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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. 

[No unsolicited guest blogs accepted, thank you]

The Importance of Seeing Yourself Through Different Eyes

I was listening to an NPR program when the interviewee mentioned that, in order to change his life, her husband would need to see himself in a different way than his mother saw him. I thought how true it is that unless we’re viewed differently than how we see ourselves, we can carry around the same negative view our parents had of us for a lifetime. So, whose eyes do you see yourself through and what do you see? In the case above, the husband was adopted by a woman whom he reported as “loving me, but she could be mean a lot.” If you’re brought up by people who were unkind to you, you unconsciously assume that you deserve meanness, are bad, and that there is a great deal wrong with you. This is how children think, coming to believe that falsehood is truth. The truth is that children mistakenly...
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More on Anxiety and Eating

Two great articles from Eating Disorder Hope (Eating Disorder Hope newsletter, vol. 25) give just that, hope for troubled eaters learning to manage anxiety and decrease their emotional, compulsive, and mindless eating. In “Anxiety and overeating—what’s the overlap?” Jennifer Pells, PhD, tells us that “anxiety symptoms and disorders frequently co-occur with overeating and that studies have shown those with Binge Eating Disorder (BED) have a greater likelihood of experiencing significant symptoms of anxiety compared with the general population. I bet that many of you don’t realize that your major problem is an anxiety, not an eating, problem. Once you accept that, you can then treat the underlying anxiety which reduces unwanted eating. Pells points out, however, that comfort eating is accepted in this culture and that “it is not only those with BED who use food to cope with anxiety.” She goes on to explain the correlation between chronic dieting and...
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To Improve Your Eating, Stop Creating Drama

Are you a drama addict or someone who can’t figure out how you end up in one crisis after another or situations which overflow with intense emotions? You probably realize that such sturm und drang adversely affects your eating, and wonder why your life is so full of drama when what you think you yearn for is calm. Here’s how. Think back to your childhood. Was it predictable, peaceful, and structured without a lot of stress and upheaval? Were your caretakers and other family members usually pretty rational and level headed and did they settle disputes quickly and quietly? Or did you never know when a family quarrel would turn loud or violent or when a parent would erupt unexpectedly or without seeming to have a valid reason? Was high drama the rule in your family or was it a rare or non-existent occurrence? Like soldiers, police or firefighters, we can...
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Stop Fear of Judgment with Self-compassion

Many dysregulated eaters fear not only their self-judgments but, worse, they dread others condemning and belittling them for what they say and do. Do you know what the best protection—no, make that the only protection—is from others’ judgments? It’s having self-compassion for ourselves no matter what. Think of self-compassion as a soft but tough, tear-proof protective armor surrounding you. People may hurl slings and arrows at you, but with it you walk around unafraid, unfazed, and unharmed. You don’t judge others for judging you nor do you judge yourself for your mistakes or what others think are your frailties or failures. In a perpetual state of safety and security, no judgments can touch you. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful way to live? Here’s an example of how to use self-compassion. Say that while visiting, one of your parents makes a comment about how your house could be cleaner, demanding to know...
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What Does Emotional Health Look Like?

I often get the impression that clients don’t really understand what it looks or feels like to be emotionally healthy. Of course, emotional health runs on a continuum; there is no one person who exemplifies it to perfection. But, the same way that people may eat differently yet “normally,” emotional health has certain hallmarks. Here are examples: You take the long view of your wildly dysfunctional childhood and don’t let it get in the way of having a functional adulthood. That was then and this is now. The pain and suffering you endured through absolutely no fault of your own but through random bad luck is over because you avoid dwelling on painful memories, avoid people who hurt you, and know how to handle emotional wounding better than you did as a child. You blame neither your parents nor yourself for your deficits, but strive to overcome them. You know your...
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How to Stop Memory Triggers Leading to Emotional Dysregulation

To avoid getting triggered by intense emotions from traumatic memories, it’s vital to recognize when we’re in recall, accessing emotions about an event that is over and done with, or in reality, what we call the now or the present. Much of my work with clients about regulating emotions (and ending mindless eating) is preventing slippage into recall and, instead, staying in reality. To do this, we must be able to recognize the hallmarks of both states. If this idea is new to you, read these blogs before continuing: Current versus Memory-Triggered Emotions and Clearing Emotional Pain. I’m often asked how to know when you’re in recall or reality. The answer is that you’re in recall when your internal distress is intense and out of proportion to the current situation. You don’t get invited to a party and feel devastated and unloved, just like when you were a little girl and...
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Learning Emotional Health from Animals

Want to enhance your mental health—which can’t help but improve your relationship with food? If animals could speak about mental health, here’s the advice I imagine they’d give. If you have a pet, observe him or her to see if you agree. Animals take the attitude of that’s life. If my cat goes to her dish and it’s devoid of food, she might circle around me once or twice, but then she moves on to other things. She’s got more to do than sulk or be angry or try to analyze what’s wrong with me or the world—or herself—when she doesn’t get what she wants. Instead, she has a snooze, plays with her toys, stares out the window, or heads outside to lounge in a shady or sunny spot (depending on the weather) on our lanai. Here’s what she doesn’t do: ruminate about why I didn’t feed her or whether she’ll...
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To Grow Emotionally, Learn Something New

As a senior, I often hear and read how learning something new improves cognition and memory. Even if you have yet to reach the age where you need to shore up your mental facilities, there are still excellent reasons to take part in learning because of the emotional skills you develop in overcoming frustration, shame, envy, internal conflicts about success and failure, and understanding the concept of baby steps. I’ve been learning about learning through resuming tap lessons after a hiatus of some 20 years. I studied tap seriously as a child, then dabbled with it over the decades, making so little progress that I never got beyond the level of advanced beginner. After taking lessons for more than a year now, I’m finally a lower intermediate! But back to how new learning—what tap still feels like to me—promotes new emotional skills. First, I had to get over entering a class...
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Mastering Dealing with Emotions

It’s important to allow yourself to acknowledge every emotion. I can’t tell you how many times clients say to me, “You’ll think I’m terrible, but I was feeling such and such.” And I always reply, “I don’t think you’re terrible. I think you have the hang of what to do with feelings which is to know what you feel.” Here’s why it’s critical to do so. Our emotional world is the only place where we can be completely free. Inside our heads or hearts, to speak metaphorically, is a land of liberty. After all, you can’t actually say or do whatever you want without experiencing repercussions. But acknowledging what you feel simply gives you information—as long as you don’t dwell on upsetting feelings. Sometimes that information is what to do with the feeling—explore it or ditch it—but how can you know what action to take if you don’t have a clue...
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How Looking Good on the Outside and Falling Apart on the Inside May Lead to Mindless Eating

I treat many clients who are successful and look great from the outside—well put together and functioning at a high level—but feel like a total and utter mess inside. They are well liked and appear to handle life superbly, while in reality they are anxious much of the time and often even depressed. One of the ways they manage their well protected, hidden inner turmoil is through mindless eating. To a person, these clients had difficult childhoods in which they could not express their authentic selves due to a rigid environment which brooked no challenge or dissent. Maybe it was Mom who needed to have everything go her way or she flew into a rage. Or Dad who maintained tight control over everyone in the household and losing his temper meant emotional or physical abuse to those who upset him. Can you see how this environment would produce children who obeyed,...
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More on Food and Mood

Please know that you’re not crazy if you eat when you’re upset. Food does make us feel better for a number of reasons, among which is that it lifts our mood. However, as you know, it also may make your mood plummet after you’ve eaten (heavily of fat or sugar) or overeaten. Here are some insights on the subject from “Mood, food, and obesity” by Minati Singh (Frontiers in Psychology, 9/1/14, doi: 10.3389/pfsyg.2014.00925). First off, here’s a description of the mechanism for why you feel better when you eat emotionally: “Food is a potent natural reward and food intake is a complex process. Reward and gratification associated with food consumption leads to dopamine (DA) production, which in turn activates reward and pleasure centers in the brain. This type of repetitive behavior . . . leads to the activation of brain reward pathways that eventually overrides other signals of satiety and hunger.”...
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Intellectual versus Emotional and Social Intelligence

Clients often complain that their partners tout how smart they are and insist that their high intellect makes them right more often than wrong. While some folks might be cowed by intellectual heights, the truth is that people who use it to dominate others are actually low on emotional intelligence, however dazzling their brainpower might be. Daniel Goleman, author of one of my favorite books, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, defines emotional intelligence or EQ, “a trait not measured by IQ tests, as a set of skills, including control of one’s impulses, self-motivation, empathy and social competence in interpersonal relationships.” You know people who have it when you’re with them. They’re comfortable with just about anyone in any situation, are as interested in you as they are in sharing about themselves, have curiosity about humanity in general, and know how to make the kinds of connections that...
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Are Comfort Foods a Myth?

We talk about “comfort foods” all the time. Most of us like ‘em creamy, full of fat, and sweet to beat the band. Although our choice of comfort foods vary, we all have some image in mind when we think of them. And we all base eating them for comfort on the assumption that they, and only they, are the foods which will make us feel better. Not so, is the surprising conclusion of “The Myth of Comfort Food” (Wagner, Heather Scherschel; Ahlstrom, Britt; Redden, Joseph P.; Vickers, Zata; Mann, Traci, Health Psychology, 8/18/14, retrieved from APA PsycNET 9/5/14).This study looked at whether so-called comfort foods actually provided psychological benefits to people, in particular, enhancing their moods better than other foods or no foods at all. Study participants completed a questionnaire specifying their comfort foods and various comparison foods. Then, after viewing films that triggered negative affect, they were divided into...
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What You Should Know about Mirror Neurons

What do mirror neurons have to do with eating? Quite a bit, says Megan Ross, PhD candidate, LPC, R-DMT, GL-CMA of Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center in “Mirror Neurons in Eating Disorder Treatment.” Located in the brain, “mirror neurons respond to the movement of another living being.” In this process, the neurons in one animal (human or otherwise) may get triggered just by watching the actions of another animal.” During 1990s testing on monkeys, scientists found that a monkey watching a buddy eat a banana activated neurons in its brain as if it, too, were eating a banana. Daniel Goleman in Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships explains why this is. His explanation is that brains have come to synchronize themselves to other brains to form cohesive bonds in society for survival. How this may affect us as eaters is enlightening. Generally people with eating disorders have all-or-nothing, this-way...
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Genetic Links to Procrastination and Impulsivity

Do you procrastinate? Are you impulsive? Both traits may make it difficult to become a “normal” eater and there’s research that says you may have come by them genetically. In “Like to put things off? Now you can blame your parents,” Alison Griswold (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 4/29/14, p. 21E) says that the traits of procrastination and impulsivity are considered “moderately heritable,” that is, at about the 50% mark. According to Daniel Gustavson, the lead author of a paper in Psychological Science, “genetically they (ie, these traits) seem to be related, which suggests that they’ve sort of evolved together…what makes people procrastinate and what makes them impulsive might be their specifically forgetting about their goals.” The 50% of the trait that isn’t directly inherited is likely acquired through socialization by parents who either had procrastination and impulsivity problems, and modeled this dysfunctional behavior for you, or who imposed strict, brook-no-dissent rules which made...
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What’s Your Normal?

If you’re being emotionally, verbally, physically or sexually abused by your partner, you’ll likely have difficulty becoming a “normal” eater because of what you accept as “normal” in your domestic life. Several points about such misperceived normalcy were made in Time magazine (9/22/14) after the release of the video of NFL player Ray Rice beating up his then fiancé Janay Palmer and speak to the plight of the victims of abuse. One of the take home messages in the article is about what seems normal in the lives of people, mostly women, who are abused. There’s a frightening perceived normalcy about how they’re mistreated, a case of the emperor’s new clothes. When everyone else can see how poorly you are treated and condemns your partner’s actions (either because they see what’s going on or because you’ve told them), what keeps you in denial? I believe it’s the fact that being abused...
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Eating Due to Envy or Jealousy

In their words or tone, I often hear clients express envy and jealousy which may trigger unwanted eating. They may not realize that this is what they’re experiencing, but these emotions are worth exploring to learn about yourself and end non-hunger eating. Envy means “bearing a grudge toward someone due to coveting what that person has or enjoys” or “the longing for something someone else has without any ill will intended toward that person.” Envy involves two parties—you yearn for the promotion your co-worker received or the house your best friend just bought. You don’t necessarily dislike people for having or obtaining these things, but might wish you were them. Jealousy means being “apprehensive or vengeful out of fear of being replaced by someone else.” It is an emotion tinged with fear, especially of losing something or someone you love. Jealousy involves three parties and makes you feel less than and...
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Anxiety and Eating

Most of my clients with disregulated eating worry a good deal about doing things right, being “good,” pleasing others, and the future turning out okay. And these anxieties drive non-hunger eating. Moreover, feeling weak, inept and defective that they can’t better “control” their worries causes them additional anxiety. A helpful book, one I read recently, is My Age of Anxiety—Fear, hope, dread, and the search for peace of mind by Scott Stossel (2013, Alfred A. Knopf: NY). It may not reduce your anxiety per se but it will lessen your belief that it’s all your fault and that there’s nothing you can do about it. Referring to genetic studies, Stossel says, “Research like this suggests that your susceptibility to nervous breakdown is strongly determined by your genes. Certain genotypes make you especially vulnerable to psychology breakdown when subjected to stress or trauma; other genotypes make you naturally resilient…certain gene combinations program...
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Stop Fearing Rejection

I can’t blog about eating without mentioning feelings and I can’t speak about them without talking about rejection which often propels us right toward the cookie jar. The problem isn’t rejection per se, but the (negative) meaning you make of it because you’ve either had too much or too little of it. So here’s the best way to view rejection. Advice Goddess Amy Alkon says it better than I ever could in her Sarasota Herald-Tribune column of 6/12/14 (page 49E). Responding to a letter from a man complaining about being rejected by a woman, she speaks of being “rejection-avoidant” which means steering clear of situations in which you might be hit with a “no.” Says Alkon, “constantly flipping the bird at your fears and taking social risks is how you get okay enough with rejection to live your life like you’ll be dead soon instead of like you’re dead now…Getting comfortable...
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Eating and Aloneness

What is it about being alone or not busy that drives disregulated eaters to eat? I don’t have the exact answer to that question, but I have some ideas about it. If this has been a problem for you, it’s time to figure out what’s going on and make some changes. It’s common for me to have several clients a week who lament their ability to stay away from food when they’re home with nothing to do. Part of what’s going on for them is an uncomfortable transition from being busy to not busy. Perhaps some people are simply more sensitive to pace of living, while others are hyper aware of changes in temperature or are deeply affected by attractive or ugly surroundings. So, maybe you have a heightened sensitivity to fluctuations in the pacing of your life. Another issue is what it was like for you to be alone as...
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