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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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Emotional Wounding

If you were severely or chronically emotionally wounded in childhood or later life, you may fear “wounding” others if you say no, turn down advice, refuse to be their only support, or simply desire to focus on yourself rather than on them. Many disregulated eaters abuse food (and themselves) rather than hurt another person’s feelings. Hurting someone’s feelings is not a comfortable thing to do, but when appropriate, it is an essential life skill for quality mental health. Even in healthy relationships, it sometimes happens that remarks will be said or actions taken that hurt. We’ve all been on the giving or receiving end of moments like these because we’re human. In unhealthy relationships, however, your heart may get stomped on regularly. In this case, it’s necessary to gently let someone know that they’re hurting you. If they do not get the gentle reminder, be more direct. If they don’t get...

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Gratification versus Authentic Happiness

Do you know what constitutes authentic happiness? After all, we receive a barrage of confusing messages on the subject throughout our lives. One of the loudest is that gratifying our needs will make us happy—eat this food, buy that car, take a special vacation, learn this, purchase that. Much of what passes for happiness these days is what’s called short-term gratification and has little nutritive value emotionally. In order to achieve true happiness, it pays to understand how it differs from gratifying needs. When we seek gratification, we are looking to please ourselves in the moment. In psychology, the word is most often used to describe the needs of infants and children who, naturally in these stages of development, know no better than to demand that their emotional and physical needs be met instantly (if not sooner!). They lack the ability to consider whether meeting their needs (for a bottle or...

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Book Review: You Are Not Alone

As an author, I’m sometimes asked to write blurbs or reviews of books on eating, which is a wonderful way for me to keep abreast of what’s out there. For example, YOU ARE NOT ALONE (Vol. 2): THE BOOK OF COMPANIONSHIP FOR WOMEN WITH EATING DISORDERS (with a great music CD) by Andrea Roe. Although the book says it’s for women, it’s really for men, too, so don’t be fooled by the title!   The book’s premise is that recovery is possible and its theme is hope. Anita Johnson (author of EATING IN THE LIGHT OF THE MOON) writes in her introduction how hope is the inspiration for recovery. I would add that hope is not a constant thing, but waxes and wanes. One day we make wise, satisfying, nourishing choices around food and feel optimistic and even mildly confident that we are changing, then the next day, we make poor...

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Ghosts

I bet most of you don’t believe in ghosts and goblins. If someone were having a conversation with one, you’d probably roll your eyes and wonder what was wrong with them. But having interactions with something that isn’t real is exactly what you do every time you engage with irrational thoughts about food, eating, and weight. This may comes as a surprise, but you do not need to make a connection with and throw your energy into every thought that passes through your mind. Think of these wisps of biochemical energy as ghosts, as things of the past or products of your imagination that have no true substance. There are ghosts from your family—what your mother, father or other relatives told you that got stuck in your head. Maybe these messages served a purpose at the time or were wrong-headed even back then. Either way, they certainly have no relevance to...

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If You Didn’t Have an Eating Problem

People seek me out because they have eating problems—overeating, undereating, binge-eating, or some combination. Or they want help lowering their weight. Most clients recognize that they need to focus on and change their eating if they want to attain and maintain a healthy weight. What’s harder for them to acknowledge is that even if they didn’t have eating problems, they’d still lack critical life skills to enjoy a better life. I know that dysfunctional eating habits are what you’re focused on changing. But, think: If you were a “normal” eater at your target weight—changing nothing else about yourself—would you be mentally and emotionally healthy and living the life you want? My guess is that you wouldn’t be, even if that’s hard for you to acknowledge. Eating problems (other than metabolic, biochemical, or genetic based ones) don’t develop in a vacuum, but spring from irrational beliefs, trauma, stress, poor coping skills, inability...

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Happiness Is Hard Work

Over the summer, after watching a wonderful PBS program on happiness, a comment made by an interviewee stayed with me. The woman, a cancer survivor, remarked that being happy took a lot more energy and hard work than being unhappy. An interesting observation which might apply equally to recovering from eating problems. What do you think: Does being happy require more energy and involve more effort than it does to be unhappy? Is that what prevents you from making yourself happier? Granted, we each come into this world with a genetic predisposition for joy. Some babies are happy-go-lucky, while others are fussy from the get go. Add to that being raised by glass-half-full or half-empty parents, and we don’t have a whole lot of say as children about choosing happiness or not. But as adults, we’re in the driver’s seat to decide whether we want to be optimistic or pessimistic, complainers...

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Anger Instead of Anxiety

Many people get anxious around folks who don’t treat them well—a spouse, partner, friend, parent, child, neighbor, boss, or colleague. They’re anxious before seeing the person, while they’re with them, and after the fact. Well, there’s a better way than agita to respond to mistreatment! Some good, old-fashioned anger might just do the trick. Does this sound familiar? You feel anxious when…your date is rude to you, your partner walks in the front door and immediately comes down on you for a mistake you made earlier in the day, your best friend breaks a movie date last minute and calls you oversensitive for getting upset, your father insists you fly out to see him when he knows you’re in the middle of finals, your brother shows up drunk at your birthday party, your colleague misses work repeatedly and you end up picking up her slack, your adult child refuses to move...

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Self-centering

So many disregulated eaters, especially you nice girls and guys, fear being self-centered—you know, selfish, egotistical, or self-absorbed. Instead, you turn yourself inside out to be self-effacing and other-oriented, as if focusing on you is a sin. In reaction to early care-takers who were too self-centered, you now fail to center on yourself nearly enough. Once again, all-or-nothing thinking rears its ugly head, as if people are totally self- or other-oriented. The healthy among us are both!   Here’s a question for you: If you are not centering on your life, who is? That is, if you are not the center of your own universe, who is? Who could be other than you? How can someone else be the center of your life? They can only be the center of their lives! Not to be redundant, but by a process of elimination, you must be the center of your own life....

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Regret and Guilt

So many troubled eaters suffer from excessive guilt, about eating and other behaviors. If you are overwhelmed with guilt when you think you’ve done something wrong, consider replacing it with regret. In fact, what you feel, more often than not, actually may be regret and not guilt to begin with. Chapter 5 of my FOOD AND FEELINGS WORKBOOK is all about guilt. The goal of this emotion is to signal that you’ve done something wrong so that you won’t repeat the behavior. Here are things you may feel guilty about: hurting a friend’s feelings, playing hooky because you hate your job, telling your roommate or partner you’ll do something for them and purposely not doing it, eating when you aren’t hungry or eating beyond full when you are, lying in a self-serving way. Well, I could go on and on. Dysregulated eaters are all too familiar with guilt and need no...

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Stable Sense of Self

Many disregulated eaters lack a stable sense of self—an ongoing, permanent self-reflection of being okay and a good person all the time. Internal stability helps you tolerate negatives feelings about yourself because you view yourself as basically good enough. Because people with food problems often eat when they aren’t happy with themselves or to punish themselves, a stable sense of self reduces unwanted eating.   Here are some questions to help you assess your sense of self. When you do something you deem worthwhile, do you think of yourself as a “good” person? Alternately, when you do something you view as hurtful to yourself or others, do you believe you’re a “bad” person? Does your judgment about your self-worth depend on how others view (read, approve or disapprove of) you? Do you base your self-esteem on how much or how well you’ve done or are doing? Does your view of self...

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Inclusion and Belonging

Many disregulated eaters long for inclusion. They are lonely, by themselves and even with others, but also feel social anxiety. So they eat—at home by their lonesome or in social situations—which only makes them feel more estranged from others and more of an outsider. And more convinced that they’ll never belong anywhere or with anyone. To greater or lesser extent, the desire to belong is universal. Some people are avid connectors and group joiners, while others have one or two intimates or a small circle of friends they know care about them. A sense of belonging springs from the part of us that knows we can’t go it alone, an innate hankering for human contact, and a desire to be part of something greater than ourselves. Mostly, it comes from a need to be seen, heard, validated, valued and loved. It is natural and normal to want to belong. Because the...

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Intrapsychic versus Interpersonal Conflicts

A common issue for disregulated eaters is how parental and cultural messages to be a certain weight or eat “right” can actually backfire miserably and create mixed feelings about whether or not to be that weight or eat healthfully. You even may be vaguely aware of feeling conflicted but, more likely, you’re mired in contradictory emotions and don’t know it! The only way out is to discover the origin of the polarity and resolve it.   In psych parlance, this type of conflict is termed intrapsychic and happens when we’re at odds with ourselves in an ongoing, persistent way that’s difficult to break out of. We feel opposing sets of emotions or have mutually exclusive wishes which create a tug of war or stalemate within us. When parents pressure us to be a certain way (with weight, food or otherwise), when they’re regularly rigid, controlling, demanding, or non-validating and exert pressure...

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Disappointment

Let me get this straight. Many of you are afraid to try something because you might be disappointed, right? But so many disregulated eaters are already hugely disappointed in themselves, in their behavior, in failing to achieve their goals. So are you saying you’ll be more disappointed if you try something and fail than if you don’t try at all? Aren’t you disappointed now for not persisting until you succeed? Even if you only achieve half (or a third or an eighth) of what you want, won’t you be proud of yourself for trying? Maybe the problem is thinking not incrementally, but in all-or-nothing terms. Yup, pretzel logic about disappointment is alive and well and living in the hearts and minds of disregulated eaters. I hear it all the time: I’m afraid to try because if I fail I’ll be disappointed. First of all, who says you have to be disappointed...

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Humiliation or Anger

I was reading a novel in which one of the characters (a female psychiatrist) wonders if she should be humiliated or angry about her husband taking up with another woman, and started thinking about these alternative reactions. Her confusion reminded me of the uncertainty some overweight clients feel when people comment on their size. In that split second after a remark, it may be hard not to feel overwhelmed with shame, but I’m here to tell you that you can choose a far more effective response. Just think about the difference between the two states of shame/humiliation and anger. With shame and humiliation, you turn your disgust/upset/rage inward and with anger, you turn it outward. When someone makes an unkind comment about your weight or eating, you may feel upset with yourself for your eating and believe that what you’re doing or how you look is bad or wrong. In all...

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Something Useful to Rebel Against

For those of you whose eating problems stem largely from having an unbridled rebellious attitude toward anyone telling you what you should or shouldn’t eat, I have an excellent target for your outrage. Instead of directing your ire at dieticians, nutritionists, medical personnel, health experts, and family members for advising you which foods are good for you and which aren’t, put the food industry in your sights and fire away. According to David A. Kessler, MD (former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, pediatrician, and professor of Pediatrics and Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California/San Francisco) in his new book, THE END OF OVEREATING—TAKING CONTROL OF THE INSATIABLE AMERICAN APPETITE, the food industry is growing rich by making you fat. They know that just the right combo of sugar, fat, and salt creates food too tempting for many folks to refuse, that selling you on the idea...

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Diligent Joy

Here’s a phrase I came across and fell in love with instantly, more so when I found out what it means: “Diligent Joy.” It makes me smile to say it aloud, and comes from the book EAT, PRAY, LOVE by Elizabeth Gilbert (which had positive and negative points and which I’m not recommending). The phrase, however, is a keeper because it hits the nail so squarely on the head. Sure, we have genetic tendencies and formative experiences in childhood, but, thankfully, chemistry is far from the whole story when it comes to whether we’re smiley faces or not. Diligent Joy, if I’m interpreting Gilbert correctly, means working to forge a happiness mindset every minute of every day. A lot of work? You betcha. But it also takes a heap of effort to make—and keep—yourself miserable as well. You have to repeatedly focus on life being unfair and how no one can...

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A Negative Attitude Can Be Addictive

Did you know that a negative attitude can become addictive? Of course, you won’t go into withdrawal without it and won’t have to join a 12-step program to recover, but regularly underestimating and putting yourself down is an attitude you’ll keep returning to again and again (mostly unconsciously) if you’re not careful. At best, it’s a bad habit that guides your thinking and promotes ineffective decision-making. At worst, it’s a mindset that shuts out hope and creates a lifetime of unhappiness and despair. It’s natural to think poorly of yourself if your caretakers chronically maligned or neglected you. You probably believed what they said about you at the time. However, you now know that what your parents and relatives taught you about yourself is simply untrue. You now understand that they put you down to make themselves feel better or because they didn’t know how to be better care-takers. You recognize—don’t...

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Compassion, Acceptance and Mercy

This blog topic comes from a discussion with a client who was often highly critical about her body and overeating and who feared that if she showed herself “compassion” for making mistakes with food and “accepted” her weight, she wouldn’t try to change. Perhaps you too fall back on a sharp tongue lashing or a swift kick in the butt for motivation, rather than non-judgmentally exploring your behavior and figuring out how to do better next time. This client decided, instead, to show herself mercy, a term filled with benevolence, self-love, kindness and forgiveness. Here’s what the American Heritage Dictionary has to say about acceptance and compassion. To accept is, “To receive gladly; take willingly; To receive as adequate or satisfactory.” Compassion is, “The deep feeling of sharing the suffering of another in the inclination to give aid or support, or to show mercy.” Do these sound like synonyms to you?...

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More Wisdom from Brene Brown

If you don’t know who Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW is, it’s time to get acquainted with her. She’s an author, TED talk speaker extraordinaire, and a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She is one wise woman whose insights every person with an eating disorder needs to learn from. Here are some nuggets of wisdom from an article she wrote on the “Physics of Vulnerability” in the May/June 2017 issue of Psychotherapy Networker (pp. 32-33). Brown believes that if you’re not allowing yourself to feel vulnerable often enough or refuse to move out of your comfort zone, you won’t get anywhere in life. I would add that if you spend most of your time obsessing about how to do something right and always need to feel safe and sure of an outcome, you not only won’t get very far in recovery, but you’ll have your eating...

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It’s Okay to Have Conflicting Thoughts on How You Want to Eat

It’s not uncommon to have mixed feelings or thoughts. I’ve written about this dynamic related to eating and body image in Starting Monday and in The Food and Feelings Workbook. How can we not have them? I lie in bed many mornings thinking about how I both do and don’t want to arise and begin the day. I feel ambivalent about almost every vacation or event that breaks up my routine—I look forward to something new and different, while feeling I’d just as soon pass the time enjoying my usual schedule. If mixed feelings are the norm, why do we get so upset about them? Why do we view them as negative and fight so hard to avoid them? We find ourselves averse to conflicting feelings or thoughts for two reasons. First, we may assume that there’s something wrong with us for not being unilaterally and single-minded about what we feel or...

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