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]

Being Uncomfortable and Doing Whatever It Takes to Recover

I was talking to a new client recently who mentioned that she’d sought me out as an eating coach in part because of what she’d heard me say on a podcast: I attributed my success to the fact that I would have done anything effective and healthy to recover from my eating problems. Can you say the same for yourself? Interestingly, I often run into clients who refuse to consider options I suggest which would help them progress in different areas—refuse as in adamantly reject an idea as soon as I say it or only appear to be mulling it over because they don’t want to offend me. When I ask their reason for declining a suggestion, they usually tell me they don’t want to be uncomfortable. Well, I can understand that. This whole thing of going from disregulated to “normal” eating, from an unhealthy relationship with food and body to...
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Feeling Defective

Most of the disregulated eaters I’ve treated over the years have felt seriously defective. This perception of being deeply and permanently flawed often drives dysfunctional eating, weight obsession, anorexia, bulimia—and perfectionism. Truth is, until you recognize and eliminate your erroneous sense of defectiveness, you won’t be able to resolve your eating problems. Letting it go is a major part of healing and recovery. A belief in your lovability and self-worth comes from how you were treated growing up. If you were treated fairly and compassionately, you will value and be fair and compassionate toward yourself. You’ll recognize your faults and try to do better without aiming for an impossible perfection. If you weren’t treated with compassion and respect as a child, it’s easy to grow up to feel unworthy and unlovable, and to come to believe that you are, at core, so defective that no matter what you do, you’ll never...
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Can You Be Too Upbeat

I’m all for not wallowing in misery, looking on the bright side, and being positive and can do—when appropriate. But there’s a downside to being relentlessly upbeat that can cause emotional disconnection. Remember, emotional health means being able to go to anywhere your emotions and those of others take you. There are two ways excess cheerfulness can play out. Say a friend who’s sharing her distress makes you uncomfortable, so you downplay what she’s feeling. She might be revealing a childhood in which she came home from school crying only to find her mother passed out on the living room couch. Or her father’s scary moods that made her hide under the bed. Without realizing it, you might become uncomfortable, keying into your Dad’s constant put downs and yelling or your mom’s narcissism which made you feel that your needs were invisible. Therefore, rather than validate what it must have been...
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Releasing Childhood Shame

If you suffered abuse, neglect or trauma as a child, you still may be carrying around shameful feelings that prevent you from being whole and emotionally healthy in adulthood. Shame’s function is to correct current bad behavior, but feeling it now because bad things were done to you as a child is a burden it’s time to get rid of. Many disregulated eaters grew up in families in which there was a great deal of shame. Of course, as kids, we didn’t think about these things. We just assumed that everyone’s family functioned as ours did and that our parents knew what they’re doing--raising us in ways that were in our best interests. Well, not always. Because they’re human, parents didn’t always realize that many of the childrearing practices they used were not only unhelpful but were dangerously wrong and powerfully hurtful to us. For example, many troubled eaters were raised...
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Developing a Brighter Outlook

We all know that anxiety is a major cause of unwanted eating, but you may not realize exactly what happens when you’re chronically anxious and the type of damage it can do to you. Learning to manage anxiety better will go a long way toward improving your health in general and your food abuse in particular. The hormone cortisol plays a critical role in the stress response—and anxiety is certainly a stressor to both mind and body. When you perceive stress, cortisol rushes in and floods the body to give it energy (a part of the fight or flight response). It also plays a part in suppressing the body’s immune response to infection, reducing inflammation. When cortisone levels remain high due to ongoing stress, the body’s sensitivity to it lessens. Unfortunately, chronic or constant triggering of cortisol leads to more inflammation, which can then produce more disease. In a Harvard School...
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What Do You Really Want?

Unwanted eating means missing out on getting other wants/needs met, so it’s vital to discover what they are and address them. I’ve narrowed down the field to several basic “wants/needs” that disregulated eaters often have when they seek food or obsess about it or weight. Meeting them appropriately will help you become a “normal” eater. When you’re tired, you may turn to food looking for an energy boost. At night you may believe you’ve still got oodles to do before you’re entitled to sleep. Perhaps your energy level takes a dive in the afternoon and you seek a food lift to get through the day. Make sure to get enough rest and sleep and to energize yourself with activity, not food. Another time you might eat is when you need to let go or take a break. Commonly, disregulated eaters push themselves to be productive because they don’t know when enough...
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What Are You Looking for When You’re Not Hungry?

On the saddest things about eating when you’re not hungry is that you’re missing out on meeting a valid need. Food is primarily for fuel, so if you’re not in need of nutrients, eating is not an appropriate response. Figuring out what you want that isn’t food will make your life happier and reduce the amount of unwanted eating you do. Emotional eaters misuse food in various ways. Do you eat to distract from feelings? Often you expect to be upset because of something that happened and therefore eat to prevent internal distress. The fact is you might really be fine with the feeling, but in the past you’ve found a particular emotion, say, loneliness or rejection, difficult, so you eat prophylactically. Or, you may already be upset and eat to minimize feelings. You might be afraid that if you hurt intensely, you’ll never stop or that emotional pain will make...
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Stress and Weight

We know it’s important to learn effective stress management to feel and be healthier. When you don’t take things personally, are okay with imperfection, take better care of yourself, have more fun, and effectively can chill out and unwind, you’re less likely to pursue non-hunger eating. Need another reason to reduce stress? Read on. In “Is Your Personality Making You Put on Pounds?” (Wall Street Journal online, 1-10-12), Melinda Beck tells us that certain personality traits may generate weight gain. For example, she describes “the stress junkie” as someone who “thrives on competition and deadline pressure” and who is internally powered by “adrenaline and cortisol.” Sound like anyone you know? She explains, “Those stress hormones supply quick bursts of energy in fight-or-flight situations, but when the alarm is unrelenting, they can cause health problems, including obesity.” I’m not climbing on the anti-obesity bandwagon here, but suggesting that there is a link...
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The Concept of Having a Relationship with Food

I probably use the words “our relationship with food” at least once a day working with clients, posting on my message board, or in my writings, but I never stopped to think about the meaning of the phrase until a HYPERLINK "http://group.yahoo.com/groups/foodandfeelings" Food and Feelings message board member shared her thoughts on their usage. What exactly do we mean when we say we have a relationship with food? The WORLD BOOK DICTIONARY defines relationship as “a connection; the state or condition that exists between people or groups that deal with one an another.” The AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY says it’s “the condition or fact of being related.” What does that mean regarding food? Is food something we have a real relationship with or is the concept simply invented and culturally accepted? Let’s remember that the sole evolutionary purpose of food is to nourish and keep us alive. The fact that food tastes...
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Resentment Barriers to Recovery

Not only is resentment an unpleasant feeling, but it’s often a sure-fire barrier to recovery from eating problems. How full of resentments are you? Can you see how being stuck in this emotion prevents you from making progress in healing your relationship with food? Here’s my take on how you’ll benefit from chucking your resentments. Disregulated eaters often become enraged at feeling stuck with an eating disorder. It’s not fair, they insist. Why should I have to deal with these problems, they ask. They are seething with anger and I can’t say I blame them. What we have to deal with in life emotionally is very much the luck (or lack thereof) of the draw. However, being consumed with rage about what happened to you decades ago or about your biology make the situation worse. Sure, we’re entitled to be angry at the unfairness of it all. The more relevant question...
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Why We Think and Act Irrationally

I hear this question at least once a week, sometimes as often as once a day: I really want to become a “normal” eater, so why do I keep doing things which are not remotely in my long-term best interest around food? While reading an article in AARP magazine (1/12) on spending practices, I found some enlightening, helpful explanations that answer this question. In Test Your Money Instincts, Michaela Cavallaro explains a few things about why we manage our money poorly. First, she reminds us that because of the way our brains work, we tend to “choose immediate gratification over larger long-term payoffs, and we rationalize our behavior by telling ourselves we’ll do better tomorrow.” How many times, while eating when you’re not hungry, have you sworn your behavior is just for now and that you’ll mend your ways tomorrow? Probably more times than you can remember. A key reason we...
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Truth versus Our Stories

One major hurdle for disregulated eaters who’ve struggled with food for a long time is believing in recovery. Perhaps you believe there’s a truth that says you won’t or can’t have a positive relationship with food and eat “normally.” What you don’t realize is that this so-called truth is only a story that you tell yourself over and over. Not a week goes by in which a client or message board member ( HYPERLINK "http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings" http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings) doesn’t say something like, “I’m impulsive,” “I just can’t do this,” “It’s too hard,” or “I’ll never be a “normal” eater.” When I question how they know this with such certainty, they point to previous behavior. Then I point out that what’s going on is circular reasoning: perhaps they’ve had problems with food because they keep telling themselves they do. They then generally argue that their point of view is right or “the truth.” I...
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Life, Not Drama

I was having lunch with a friend who is also a therapist a while back. We shared professional chit chat, but mostly we talked about how are our private lives were going—the latest developments in some ongoing family situations and how we were bearing up. She really got my attention when she said quite casually, “I wish clients saw the ups and downs of life as just that, rather than as exceptional high drama.” How true, I thought, how could our lives be any other way. Life would not be life if it didn’t have ups and downs—a health problem, a house or car that needs fixing, tension with neighbors, family dissent, conflicts at work, or a kerfuffle among friends. There are two ways to look at these events. Either you assume that this makes up the meat and potatoes of life, the way it will pretty much always be because...
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Emotions As a Life Raft

Much of my work with clients is around sharing emotions, for they’re as important to recovering from eating problems as is appetite. Sadly, both often have been perceived negatively by disregulated eaters who trust neither their appetite nor their feelings. The good news is that you really can’t improve in one area without improving in the other. This blog is based on a 2007 PARADE Magazine article that I accidentally misplaced and recently discovered, Why Emotion Keeps You Well by Dr. Henry S. Lodge. Fortunately what Lodge has to say remains current and relevant: We may think that emotions affect only our mental health but they strongly impact our physical health as well. Through MRIs and PET scans we are able to observe the trillions of electrical/emotional signals that course through brain and body when we feel emotions, a normal part of being human. Statistics on being open or closed with...
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Dysregulated Eaters and Sensitivity

Reading an article about the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)—someone who’s unusually reactive to most everything—I recognized the temperament of many disregulated eaters. Interestingly, an equal number would seem to fall at the other end of the sensitivity spectrum, feeling pleasure or gratification only through unusual intensity. According to Andrea Bartz, author of “Sense and Sensitivity” (Psychology Today, July/August 2011), highly sensitive people tend to be creative, care deeply for animals, and are considered thin-skinned or touchy. They are greatly attuned to nuance, both positive and negative, and have exceptionally intense emotions and affective experiences. They often shrink from bright lights, loud noise and crowds. Heightened senses may make them acutely aware of stimuli others miss, but also make life difficult and sometimes painful. What seems just right for the average person is often too much for the HSP. One explanation is thin boundaries; another is a tightly-wound, easily distressed nervous system,...
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More on Meaning Making

Ever since I took Jon Connelly’s enlightening trauma resolution workshop back in July ( http://www.cleartrauma.com/), I’ve been more focused on how we make meaning of life events, sadly, often to our detriment. In order to heal from emotional wounds, traumas and eating problems, it’s crucial to understand how we arbitrarily and mistakenly couple together the random occurrences in our histories. Then learn to uncouple them. Some insights on the subject come from a review by David Chivers in The Humanist Network News (8/11), of THE BELIEVING BRAIN: FROM GHOSTS AND GODS TO POLITICS AND CONSPIRACTIES—HOW WE CONSTRUCT BELIEFS AND REINFORCE THEM AS TRUTHS by Michael Shermer’s. Shermer, says Chivers, shows “…that people are pre-disposed to see patterns in natural events, and further to ascribe reasons to those patterns.” We do this for safety and security. If we mistake a snake for a stick, we’re sunk, but if we mistake a stick...
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Trouble Accepting Compliments

There’s a curious paradox that often crops up in the personalities of some disregulated eaters (and plenty of “normal” eaters as well) that’s worth taking a look at: Even though you absolutely crave positive strokes, you also have difficulty accepting compliments and praise. A curious dilemma which needs straightening out for good mental health. For example, you tell a friend how you stood up for yourself when your boss started to chew you out, and she responds something like, “That’s awesome how you didn’t let him put you down. You’re really doing a great job not letting people get away with dissing you.” And you reply, “Well, I probably should have said something earlier and I wish I’d been more forceful. I’m really not all that assertive.” Sound familiar? Someone is trying to bolster your ego and you brush them off. Maybe you don’t disqualify everything they say; you just minimize...
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Wondering versus Worrying

During a recent phone session, as a client remarked on something that might happen down the road, I realized that she’d finally stopped worrying about the future and had started wondering about it instead. And what a world of difference there is between the two. If you’re a worrier, why not consider converting your angst into wonder? Take a minute and conjure up what it feels like to worry—the knot in your stomach, slightly nauseous feeling, fixation on potential harm which may befall you, your energy narrowing into prevention of future threats, the present slipping by because your thoughts are racing ahead of you, your body tensing up, your mind unable to think clearly. Worry generates self-doubt, irritability, helplessness, shame, and fear. What other physical, emotional and mental sensations does worry trigger in you? Now remember what it’s like to wonder about the future. We often call that anticipation and associate...
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What Makes Us Happy?

Think you know what makes people feel happy and enjoy life? Weight loss or becoming wealthy don’t cut it. Conclusions in a Parade Magazine article (“Sunny Side Up” by Colleen Oakley, 7/31/11) might surprise you. Some highlights. According to University of Denver researchers, folks who highly value happiness have, “on average, 17 more symptoms of depression than those who don’t.” Seems backwards, huh? Not really. Happiness is like self-trust, self-esteem, and feeling deserving: when you have these qualities, you rarely think about them. Happy people take their outlook for granted. They don’t value it less than unhappy people do; it’s simply a given. Unhappy people are the ones who think about and strive for happiness! Another interesting factoid is the conclusion that “happiness is about 50% genetic, 10% influenced by life circumstances, and 40% influenced by how you think and act every day.” Heredity can set us up for seeing the...
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Why Are You So Private?

Clients and message board members sometimes mention that they’re “private” people, meaning that they tend not to share much about themselves with others. The problem with the word is that it sounds so above it all and benign, when the roots of “privacy” are often anything but. What if being private isn’t beneficial to recovering from eating problems? What if, in fact, it exacerbates and perpetuates them? In this let-it-all-hang-out culture in which we can’t turn on the TV without someone baring their innermost indelicacies, it might seem as if private is the way to go. But, when I advise loosening the reins on the sharing front, I’m not suggesting you go out and blab the secrets you’ve been holding onto for a lifetime around town. The idea is to achieve a balance between keeping everything (or practically everything) to yourself and opening yourself up with people you trust. We become...
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