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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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Feeling versus Being

Here’s a mistaken belief I hear all the time from clients and Food and Feelings message board members: Because I feel a certain way, it must be true. I feel fat, I feel unlovable, I feel unsuccessful, I feel inadequate, I feel defective. Hello, feeling isn’t being. I’m all for connecting with emotions and skillfully using them to navigate life, but when you say I’m feeling any of the above, what does that really mean? Do the preceding statements equal I am fat, I am unlovable, I am unsuccessful, I am inadequate, I am defective? Because that’s what you’re telling yourself. Where’s the proof? When people say they feel fat, they often mean their body feels heavy or their stomach is stretched out from eating or drinking too much. If a 100-pound adult eats a large plate of food and feels fat, does that make her fat? If a successful dancer...
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Cultivating Indifference

You may believe that hate is the opposite of love and that there’s no alternative but to love or dislike someone or something, like food. What if there’s another affective state you could cultivate, an underrated, not often talked about alternative which would bring you peace of mind? There is and it’s called indifference. When I talk with clients about cultivating indifference, they generally have little idea what I mean. We so often think of indifference as a negative emotion, one to be avoided like apathy. We want to have passions and strong feelings. It’s so easy to fall into love or into hate because both emotions make us feel vividly alive. Some people even think that hate is the opposite of love, but how can it be? They both keep you mentally/emotionally tethered firmly to someone or something, while the true opposite of connection is disconnection. Whether you love or...
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Happiness and Dysregulated Eaters

Dysregulated eaters tend to think they’ll be happy when this or that happens—when they find a life partner, become “normal” eaters, lose weight, land the perfect job, can slow down, or retire. But will these occurrences really bring happiness? If not, what will? According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, psychology professor at the University of California-Riverside and author of THE MYTHS OF HAPPINESS, “These things—marriage, family, wealth—do make people happy, but the effect is often not as long-lasting as people expect. And when the ‘thrill’ wears off and life gets back to everyday experiences, we think there’s something wrong.” (“What makes you happy isn’t what you might think,” Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 2/26/13) This sentiment reminds me of what happens when people lose weight. They’re on cloud nine for a while feeling triumphant, checking out their slimmer bodies in every mirror, buying new clothes, basking in the glow of compliments—until the newness of it all...
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Feeling versus Thinking Around Food

It’s sadly ironic that many disregulated eaters make decisions backwards. On the one hand, they overthink things—called intellectualization or rationalization—when they’d be better off tuning into their emotions and acting on what they feel. On the other, they mistakenly make choices based on what they feel rather than employing higher order thinking to decide what’s best for them. Time to turn that around, huh? Here’s an example of ignoring emotions and, instead, rationalizing. Say, you’re dining with old friends and find yourself eating way more than usual. Feeling bored, you realize that you don’t have much in common with them any more, but tell yourself they still feel close to you and believe you shouldn’t feel uninterested in friends who were once so central to your life. Rather than go with your intuition, you feel terribly guilty and end up making plans to get together with them again soon. Alternately, here’s...
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How to Tolerate Emotional Discomfort

Clients and members of my Food and Feelings message board often insist that they can’t allow themselves to feel uncomfortable emotions. For disregulated eaters trying to make peace with food and their bodies, this is a big problem because emotions are important to identify, and experiencing them is necessary to life and “normal” eating. There’s a common set of emotions that can be difficult for disregulated eaters, in particular the seven described in my FOOD AND FEELINGS WORKBOOK—anxiety, confusion, disappointment, loneliness, guilt, shame, and helplessness. By learning to experience and handle these feelings, you’ll be well on your way toward emotional health which will reduce your tendency to abuse food and your body. There is no route around experiencing distressing feelings and no secret, easy way to manage them. As Geneen Roth says, “The only way out is through.” First off, stop telling yourself that you “can’t stand” a feeling because...
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Quit Being a Victim

I’d like to tell you that I’ve never engaged in feeling or acting like a victim, but that would be a lie. There is a satisfying pleasure in feeling unjustifiably wronged. But it doesn’t do us any good as a mental dwelling place for any length of time. Making ourselves feel powerless never contributes to emotional health or to our evolution into “normal” eaters. I was reminded of the perks of victimhood when I recently read a description of its satisfactions in a novel. The author aptly describes the joy of victimhood as “righteously enraged and tragically victimized.” Of his aggrieved character, the author writes, “Happiness made Marv anxious because he knew it didn’t last. But happiness destroyed was worth wrapping your arms around because it always hugged you back.” This description has echoes of troubled eaters’ mistaken perception of food as a best buddy. The truth is that those of...
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Reducing Anxiety

Here are some thoughts on anxiety along with approaches to wash it out of your mind. Because anxiety can be a major trigger for most disregulated eaters, it’s vital that you learn to reduce anxiety, as less of it means less disregulated eating. First, a concept mentioned by a Food and Feelings message board member whose therapist told her that FEAR equals Future Events Appearing Real. Although I’m not sure that’s what fear actually is, the acronym aptly describes anxiety. Anxiety happens internally, within your mind/body, generally having little or nothing to do with anything outside of that small space that you occupy on earth. When we’re anxious, we’re not in the present moment but are mentally in an anticipated one. Repeatedly determining what we’ll do in a future that seems more real than the present does no good. Why? Because we can only act in the present, and the fact...
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All-or-Nothing Mentality

One of my clients calls her habit of going to extremes, her “do-it-or-screw-it mentality.” My hunch is that you have a similar mindset that gets you into trouble in all sorts of ways. All-or-nothing thinking isn’t a permanent affliction, however. You can opt out. Step 1 is to examine your behavior and assess (need I add, without judgment) whether you tend to think in either/or, full/empty, success/failure ways. Come up with examples and, if you determine this is your modus operandi, simply acknowledge the fact. If you start to get down on yourself for polarized thinking, resist, and take a long, slow, deep breath of self-compassion. You didn’t choose to go the all-or-nothing route; rather, you learned an ineffective way of thinking and behaving that you can change. Step 2 is to explore how you developed this pattern. We learn from our early role models. Take a look at family members...
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What Is Your Food Deprivation Really About?

Saying no to food when you’re not hungry may stem from feeling deprived—wanting what you believe you can’t have. Most of the time, such deprivation is perception, not reality. Alter the perception and the deprivation disappears. The first step in this process is to recognize that you feel deprived. Take a minute to consider how this emotion hits you. It’s usually an intense longing, sense of unfairness, feeling of being victimized, or desperation that you must have a food or you will not be okay. Can you see how nonsensical this notion is? No one is victimizing you, maybe it’s unfair that you “can’t” have the food and maybe it’s not, and whoever said life is fair anyway (it isn’t). You may have a deep longing for a food, but we have lots of longings that we don’t act on for excellent reasons. Not having another cookie or seconds on pasta...
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Comfort, Discomfort and Being Fine

Anxiety is incredibly prevalent among disregulated eaters. One of the ways to reduce and eliminate it is to know you’ll be fine no matter what happens. Being fine means you’ll handle whatever comes your way even if it’s not to your liking. After talking with a client recently about this subject, I began to see where her difficulty lay. Although she wanted to believe that she’d be fine in any situation, she couldn’t bring herself to accept that she could be fine if she were emotionally uncomfortable. And there’s the rub. Many of you simply don’t want to feel badly. You want to be happy, content, find life easy, and have things always go your way. Hey, I can’t say I’d ever turn down any of those possibilities, but none of them will teach you how to be fine no matter what. The only way that will happen is to know...
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Threat versus Challenge

While reading an article about managing life effectively, I was struck by an idea it presented: the confusion people have recognizing the difference between threats and challenges. This is exactly where disregulated eaters (and others, as well) often get themselves into trouble, so I thought a blog would be in order. Many of you are confused about the difference between a threat and a challenge. Before I give you my take on the subject, consider how you would describe the way that “threat” and “challenge” are different and note whether you often confuse the two. Okay then. A threat is something that will do actual physical or mental harm. Examples include standing in front of a speeding car and repeatedly reporting to work late without an excuse. There’s little doubt that these actions will cause pain and suffering. In fact, I doubt there’s anyone on earth who would argue with this...
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Better Ways to Manage Anxiety Than Eating

On the whole, disregulated eaters are people with high anxiety. In fact, I’d guess that many of you would qualify for the diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Anxiety is manageable, however, so here are some ways to chill you out rather than eat. None of them will come as a surprise, so consider them just a simple reminder. Although you might think of exercise as an activity that jazzes you up, it’s actually a great way to calm yourself down. According to Sweating away all that anxiety (Sarasota Herald Tribune, Health and Fitness, 10/30/12), “Studies published by the American Psychological Association show that exercise improves the body’s ability to cope with stress. People who exercise also have lower rates of anxiety and depression” because “exercise spurs the creation of norepinephrine, which acts as a brain stress ‘buffer,’ keeping levels of epinephrine and cortisol, two stress hormones, under control.” Does exercise mean...
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Free to Roam Your Inner World – Part 2

In my previous blog, I talked about the benefits of feeling free to roam your inner world. Tis true, there’s nothing like it, but it does not come naturally to most of us. To gain this freedom, we have to unchain ourselves from the past and from mistaken beliefs that have kept us from traveling the full range of our emotional terrain without fear. If you want freedom, you have to work and fight for it—financial freedom, breaking away from abusive relationships, feeling easy with food, and liberating yourself from the craziness of your upbringing. However, you can’t just sit around waiting for these things to happen. First off, you need to believe that being able to roam your emotional world freely is possible and is your right, that it’s not a fantasy or dream. You need to accept that it can become reality with diligence, practice, and patience. Second, you...
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Free to Roam Your Inner World – Part 1

Many disregulated eaters believe it’s healthy to fully experience emotions, but fervently wish they didn’t have to put themselves through the discomfort. They don’t understand the positive rewards that come from connecting with feelings, not only with eating but in life. If they did, they’d put up with the pain for the abundant gifts that will come their way. One of the biggest complaints I hear from clients is that they “dislike” feeling certain emotions—confusion, disappointment, loneliness, grief, helplessness. Oddly, they seem to have an affinity for guilt and shame, but that’s another story. If you look at emotional pain as annoying and unnecessary, you’re missing the point. Life has pain and life has pleasure, and we need humility to recognize that we don’t get to choose as if we’re perusing a dinner menu. Pain and pleasure are the only options when we sit at life’s table. Perhaps the child in...
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The Past and Overeating

Too many disregulated eaters spend too much time thinking and talking about their binges and times of overeating. Honestly, think how much energy you put into an event that is long gone. In order to recovery from eating problems, you will have to extract what you need from the experience and move on immediately. Here’s why. Everything we think about gets encoded in our minds, imprinted in memory. The question is why you would want to imprint the memory of a binge. I meant it, think about it. Is there a purpose in returning to the scene of the crime again and again or are you on automatic pilot without even thinking about the harm you’re doing yourself. There are only two reasons that merit recalling the past: to revel in pleasurable memories or to improve thoughts or behavior in the present. If you have positive memories of getting married, receiving...
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Food and Lack of Love

In the romantic comedy HOPE SPRINGS, a wife, Meryl Streep, is dying to regain the intimacy she and her shut-down husband, Tommy Lee Jones, once had. Although she doesn’t have an emotional eating problem, she reminds me of many women who’ve taken to eating rather than pursuing love or change. All in all, an instructive film. Not to be a spoiler, but Streep drags Jones to couples therapist Steve Carell. How many of you have tried or done that, only to have your partner refuse to go or drop out? Usually, but not always, the woman is the dragger and the man is the drag. If your partner won’t go, don’t give up—go alone. Remember, it takes two to tango: even if you’re not causing the intimacy problems, you can learn what to do about them. Eating is so not the solution. It hurts you and changes nothing. In several scenes...
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Deprivation and Eating

Disregulated eaters often feel deprived when they refrain from eating foods they crave. But are we truly deprived or, as the golden oldie asks, is it just our imaginations? If we’re not actually deprived, why do we persist in having the intense experience that we are—and, moreover, what can we do about it? According to the American Heritage Dictionary, to deprive is “1. To take something away from; dispossess; divest. 2. To keep from the possession or enjoyment of something; deny.” To deprive implies imposing divestiture and denial, someone doing something to you. Who is taking food from you, denying you food or its enjoyment? Deprivation occurs when we’re helpless and have no say—a frequent occurrence in childhood, but rare in adulthood, such as having a fatal disease. As children, we lack power and decisions are imposed upon us. As adults, we simply make choices. We make decisions with the recognition...
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Shame as Your Shadow

While listening to a National Public Radio program about post-traumatic stress disorder, I heard a wonderful description of how to let go of shame. Most disregulated eaters suffer from excessive, unwarranted shame which drives abusive eating and damages self-esteem and quality of life. Learning how to manage shame is a necessary life skill. On the program, a veteran was talking about his war experiences which included not being able to help his buddies who were badly injured or killed. He spoke of the debilitating shame he carried long after his arrival stateside and how it shaped his ability to get on with life, and went on to describe how his therapist helped him move past it with her explanation of shame. My paraphrase of this explanation follows. Shame is like staring at our shadow. We know it’s there, but we don’t need to be constantly looking at it to recall this...
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The High of Anticipation

Ever wonder why you love to muse about a future when you’ll be thin/happy/a “normal” eater/successful/popular/etc.? Or why much of your time is spent contemplating tomorrow rather than living in today? Science can explain why you do this. It’s no accident that we get a buzz from anticipation. Our automatic reactions are due to evolution, meaning they serve a life-enhancing purpose. In this case, the brain produces dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter (and rat equivalent of a food pellet), when it thinks about reward. Contemplation is a positive activity which can lead to strategizing and problem-solving to ensure that events happen as we want them to. Early humans who happened to get a jolt of dopamine when they were thinking about the future—killing a wild pig to feast on, finding a cave to provide shelter, or going through a special ritual to become an adult—would be more inclined to repeat contemplation to...
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People Pleasing and Emotions

Recently, while talking with a client about people-pleasing, she mentioned the frequent urge to feel what others feel or, at least, not to let people know that what she experiences seems different than what they are experiencing. I hear this a great deal from disregulated eaters, this desire to not appear emotionally different from others. This dynamic develops in childhood. Here are examples. Say Dad pushes you to be strong and courageous. If he withdraws his love—or worse, shames or punishes you—when you show any sign of weakness, you quickly learn that you’d better not let him know you have doubts and qualms, and therefore you put on a confident front. Or maybe your mother wants to stay happy and upbeat and becomes upset when you’re down and rain on her parade. Or maybe Mom or Dad is unhappy, and in you come jumping for joy over receiving an A in...
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