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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]

Getting Angry May Mean Getting Healthy

Talking with two clients recently, I realized how “nice” girls or guys may misconstrue the anger they feel at people to mean there’s something wrong with themselves. One client came in complaining that she’d had a terrible time since we’d last met—twice she’d blown up at her sister and then she had words with her riding instructor. Another client detailed how her controlling daughter was really annoying her, then spoke at length about how frustrated she was about her granddaughter being manipulative. The first client was distressed because her anger made her feel “very uncomfortable and conflicted.” She said she didn’t want to be an angry person or angry at certain people and wondered what was wrong with her. The second client viewed her “annoyance” and “frustration” as scary because her own mother had often lost control when she’d experienced these feelings with her children. I reminded both clients that just...
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Do You Have a Done-Me-Wrong Collection?

While reading an article about “the victim mentality,” I had to smile when I came upon the term wrongs collecting when the author compared it to people collecting stamps or autographs. Actually, I thought, more like trophies. My smile was in self-recognition, as I’ve occasionally indulged in this particular vice myself. Be honest, do you collect wrongs done to you? If so, does this pursuit trigger unwanted eating? It can go something like this. You feel hurt, so you blame someone, the unfairness of life, the dark cloud hanging over your head, your dysfunctional childhood, some ongoing misery, or your ineptness at managing life well. Focusing on your hurt triggers a cascade of similar memories: the party you weren’t invited to, the job you were perfect for but didn’t get, the way your sister seems to have only good things happen to her, the fact that no matter how hard you...
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What If Anxious Eating is About Things Insignificant and Inconsequential?

A while ago, imagine my surprise when I turned left at an intersection and went through a red light. (I expected the yellow light to become a green turn arrow as it usually did at this intersection). Knowing the intersection has a red-light camera, I figured I’d probably receive a ticket. Immediately, feeling anxiety rising, I made the decision to view that potential ticket as insignificant and inconsequential. Yeah, it would cost money and may count as a point on my spotless driving record, but, in the big picture, no big deal. So, I opened up a file in my mind labeled “Inconsequential and Insignificant” and dropped that probable ticket right into it—and, honestly, I began to smile. Then I thought of all the things that happen in my life that I could file there and never think about again because they didn’t matter either: not understanding why someone I was...
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Coping with Change

Do you find that when life changes, you head for the cookie jar, especially when that change is unexpected or unwanted? Let’s face it, most people aren’t wild about giving up the known for the unknown. But because resisting change often worsens the situation, it’s useful to understand why it bothers us and how to handle it without mindless eating. In “Learning how to get along as life changes” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 5/12/15, 20E), Alina Tugend tells us how to cope with change in constructive ways. She advises that “Changes often make us feel out of control. And it’s particularly hard if change is foisted upon us, rather than being something we choose” but that “letting go of what we know to be the current reality and embracing new thought” is the only way to go. As a therapist and teacher, I find that much of what I do is to help...
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Break the Worry Habit

Do you know that worrying is a habit? Anything we do repeatedly over time becomes habit. Because worrying is only a mental pattern to which you’ve become accustomed, you can stop doing it and learn a more constructive way of thinking and behaving.You brain neurons grow according to what you do. One of my favorite authors, Ruth Rendell, British writer of psychological thrillers, wrote dozens of books. By continuously developing new plots and plot twists, she kept expanding her brain’s neural pathways in this direction, one great idea begetting another. Similarly, brain scans of New York City cab drivers show an enlarged brain area relating to spatial relations.Worriers let their thoughts run free and follow them wherever they go. They let their thoughts lead them around, rather than carefully selecting what they will allow to engage their minds. Worriers act as if they have no control over their thoughts. That in...
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When Memories Trigger Painful Feelings and Food Binges

I talk a lot—I mean a lot—with clients about understanding how painful memories get triggered in the present. So many clients don’t realize they’re feeling anything distressing, yet find themselves in the midst of unrelenting binges. If you want to know how to prevent and stop emotional eating, here’s a brief review of the paradigm I use to stop mindless eating, overeating and binges due to painful emotions. The truth is that most of the time we are not filled with surging, intense, raw feelings. Sure, things often go wrong—in small ways every day and in large ways occasionally. And sometimes stress or distress enters our lives through rarer yet events such as grave medical problems happening to us or our loved ones, evictions, firings, grave, serious accidents, natural disasters, or occurrences beyond our control. However, these may not be the events that cause people to eat emotionally. Think about the...
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How to Change Habits and Be Happier

Habits can change. Think about one behavior you used to engage in that you no longer do. Two newly published books on the subjects of changing habits and finding happiness (there’s a connection!) instruct you on how to create a better life for yourself. Here’s what they have to say (Sarasota Herald Tribune, 5/5/15, 2E, 18E).In Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Every Day Lives, Gretchin Rubin describes how four types of people respond to changing behavior—Upholders, Questioners, Obligers and Rebels. According to her, understanding which type of person you are will help you change your habits and keep them changed. “Obligers find it very easy to meet external expectations, but struggle to meet their internal expectations.” They’ll do something for others, but not for themselves. “Upholders meet both external and internal expectations.” Their expectations of themselves are as important to them as the expectations of others. “Rebels resist...
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Releasing Tension to Decrease Mindless Eating

Do you eat to relieve tension? Maybe you call it by another name—stress, distress, anxiety, feeling antsy. Whatever you call it, the truth is that you don’t need to eat to release tension. By switching your view of it, you can reduce mindless eating. You may feel tension in the construct we call the mind. Your thoughts race, your self-talk stokes the fires of pressure building and building, and your head feels as if it’s going to explode unless you do something. Equally, tension may arise in your body. You may feel as if you can’t sit still, that you just gotta move. Your shoulders, neck or back may feel tight and even tender and sore. Under this kind of pressure, you may tell yourself that only food will make you unwind and feel better. Did you ever stop to think what this tension might be about? My guess is that...
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Are Your Eating Problems Caused by Fear and Anxiety?

Many dysregulated eaters are filled with fear and anxiety, but don’t register them as major problems. Rather, they think that their problem is food or weight—or stress. If you’re often anxious and worried, it’s time to better understand these emotions. Although “Fears 2015” (Sarasota Herald Tribune, 1/18/15, pp. 4-7) is about our big cultural fears like Ebola, terrorism and, even gluten, author Maura Rhodes advises that that too much fear is something we should be concerned about. Humans have evolved to be easily alarmed. The amygdala (our danger-sensing brain organ) gets swamped with sensory stimuli when it perceives a potential threat and goes into fight-flight mode to alert us of perceived danger. Unless our thinking organ, the pre-frontal cortex, says otherwise—“Hey, no problem here, so chill”—the amygdala becomes like a fire alarm that rings when there’s no fire or one that keeps clanging after the fire’s been put out. The entire...
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Why It’s Healthy to Cry

Did you know that it’s healthy and necessary for well-being to cry? Although you may say you hate to cry, especially in front of others, that only means you have wrongly developed negative feelings about crying from family and culture. In “No sob story: the good news about crying” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, page 38E), Mary Carpenter tells us why shedding tears is important. First and foremost, crying relieves stress. Most of you have probably experienced this release of tension. Tension is what causes people to burst into tears unexpectedly because it builds in their bodies until, wham, out comes the flood. Neuroscientist William Frey explains that “Tears can remove chemicals that build up during stress; it can lower blood pressure, and it reduces manganese, a mineral found in the highest concentrations in tears. Because manganese affects mood, there is some thought that shedding manganese helps you feel better.” Not surprisingly, Frey also...
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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 ever...
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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 manytimes clients say to me, “You’ll think I’m terrible, but I was feeling such and such.” And Ialways reply, “I don’t think you’re terrible. I think you have the hang of what to do withfeelings which is to know what you feel.” Here’s why it’s critical to do so. Our emotionalworld is the only place where we can be completely free. Inside our heads or hearts, tospeak metaphorically, is a land of liberty. After all, you can’t actually say or do whateveryou want without experiencing repercussions. But acknowledging what you feel simplygives you information—as long as you don’t dwell on upsetting feelings. Sometimes thatinformation is what to do with the feeling—explore it or ditch it—but how can you knowwhat action to take if you don’t have a clue what you’re feeling? For example, I have a client...
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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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