling me prejudiced and demanding evidence to support my comment. I offered none, but explained my thinking. He verbally attacked once more and moved aggressively into my physical space. I made another point he tried to demolish, his voice rising in pitch. I was not afraid of him, but...
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How to Handle Being Blamed (Without Heading for the Cookie Jar)

Many people turn to food when they feel blamed, especially when they weren’t at fault. Because none of us are perfect, it pays to learn how to handle blame—to recognize what’s going on for the “blamer” and how to respond as the alleged “blamee.” Some people were never held accountable for wrongdoing growing up and didn’t learn to tolerate the shame of making mistakes or failing in order to acknowledge and get past shame. The emotion is foreign and humiliating to them, so they want to shake it right off. Others were shamed so frequently (overtly or covertly) in their formative years that they became overwhelmed with it and had to shut it down in order to function. As adults, any kind of shame or shaming (even for the smallest transgression) feels unbearable. In either case, many people lack the skill to willingly take in having erred, feel brief shame, let...
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Monitoring How You Feel

This blog is not about getting in touch with your emotions. Rather, it’s about how many of you, when asked “How are you?” end up answering quite a different question, which is “How are you feeling about yourself, especially emotionally?” I’ve noticed this quite a bit over the decades in and out of my practice. Here’s what I’ve seen. When a client comes in, I may ask, “How are you?” just to get the ball rolling if necessary, and often get these responses, “I think I’m doing okay,” “I’m not feeling great,” or “I’m not doing so well.” These responses reflect an internal appraisal of how they’re feeling about themselves or their interactions in the world, rather than of what they’re experiencing in the moment—a particular emotion—or in a specific area of their lives. The responses are more judgment and self-evaluation than actual description. Because so many dysregulated eaters often lack...
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When You Can’t Get What You Really Want, You Eat

When dysregulated eaters think they can’t get what they really want in life, they too often turn to food. They’re not hungry (not a smidge!), but end up on a mission to find something edible to satisfy them. And heaven help anyone who gets in their way. I know just what this process is like because I used to engage in it all the time. When we turn to food mindlessly, sometimes we know what we actually desire and sometimes we don’t. All we are certain of is that some big thing is missing in our lives and we think food will do the trick for now. Now can be all that matters when you have this kind of overpowering urge. It feels like there’s no time to investigate emotional needs, no ability to focus on what’s really missing in life. It’s too hard and frustrating and food is right there...
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Learn to Accept Uncertainty and Decrease Mindless Eating

Wanting to know the future, be safe, feel secure, and foresee all outcomes is a universal desire, but makes no sense when the task is impossible. Moreover, trying to do what is not possible is frustrating and a major cause of mindless eating. How often do you obsess about a decision, becoming preoccupied by it to the exclusion of thinking about anything else? How often do you push to control an outcome that is not in your control so that you’ll have the illusion of feeling safe or secure? How often do you tell yourself that you will not be okay unless this or that happens? If you think this way often enough, you might have convinced yourself that it is possible to know the future and remain safe and secure—and certain—throughout life. And, therefore, when this doesn’t happen, you may make a beeline to the cookie jar because you don’t...
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Sensitivity, Emotional Dysregulation, and Eating

Do you become easily emotionally dysregulated? Do you feel things intensely, react strongly to situations and people, and have a hard time shrugging off emotions, leading you to turn to food to re-regulate your mood? Have you been called “too sensitive or over-sensitive” or feel that you are more sensitive than others? Do prefer to spend a good deal of time alone rather than socializing or easily get over-stimulated? Here are two books which will help you feel better as you are. Fact is, you may be more sensitive to certain stimuli than others are. In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain explains the science behind low and high sensitivity. This is an enlightening book about reactivity and will help introverts feel more comfortable in our extrovert-laden world. As Cain described introverts and extroverts preferring different levels of stimulation, I thought about what...
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What Emotion Lies Beneath Your Anger?

Sometimes we feel such intense anger so quickly that we forget it may be a response to a more primary and fragile emotion. And too often we turn to food to make ourselves feel better by trying to comfort our initial distress or by attempting to reduce our anger to more tolerable levels. Here are three emotions which may trigger anger:FearFear is a common anger activator. For example, a client related how her pre-teen daughter had gone off on her bicycle without telling her parents where she was going and was missing for an hour. My client was naturally anxious about her whereabouts and well-being and drove all over town looking for her. When her daughter returned home as if nothing was wrong, my client was furious with her. My client eventually admitted that she’d felt scared that something had happened to her daughter—her fear had morphed into anger the minute...
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Maintaining a Stable Sense of Self

Many dysregulated eaters find it difficult to keep a Stable Sense of Self at all times, that is, to hold a core, positive regard for themselves that is undeniable and unwavering—no matter what. With an unstable sense of self, you feel fantastic about yourself when you’ve done well or when people like and praise you, and equally awful about yourself when you’re rejected or criticized or don’t live up to perfection. Here are some examples of an unstable sense of self. Failing to make the tennis team, you’re full of shame and your self-esteem plummets. Being asked out on a second date by someone you like makes you feel lovable and valuable. When you don’t clean the house after promising yourself you would, you feel like a terrible, lazy person. Only by winning a short story contest do you allow yourself to believe you are a decent writer. With a stable...
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Science Tells You How to Stop Chasing Happiness to Be Happy

Do you eat or strive to lose weight in order to be “happy”? Do you go after happiness as if it’s a prize and once you’ve gotten your hands around it, it will be yours forever? “Why chasing happiness may be making you miserable” by Mandy Oaklander (Time, 10/12/15, p. 28) dispels myths about what will make you happy and offers advice on true happiness. It also explains why non-hunger food seeking just doesn’t cut it. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General measured college students’ drive for happiness against their real levels of well-being. They discovered that, for Americans, at least, “desperately wanting to be happy is linked with lower psychological health,” according to study author Brett Ford at the University of California, Berkeley. In “collectivist societies” like Japan, “happiness is seen as a social endeavor: spending time with friends, caring for parents, etc.” Ford maintains that...
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Self-compassion is Key to “Normal” Eating

Many people lack self-compassion, but it’s especially crucial for people who’ve come to hate their food failures and bodies. Make no mistake, lacking self-compassion puts you on the fast track to self-hate, so it’s a quality that none of us can afford to be without.First off, self-compassion is not: accepting unhealthy habits, giving up improvement, thinking that you’re perfect, or lacking accountability. If criticism is a harsh task-master, self-compassion is a soft one, encouraging you to be the best person you can be. It is: being kind to yourself when you’re hurting or suffering, understanding that you’re human and have frailties and limits, loving yourself in spite of your faults when you err or fail, and the way we connect to other flawed human beings as we all strive to do betterIf your parents weren’t self-compassionate, you never may have learned to be so. No problem: you’ll learn how in adulthood....
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How Families Not Expressing Feelings Can Led to Eating Problems

In a radio interview of her new memoir, one of my favorite authors, Joyce Carol Oates, speaks of growing up in a family that didn’t talk about secrets. In many families of dysregulated eaters secrets are left undiscussed and feelings, in general, are neither aired or shared. Sadly, such avoidance may cause or exacerbate eating problems. How did your family view emotions when you were growing up—as scary, mysterious, unfathomable things to ward off? Did your family keep secrets and hold back feelings? Here are examples of experiences that might have wrongly skewed your view of emotions. A father turns stone-faced and walks away whenever his daughter talks about her feelings, causing her to believe that having them is wrong and sharing them only upsets people. When they’re angry, parents give each other and their children the silent treatment for days. A mother giggles inappropriately whenever her children express their upset....
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Depowering Guilt and Shame

If you haven’t heard of Brené Brown, let me introduce you to this compassionate and wise author, speaker, and University of Austin social work professor. I first heard her simple, honest truths in a TED talk. Here is some of her wisdom about failure and resilience (Time magazine, 9/21/15, p. 88), subjects that have strong relevance for people who’ve struggled with eating and weight concerns. Based on her research, she speaks of the importance of having courage: “He or she who is the most capable of being uncomfortable rises the fastest. There is a huge correlation between a capacity for discomfort and wholeheartedness. If you cannot manage [emotional] discomfort, that sends you barreling into perfectionism, blame, rationalizing—without taking away key learnings.” As I often say to clients as they’re leaving my office and they take no offense, “’Bye now. Have an uncomfortable week.” People who allow themselves to be emotionally uncomfortable...
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4 Simple Steps to Manage Emotional Eating

It takes only four simple steps to manage your emotions. The process involves handling memories that may trigger and intensify emotional upset in the present as well as the liberal use of self-compassion in clearing these memories. This approach assumes that memory snippets which are similar to current events automatically erupt and intensify what we’re feeling without our realizing that they do so. If you’ve been reading my blogs, you’ll know that when affective memories get triggered, our current feelings grow way out of proportion to a current situation, just the sort of thing that drives emotional eating. When you’re upset or want to eat when you’re not hungry, do the following:1. Explore and identify what you’re feeling (sad, lonely, abandoned, ashamed, etc.).Name the specific emotion. You may know it right off or it may take a while to identify it. 2. Review your history and match the current situation or...
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Overcoming Your Fears

Sometimes you must make the choice to overcome irrational fears or stay stuck in poor mental habits that lead to dysregulated eating. I have so many clients who wonder why they continue emotional eating without realizing that it’s because their fears keep them from living their best lives. Get rid of the fears and eating healthfully is much easier. Some clients are afraid to go out and seek a job and others fear leaving their current workplace or moving out of their field. They are afraid of rejection, being locked into work they don’t love, trying something new, failing or simply moving out of their comfort zone. Instead, they eat when they’re unhappy with work (or the lack of it) and comforting themselves with food prevents them from facing their fears. Other clients fear making improvements in relationships. They’re uncomfortable setting boundaries with family members, co-workers or friends, and when problems...
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Emotional Eating When You Want People to Change and They Won’t

Many dysregulated eaters are in relationships where they want another person to change. When he or she doesn’t, in frustration, these eaters turn to food to momentarily feel better. Of course, that feeling doesn’t last, nor does the strategy of trying to change the other person work. If it was going to work, it would have happened already. It doesn’t matter who we want to be different—a parent, lover, child, boss, colleague, spouse, friend or whoever. If we’re channeling our energy into believing he or she will change if we try hard enough or do exactly the right thing, we’re bound to end up feeling frustrated and hopeless. We’ve all heard it before: We can’t change other people; we can only change ourselves. Although we all know, on some level, that this is true, why then do we keep on trying to make people be different than they are or wish...
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The Day After Holiday Eating

Ah, yes, the day after Thanksgiving, time to be thankful that you have a chance to think, feel and act healthily about yesterday’s eating. If you’re happy with how you ate, great. If you’re unhappy with how you ate, still great. To understand why, read on. If you’ve been highly critical of yourself over how much and what you ate, this is the part of your problem which isn’t about food, but affects your relationship with it. Overeating and still feeling compassion for yourself is a game changer. Here are some of the things you might be saying to yourself if you’re used to being critical about your eating:“Typical, all my good intentions went down the drain and I hate how I ate.”“I wish I could do the day over again and eat the way I said I was going to.”“I feel so sick and bloated today. I’m never going to...
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Don’t Let Regrets Stress You Out

Many people get hung up on regrets. What they wish they’d had or done takes up more real estate in their heads than the lives they’re currently living. To dwell in regret is like walking down a street looking backwards. While making yourself miserable, you miss the only part of your life that matters: now. Regrets are also called having a case of “shoulda, woulda, coulda” which has yet another name according to Amy Alkon, The Advice Goddess (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 7/30/15, E47): “counterfactual thinking—“thinking ‘counter’ to the actual ‘facts’ of what happened.” Of course, it’s fine to intentionally consider experiences in your past to understand why they happened as they did and to learn from them to do better in the future. It’s fine consciously to play out “what if” scenarios. What is totally unhealthy—and may drive you to eat mindlessly for comfort—is raking over the crummy decisions you’ve made in...
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Creativity Can Replace Mindless Eating

Half a lifetime ago, I did a lot of mindless eating, especially when I had that antsy feeling from having nothing to do. The more I turned to writing (fiction at first), the less I thought about food. The more writing I did, the more I wanted to do, so that it occupied my free time and gradually became a passion. Moreover, it energized my mind and body in a way that food-as-time-filler never could or did. To help you find your passion, here are some creativity stokers: In “Idea therapy: 8 ways to put your brain in its most creative gear” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 7/28/15, E6), Brigid Schulte describes the work of neuroscientist John Kounios, a professor of psychology at Drexel University who studies creativity and insightful thinking. Here are his ideas on creativity and mine for decreasing mindless eating: Be positive: Negativity is often due to anxiety and generates more...
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Many Meanings to Each Life Event

You may think that the meaning you make of events that happen to you is the only one that is possible to make. If so, you’d be wrong. There are numerous meanings that we can make of events, which is very freeing because this underscores that we can chose interpretations which are beneficial, not harmful, to our lives. Here are some examples: You don’t get a job you thought you were perfect for. You might make this meaning: They rejected me because I’m fat. No one will hire a fat person. These meanings are equally possible: - Someone else was more appropriate for the job than I am. - The position didn’t get filled after all because money got tight. - Someone had a better in for the job than I did going in cold.- The company already had someone in mind, but had to go through the hiring practice to...
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