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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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Stay Safe by Being Alert, Not Anxious

I was watching the new CSI Las Vegas when someone asked a retired CSI character being hunted down if they were being hypervigilant. His answer was no, that he wasn’t going to live in fear, but that he strongly intended to stay alert. This seemed like a vital distinction to both stay safe and not make yourself crazy doing it. Hypervigilance is when you live in fear 24/7, when you’re constantly—consciously or unconsciously—scanning the horizon for new threats even when you’re safe and when you’re unable to turn off the threat sensor in your brain. As it turns out, hypervigilance doesn’t work very well because it produces too many false positives. For example, my client George always expects people to reject or abandon him because he grew up in several foster homes. You can’t blame George for wanting to brace himself against hurt and avoid it, but he’s so on guard...

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Feeling Understood

There are two ways clients let me know or at least cause me to suspect that they weren’t listened to and validated in childhood. They exhibit habits they’ve picked up unconsciously and don’t realize how they come across to others now.  The first is when clients frequently ask, “Does that make sense?” Or, alternately, “Do you know what I mean?” We all ask these questions occasionally, but when people regularly or often make these inquiries, there’s something else going on. My client Taylor had a dysfunctional childhood in which she was strictly raised, rarely got to do her thing, and had parents who were demanding and narcissistic. In session, she’ll explain something to me that’s clear as can be, then ask, “Does that make sense?” I recently commented on her repeatedly asking this question and we discussed how she’d always felt a need to clarify herself and use overkill to be...

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How Envy Hurts You

In these days when it’s hard to avoid knowing everyone else’s business, especially if you spend time on social media, it’s easy to fall into the trap of envy. The goal is not to avoid envy, which is a natural, human feeling, but to avoid immersing yourself in it and being swept away by yearning for something someone else has and hurting yourself in the process.  Envy comes in all shapes and sizes: desiring others’ appearance, success, talents, status, brains, or popularity. It’s no surprise that the envy I hear about most often in my practice is of people’s thinner bodies and smaller appetites. What I’ve observed is that the habit of being envious when you see something someone else has that you don’t does nothing to make anyone healthier or happier. In fact, the clients I serve who are most envious, are also the most unhappy. This point is underscored...

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From Busy to Bored to Binge-eating

If you go from bored or bustling to binge-eating, it’s time to understand and address the root of the problem and respond effectively. Boredom and busy-ness are normal emotional states that may be trying to tell you something, but sometimes they’re pure habit. The goal is to manage them.  I see us as having four emotional/physical energy states: 1) nothing to do, 2) some stuff to do, 3) lots to do, and 4) more than you want to do. Having nothing or something to do is just that—neither good nor bad, just a description of being.  Every situation is unique and, therefore, our environment dictates the general energy level required of demands and available options. If you’re a recently widowed person living alone in a new city, you might feel bored a lot. Or, as a single parent working full-time and raising three children, you may rarely have a spare minute. ...

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Which Childhood Feelings Are You Haunted By?

It’s long past Halloween but many of us are haunted by childhood feelings. They may not visit us every day or even every week, but we may sense them lurking behind the scenes ready to jump out and unnerve us at any moment. Here are emotions I’ve found commonly distressing in my practice and from my years of living on the planet. Vulnerability/fear. If you grew up, say, in a military type of household, you might not have been able to show fear or vulnerability without being shamed or reprimanded. Yet, these are every day, normal emotions all humans have. Maybe Dad made fun of you when you got scared going out in a canoe for the first time or Mom yelled at you when you shared with your first-grade class that you didn’t like to be alone in the house. What you learned from the tiny sampling of your family...

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How to React When People Give You Advice—Eating or Otherwise

It’s not always true that, as my client Penny said to me, “No one likes to be told what to do.” Sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t. It depends on several variables. What’s being said. People who are already highly sensitive to hearing comments about eating or weight, might be more touchy about being told about what to eat and not eat, than “normal” eaters. They often ignore advice givers because they know in their heads and hearts what’s better or worse for them to do around food.   Who’s saying it. If a beloved friend says she’s worried about your eating because she knows you have type 2 diabetes and she’s someone who’s always had your back and your interest at heart, you’ll likely react differently than if your doctor, whom you just met and who doesn’t even look you in the eye, makes the same comment.    How...

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What If People Don’t Like You?

Are you someone who believes that if people don’t like you there’s something wrong with you? Many dysregulated eaters who think this way interpret rejection as meaning they aren’t likeable or lovable. To curry favor, they therefore become people-pleasers. Emotionally healthy people have a less personal, more reality-based take on the issue.  The goal is not to never feel hurt if you’re not someone’s cup of tea, but to avoid taking every brush off as an assault on your personhood and proof of your unlikability. It’s okay to feel a ping of hurt or even an occasional sting of serious ouch when people aren’t interested in you. But if you believe you’re defective and unlovable just because someone doesn’t ask you on a second date, won’t go for coffee with you, or doesn’t invite you to their 20th anniversary party, you’re in big trouble.  Better to learn why rejection happens to...

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How to Make Meaning of Emotional Pain

Clinical work involves trying to help clients figure out what to make of current emotional pain, because not all of it is instructional. When we feel pain, we must determine if it’s in response to a real threat or not. Based on this determination, we then can decide what to do with it. Here’s the discussion I had with a client on this subject. Moira is a soon-to-retire police officer who described arresting a highly inebriated man for assaulting his girlfriend then being stuck listening to him verbally abuse her (my client) for hours from his holding cell as she did his paperwork for booking. Bossed around, shamed and neglected in childhood, she’s highly sensitive to what others think of her and is learning how to better manage personal slights.  We talked about how to view her arrestees’ ridicule, including how people whom we hurt try to hurt us back (clearly...

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I'm Fine (Not Really)

I wish I had a dollar for every client who walked into my office and assured me that she or he felt fine. It’s one thing to say so in everyday chit chat, such as when you’re in the check-out lane at the supermarket and the cashier mumbles, “How’re ya doing?” It’s quite another to say that to your therapist or anyone close to you when you’re not. But that is what happens too often in the office of the therapist.  As I’ve said before, most dysregulated eaters have childhoods that have been less than stellar. They’ve grown up with all sorts of dysfunction. They had parents with mental health or addiction issues, who suffered from depression, anxiety disorders or personality disorders. They grew up being emotionally, physically or sexually abused, neglected or otherwise traumatized. Their current eating disorders are remnants of childhoods which were dysfunctional through no fault of their...

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More On Coping with Narcissists

The better we understand narcissists, the easier it is (though it will never be easy) to cope with them. It’s most problematic when they’re a parent or boss because you’re stuck with them. Having narcissistic romantic partners or friends can be a painful experience, but you can always edge or elbow them out of your life. Right? “Why Do Narcissists Lose Popularity Over Time?” offers fresh insights into this hard-to-handle personality. Researchers W. Keith Campbell and Stacy Campbell propose “a new model of narcissism in which they argue that two particular time points are important. The ‘emerging zone’ includes situations involving unacquainted individuals, early-stage relationships, and short-term contexts. In contrast, the ‘enduring zone’ involves situations involving acquainted individuals, continuing relationships, and long-term consequences. The costs of narcissism are seen primarily in the ‘enduring zone.’" Because narcissists tend to switch their charm on and off—and replace it with self-centeredness and aggression, among other traits—they are...

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More Pride, Less Gratitude Please

Here’s a common therapy occurrence. A client does something amazing like eat “normally” for a week, start a new job clean and sober, or divorce an abusive spouse and I ask them, “How’re you feeling about that?” and they start off with, “Well, I’m grateful for . . .”—and they lose me. It’s hard to pay attention to their gratitude overflow when I’ve been hoping they’d tell me how proud they are of themselves.  Just as long ago when I became a therapist during the “forgiveness” movement which seemed over the top to me, I now find myself feeling similarly put off by the “gratitude” crusade. Not that there’s anything wrong with forgiveness or gratitude. They are part of emotional health. But there’s a lack of balance and authenticity when forgiveness or gratitude are de rigueur and crowd out pride, one of the crowning jewels of emotions.  Gratitude definitely has its...

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Why Must We Get Over Something?

I confess that I’ve blogged about letting go until I finally realized it’s just another nonsensical phrase that we have no business using. Another is to “get over” something. Really, where do people come up with this stuff?  I tried to find the origin of “let go of” without, as they say, taking a deeper dive, but I came up with nothing. It appears that way back in the 14th century “get over” meant to recover from a physical illness. It’s unclear when it began to mean to stop being a ninny and start controlling your emotions. The phrase felt wrong to a client who shared her reaction to responses to the recent death of her mother. Though no one actually said, “let go” to her (thank goodness), one person implied that she needn’t feel grief because her mother’s death was “God’s will.” What a subtle way of telling someone to...

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Better to Be Concerned Than to Worry

Because I believe that self-talk determines our mood and actions, a while ago I started replacing the word “worry” with “concern.” So, instead of thinking, “I’m anxious we may need a new roof” (which we do), I’ve turned it into, “I am concerned we may need a new roof” or even “I have a concern we may need a new roof” which brings more detachment from my thoughts because it’s something I “have,” not something I “am.” Concern shows that something is important to you and you want to put attention on it. It matters enough to think about; it’s on your mind. It’s on one end of a continuum whereas, “worry” or “anxiety” is on the other. It’s a mental note of something to consider. Worry ratchets up concern to a higher level. It’s concern on steroids. Whereas concern shows fleeting and mild attachment to a thought, worry makes it...

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Why We Lie to Ourselves

All of us lie to ourselves at one time or another, some of us more than others. Here’s one example you’ll recognize instantly: You’re stuffed to the gills but there’s still a slice of pizza left, so you snarf it down, thinking, “I’ll skip dinner tonight or start a diet tomorrow.” The truthful thought would be, “I’ll feel awful if I eat this slice of pizza and I’ll probably eat a big dinner tonight and eat the same way tomorrow.” This type of lie has a kind of magic to it. It flies against our knowing better, our experience and what we understand about reality. It’s different than the lie you tell your boss that your project is almost done when you’ve barely started it or the one you tell your sister when she asks if you like her expensive new hair cut which she’s wildly excited about but you think...

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Emotions and Actions

People who grow up in dysfunctional families often are highly reactive in situations. How can children learn what to feel and how to react appropriately in relationships if parents and family are emotionally unhealthy? We need healthy role models for that to happen. For example, my client Mona was insulted by something a co-worker drew on a “community” board in the lunch room at work. Mona thought they’d had a decent relationship, so she was hurt and angry that this woman would make fun of her publicly. The back story is that Mona and her co-worker had a brief interaction previously which had, unbeknownst to Mona, bothered the co-worker.  Mona was hurt by the drawing. Who wouldn’t be? With her history of emotional abuse in childhood and adulthood, her reactions ran unsurprisingly in two directions—either she felt full of rage and wanted to hurt someone back or she wanted to isolate...

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Mature Hurt

There’s a world of difference between the emotional hurt of a child and that of an adult. Because the human brain doesn’t fully develop until the late 20s, children and adolescents have only partially formed brains whose final part is our frontal lobes which are responsible for cognitive functions such as problem solving, memory and judgment. Prior to that, we rely mostly on emotions to assess and react to situations. Think about the nearly unbearable hurt and pain you felt as a child. No matter how wonderful and functional your childhood was, you suffered. Maybe you got lost in a department store at age 5, frantic to find your parents. Or at age 9 you listened to them screaming at each other night after night and were terrified they’d hurt each other and you’d end up alone. Or at 16 Dad left you and mom and you were sure it was...

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First Decide How You Want to Feel

One way to transform yourself, is to name how you want to feel. Usually when I ask clients who are complaining about how they feel, how they would like to feel, they respond with either the reasons they feel as they do or what they think. This is especially true of clients who spend a lot of time in their heads to avoid experiencing feelings. Let me lay out a scenario to show you what I mean. Say, your brother is selfish, emotionally abusive and generally tries to bully you into doing whatever he wants. Occasionally you’ve had good times together—fishing or listening to music—but whatever fun you have is overshadowed by him reverting to character, narcissism in his case. You’ve spent most of your life trying to please him, but he still is critical and puts you down. Occasionally he belittles you in front of others, then pretends it was...

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Ways to Identify When You’re in Recall Not Reality

It takes work to recognize when we’re in recall rather than reality. This happens when a painful memory echoes a current experience and we become mentally unmoored from the present and suffer what we felt then. Remember, memory is how we protect ourselves from bad things happening to us—the old “better safe than sorry” adage. As I’ve written before, recall memories co-opt the present and the best we can do is to realize when this is happening and mentally drag ourselves back to the present. To do so, you will need to be a keen, accurate observer of your thoughts and feelings.  Step 1: Notice the strength of your emotions. If someone cuts in front of you in line at the bank, you might be slightly annoyed. However, if you’re so enraged you want to shove them out of line or knock them to the ground, you’re being swept up an...

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To Diagnose or Not

I was explaining to a neighbor that someone we were talking about had Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and she got miffed and said it was unnecessary to label people. This happened during the same week that a client mentioned to her sister that I suggested she (the sister) might carry the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder and that caused trouble in already dysfunctional family dynamics. In my first post-grad school job, I was required to submit a DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual) diagnosis. Ditto when I was an insurance provider. I didn’t think much about mental health diagnosing until a friend explained to me how it had negatively impacted her brother with schizophrenia and I started looking at it from the client’s point of view, that is, feeling that they were being reduced to a psychiatric label. I understood how harmful this could be. Years later, I had two clients in my...

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A Subtle Sign of Co-dependence

So often when I suggest to clients that they may be co-dependent, they say, “Who me?” They can’t see what I see about them because they’re so entrenched in their interactional patterns and fail to recognize that they’re more other than self-focused. Here’s a major clue that you might lean toward co-dependence.  One major tip off is when I ask a client about how they’re feeling and they don’t talk about themselves but start talking about another person’s feelings. For example, I was asking a client how she felt about a break-up with her boyfriend and she responded, “Well, you know it’s his choice. He thinks we should try to work it out, but I’ve tried everything to make things work. I guess I just don’t meet his standards.”  A slightly different example happened during a conversation I had with a client about his narcissistic mother. Again, I asked my client...

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