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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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Confidence

A message board (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/nicegirlsfinishfat) member asked an interesting question about confidence: “From what I understand, confidence comes from success. But if someone like me hasn't had success in the eating department, how am I supposed to build up confidence to get it sorted out once and for all?” This is one of those chicken-and-egg dilemmas: Does confidence lead to success or does success lead to confidence? The answer is that both are true. When you’re able to eat “normally” for a day or a week, you gain confidence, that is, the feeling that you are competent at feeding yourself well and may be able to continue in the future. In this way, successful repetition of functional behavior leads to increasing faith in self and self-assurance. As well, when you feel positive about your ability to feed and nourish yourself effectively, you are more likely to do so, increasing behavioral sticking power....

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Borderline Personality Disorder

Here’s something you may not know about. There is a strong correlation (an association, not a cause and effect) between the clinical diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and eating disorders. For me, diagnosing is a helpful tool in understanding clusters of symptoms and guiding treatment. On the other hand, I understand how a diagnosis can feel like an unwanted label and a stigma if misused. Criteria outlined in the fourth edition of the DIAGNOSTIC AND STATISTICAL MANUAL OF MENTAL DISORDERS, aka the DSM-IV-TR, for BPD are as follows: 1) frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment; 2) a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation; 3) identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self; 4) impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (eg, spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating); 5) recurrent suicidal...

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The 90-Second Emotion Rule

In her amazing book, MY STROKE OF INSIGHT: A BRAIN SCIENTIST’S PERSONAL JOURNEY, Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D., maintains that it takes about 90 seconds to pass through the physical phase of experiencing an emotion. Aside from recommending the book as a terrific read, I found her knowledge of and insights into the workings of the brain useful in thinking about behavioral change, in this case about emotional eating. Taylor says it takes “less than 90 seconds” for an emotion to get triggered, surge chemically through the blood stream, then get flushed out. She goes on to assert that within this brief period of time, the automatic emotional response is complete, so that whatever we feel after that is our choosing. Stunning information! Her take is that we need to be present and open to the feeling at whatever intensity it comes. If we short-circuit it, we won’t receive the full impact...

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Be Yourself

I get a kick out of the expression, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” What a hoot! But the last time I read it I got to thinking about how difficult it is for some of you to, well, actually be yourselves. Doing so means knowing what you feel and think and savoring your uniqueness. So many disregulated eaters hate themselves one minute, then love themselves the next or chameleon-like, change their opinions depending on the people they’re with. So, here forth, it’s time to know yourself so that you can be yourself. If you had a childhood in which what you felt or said was frequently pooh-poohed, were told you shouldn’t have certain emotions, and needed to watch what came out of your mouth 24/7, you learned not to trust your feelings and opinions. Unfortunately, self-trust is where self-knowledge begins. Instead of sticking to your guns, to get approval and...

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Defining Yourself

I can’t think of better way to start the new year than for you to choose how you’re going to think and act in 2009. You can’t make yourself over in an instant, but you can make decisions about the person you want to become and begin practicing new behaviors right now. Although genetics and environment are powerful factors in promoting or inhibiting change, your beliefs can override them. Of course, after deciding how you want to think and act, you have to immerse yourself in your new attitude and behaviors. Here are a several major areas in which you need to get your head on straight. And, no, you can’t pick and choose among them. This one is an all-or-nothing affair. 1. You are not defective. There’s nothing so basically wrong with you that can’t be fixed and there never was. You lack effective life skills. You received inadequate training...

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Feel, Then Think

Lucky us! We’re born with the ability to feel and think, and we need to use both wisely to manage life’s problems and resolve our eating issues. Some people get stuck in emotions and rarely call upon good judgment. Others think ‘til their brain hurts, but hardly ever experience authentic emotion. Are you one of these types? Maybe you intellectualize—live in your head—to avoid experiencing painful emotions. You research, make lists, and weigh pros and cons. You chunk down problems and come up with well-oiled solutions. Yet you rarely know what you’re feeling. If you focus on emotions at all, it’s to brush them aside. When you experience them, you generally describe them with vague words like upset or stressed. Due to a childhood in which your emotions weren’t heard or validated adequately, you’ve closeted them away and that’s where they’ve stayed. Instead you rely on thinking exclusively to guide your...

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Stop Replaying Bad Memories

One of my goals as a therapist is to help clients unearth childhood memories so they can better understand themselves in the present. With other clients, especially those who’ve experienced trauma, my goal is to help them let go of powerful, hurtful memories. My focus depends on where they are in the emotional healing process Events which we perceive as bad make an indelible mark in our memory bank. Our brains are built to recall them with special clarity and intensity to avoid similar harm in the future. Speed down the hill on your bike, then fall and break your arm often enough, and one hopes experience will teach you to slow down. In this way, recalling events which have hurt us is a beneficial process that leads to prevention. However, continuing to replay a distressing incident or period in your life over and over long after you’ve squeezed out every...

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Abandonment

When a message board member (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings) asked me to blog about abandonment, I had to comb through my archives, not believing I hadn’t already written about it. I hadn’t, so here are some of my thoughts on the subject. Boy, if ever there were ever a trigger for emotional eating, abandonment is it. Many of us think of abandonment in the physical sense—loss of someone through death, divorce, or enforced separation. However, most of us don’t experience this kind of physical abandonment in childhood and, instead, grow up with both parents around. The kind of abandonment which is far more common—and far less easy to recognize—is emotional abandonment. Some parents are too self-absorbed to rear children well and pay more attention to their own needs than those of their offspring. Other moms and dads are already enmeshed in a more addictive relationship—with alcohol, drugs, a job, or a hobby. Then there...

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Embracing Your Past

Giving credit where credit is due, the idea for this blog—letting go of shame from the past—came from a discussion on my Food and Feelings message board (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings). I’m talking about still feeling overwhelming distress thinking about something you did ages ago. Maybe you used to drink a lot or do drugs, were wildly indiscriminate in your sexual partners, were a real goof off or a prima donna, or took advantage of friends and family. Everyone has moments (okay, months or years) they’re not proud of. You know, those times you can’t believe you did what you did. How could you have been so cruel to your siblings? Why on earth would you have put your parents through such pain? Did you really do that to your best friend? What kind of parent were you who could do that to her children? How could you have cheated/lied/betrayed someone you loved like...

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Behavior As Language

It occurred to me as I was shopping for a laptop computer a while back, that I had very little idea what most of the salespeople were talking about when they detailed the differences among models. Feeling as if they were speaking a completely different language than one I knew, I was at a loss. Then I realized that this is exactly what many disregulated eaters experience when I and others talk about eating “normally.” With language, the one we use most frequently gets laid down neurobiologically in our brains. If we learn several languages, neural pathways for language acquisition increase in number and it becomes easier to pick up another. We all are fluent in certain kinds of “languages,” from knowing an awful lot about gardening to being an expert on the Impressionists, from being a topnotch downhill skier to having a head full of tips about travel. My point...

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Sustaining Motivation

Many disregulated eaters who strive to eat “normally” can’t sustain their behavior over the long haul. In order to change for good, you have to perform a new behavior more often than an old one, but many troubled eaters have difficulty practicing “normal” eating for a long enough period of time to make real progress. They do it for a while, stop, try again, stop, etc. The culprits once again: all-or-nothing and victim-mode thinking. As you know, disregulated eaters are awfully hard on themselves. You beat yourself up mercilessly for food binges, not losing weight, regaining it, obsessing about food, and for returning to dieting and starvation even though you know it’s unhealthy and ineffective. You’re not very skilled at making mistakes without judging yourself harshly and it’s slow going to ease up and become more self-compassionate. Alternately, when you’re not dragging yourself over hot coals because of your food failures,...

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Knowledge versus Understanding

Disregulated eaters often lack self-trust and worry incessantly and unnecessarily about the future. Desperate to make right decisions, they confuse accumulation of knowledge and information with understanding. Didn’t know there was a difference? Read on. Author Malcolm Gladwell tells us how we can learn to use intuition advantageously in BLINK: THE POWER OF THINKING WITHOUT THINKING, an enlightening read for those of you driven by the need for certainty. Regarding when to trust our instincts, he shares some contrary-sounding wisdom: “On straightforward choices, deliberate analysis is best. When questions of analysis and personal choice start to get complicated—when we have to juggle many different variables—then our unconscious thought process may be superior.” The problem is that we are “inundated with information” and “have come to confuse information with understanding.” Need examples? Say you’re planning to buy a house or a car and feel a need to read every article on the...

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Second-guessing Yourself

Perhaps like many people with eating problems you second guess yourself a lot. You may be insecure, lack confidence, and worry that you’re not making “the right” decisions. It may take an unusually long time for you to make a decision to begin with and, even after it’s finally made, doubts nag at you. Having second thoughts makes you more anxious and brings more doubts. Well, here’s my take on the subject. Big decisions come with mixed feelings and we shouldn’t expect that they’ll disappear the instant we choose to go this way and not that way. Doubts are normal. It’s interpreting their existence incorrectly that sends you into a tailspin, thinking that a doubt means there’s something wrong with what you’ve decided, that you haven’t thought things through well enough, or that you need to back up and reconsider. Usually, if a decision has been a long time in the...

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Expectations versus Experience

I confess. I’m fascinated by the endless contradictions we humans hold. Recently, an acquaintance was railing against politicians and religious leaders who fail to set a good example. I tried explaining that human beings are irrational, complicated creatures, but I was no match for her idealized expectations. As a disregulated eater, you, too, may become easily disappointed and end up turning to food to make yourself feel better. Why do you do this—ignore your years of experience with the human race and instead pin your hopes on some imaginary version of reality that never was and never will be? Why did this reasonably bright woman continue to hold the conviction that leaders should be moral exemplars, when every fiber of her 70-some-year-old being told her that often they are not? In this same vein, how can you binge eat the same foods in the same quantities day after day or week...

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Pain Is Unique to Individuals

It’s time for another reminder that we are highly unique individuals. Although we have a great deal in common physically and emotionally, each of us has a different emotional pain threshold that may promote or encourage tolerating discomfort in the eating arena. This is why it’s so dangerous to compare your progress to that of others. Remember, your psychological pain may be greater or less than someone else’s. Folks who have a healthy balance of neurotransmitters, particularly natural brain opioids and neuromodulators such as dopamine may feel less emotional distress than others. If you have a history of trauma or abuse, you will likely be far more sensitive to emotional upset than a person who had a more functional childhood. That’s why some individuals can fairly easily tolerate the discomfort of saying no to foods and others have a tougher time. That’s also why many disregulated eaters turn to food at...

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What Are You Really Ashamed About?

I was talking with a client last month about her history with multiple aspects of shame regarding eating and weight. She’d initially thought that what she felt most strongly was shame about being fat, but it turned out that her feelings were more complicated (they usually are!). I bet there’s more to your story of shame as well. For those of you who as children were fat or average weight but made to feel fat by family members, there’s a long trail of shame behind you—being different, lacking acceptance, suffering exclusion, not understanding what’s wrong with carrying around extra pounds, and feeling powerlessness to change your body. Being teased, shamed, bullied, degraded, or humiliated leaves lasting psychological scars. You weren’t, as your parents may have insisted (for their own reasons), being “too” sensitive about your size. Growing up with non-body-based shame can haunt you as well. Maybe you were shamed for...

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Pain and Pleasure

A client made an interesting comment which strikes at the heart of receiving pleasure, with food or otherwise. We were discussing why she doesn’t go all out to pursue joy and passion, and she said, “Well, you know, the price of pleasure is pain.” Ouch! As soon as I heard her response, I knew this was a core belief that both inhibited her ability to eat “normally” and prevented her from creating a happier life for herself. Do you believe that the price of pleasure is pain? Or that there is any price to pay for pleasure? You may not be aware that this is your assumption, so take a minute to examine it. Do you throw yourself into enjoyment or do you get anxious during or after you feel it? According to your belief system, how okay is it to feel joy and have fun? Are pleasure and pain connected...

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Self-regulation

I’ve been writing about self-regulation for decades, mostly in the realm of eating—I find the term disregulated more accurate than disordered, and regulated more accurate than intuitive—but also in terms of monitoring emotions and behavior. Recently, I’m pleased to see the terms self-regulation and dysregulation cropping up in more and more articles. The better you understand how to regulate yourself, the better your life will be. To self-regulate is to adjust behavior consciously, specifically to not allow it, outside of your awareness, to bounce you from one extreme to another. Whether you’re opening or closing your heart, your mouth, or your wallet, the idea is to make decisions only in your best interest. If you want to do/say/eat/spend/work/play, etc. too much or too little, that’s okay, as long as you make the decision consciously. If you want to spend time at either extreme—in what I’ll call an open or closed position—fine,...

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Emotional Dysregulation and Reregulation

It’s probably not uncommon for someone to say or do something that sends you, a dysregulated eater, into an emotional tailspin—which then propels you, immediately or even hours later, to the refrigerator. If you have some self-awareness, you may make the connection between a person’s actions or words and your distress. If you have little or no self-awareness, you might feel a vague upset, but not necessarily relate it to someone triggering your distress. However, this is exactly what happens. I recently read an article which explains how you get set off. The author, Janina Fisher, Ph.D, explains how, because we are social animals, people who are disregulated can all too easily disregulate others. Disregulation occurs when someone’s emotions, and not their good judgment, are running the show. They don’t realize or can’t control how upset, distressed, enraged, fearful, or anxious they are and their presentation shows it. They yell, sulk,...

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The 48-Hour Rule

As a therapist, I often get asked what I do with difficult emotions, that is, how I handle life’s rough spots. Although I believe that all emotionally healthy people have a range of techniques for dealing with intense feelings, I know we all have certain skills we rely on. Recently I’ve set up a 48-hour rule about a certain kind of emotion visiting me, and have found it very useful. Not long ago, I had a bunch of bummer things happen to me: being hurt by a friend, problems with a few clients, and a rejection regarding a new writing project. In each instance, I felt some combination of crummy—dejected, angry, helpless, frustrated, misunderstood, devalued, or invalidated. So I followed the 90-second rule (see my 8/21/09 blog), allowing my feelings to flow, no matter how uncomfortable they made me, neither rejecting nor inviting the hurt, but letting it come and go...

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