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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Strengthening Your Emotional Core

As an avid exerciser who’s used various fitness trainers over the decades, the commonality they’ve all had is their focus on strengthening core body muscles—specifically back, abs and glutes. Keeping your core strong provides balance and facilitates effective movement. In that same way, strengthening your emotional core will be sure to keep you steady and rolling smoothly along. By your emotional core, I mean all facets of emotional management—identifying, acknowledging, experiencing, and responding to your feelings, including: knowing specifically what you feel pretty much all the time or being able to figure it out down the road. Being open to and having fluency with your feelings—staying in touch with whatever affect accompanies you while you’re going about living your life—is the foundation of building an emotional core. The goal is to be able to feel any emotion any time and travel anywhere in the affective realm.recognizing your stuff/baggage/triggers and what belongs...
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Sufficiency

Eating problems stem, in part, from not knowing what’s enough food to satisfy or what’s enough to weigh. Culture tells us one thing and medical advice tells us another. Then there are the dictums from childhood and pressures from our peer group. The core issue here is recognizing sufficiency, that is, knowing when enough is enough. A sense of sufficiency comes from letting go of external standards and focusing on internal ones. Group think might work in promoting world peace, but idiosyncrasy is where it’s at when it comes to deciding what’s best for you, which means that each individual has to come up with her/his own answers. The fact is, a felt sense of sufficiency is at the root of “normal” eating and developing connection to it will help enormously in improving your relationship with food and your body. As children, we depend on parents to advise us when enough...
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Why Your Brain Shuts Down

We all experience brain freeze at one time or another. But did you know you may be exacerbating the problem by overloading yourself with information, and that cognitive overload makes non-anxious people anxious, and anxious folks even more so? Not what any of us need, and certainly detrimental when making decisions about food. Here’s an example. Ever sit down with a menu—a really large one with a dizzying array of items—and draw a blank on what you want to eat? How much easier when the menu has variety but not so many choices that your head begins to spin. According to a March 7, 2011 NEWSWEEK article entitled “I Can’t Think” by one of my very favorite writers, Sharon Begley, “The booming science of decision making has shown that more information can lead to objectively poorer choices, and to choices that people come to regret.” The problem is that the brain’s...
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Sex and Food

At dinner with friends, a widow made a comment on the connection between sex and food, a subject that’s not often (or openly) discussed. The rest of us perked right up and had quite a chat, and I’m passing on our thoughts—and my musings—to you. The woman who raised the topic, a “normal” eater, said that when she’s dating, she doesn’t focus much on food. Though I don’t know her well, I will say that she’s a passionate person—she loves music, dancing, the arts, decorating. This led to talking about how much intensity women want in our lives—a lot! More to the point, we acknowledged how strongly we yearn for lives of passion, which got me thinking about how women often ignore or tamp down their desires and simply accept their lot. And end up turning to food to ignite whatever spark of joie de vivre is left in them. Then...
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Anxiety May Cover Anger

I’ve noticed that often when clients tell me about situations which generate anxiety in them, I feel angry. Not at them, of course: I’m experiencing the anger they’d be feeling if they weren’t so anxious. Sound puzzling? Read on and I promise it will make sense. To understand this dynamic, let me explain one way that therapists work. We use ourselves as conduits of people’s feelings, that is, when someone would naturally be feeling an emotion, say, anger, and instead intellectualizes it or feels hurt or sad, we end up feeling the unacknowledged, unexpressed feeling. Even if we can’t completely explain the ins and outs of this dynamic, my 30+ years of experience validates it. Of note, many anxiety-filled clients seethe with underlying anger—even if they don’t realize it. Misunderstood and mistreated, they’ve swallowed their needs and authentic emotions and are left with just about the only feeling they find acceptable...
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Vulnerability and Strength

Yet another interesting discussion cropped up on my Food and Feelings message board ( http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings" http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings), this time about vulnerability and strength. You, too, might have concerns about them. If so, read on to learn what these terms mean and how you feel about them. Troubled eaters often confuse emotional vulnerability and strength with physical vulnerability and strength because if there’s been an attack on your physical self, especially when you were powerless to stop it, your natural reaction was fear—and that fear leads to feeling vulnerable from then on. Before you’re fully grown, you are both emotionally and physically vulnerable and weak because your brain and your body are still maturing. A problem occurs, however, when you’ve become physically able to care for yourself as an adult and are strong of body but still feel weak of mind, as if your emotional self hasn’t caught up to your new, more...
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Protecting Your Inner Child

The disordered eater within you is really your inner child that’s doing her best to get by in life—a particularly big job if there was trauma in your past. That’s because the traumatized part of you fears experiencing past pain more than just about anything else in the world. And that part of you will use anything, food or purging, to avoid feeling it. Whatever type of trauma you’ve suffered, you probably have all-too-real memories from the past that belong to an intensely wounded part of you. Trauma can shake your world and turn it upside down, even if you don’t realize exactly why at the time, particularly if it happens at a very young age. Remember, as children we’re pretty much defenseless and dependent on our care-takers. When they violate our trust through abuse and/or neglect, it’s natural to feel helpless and scared. In terror, we take the most adaptive...
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Feeling Overwhelmed

Clients often complain that they feel overwhelmed without really knowing what the word means. What do you actually mean when you say you’re “overwhelmed? More importantly, what can you do to feel better or change the situation? According to the World Book Dictionary, “overwhelm” is a verb that means, 1. “to overcome completely, to crush, 2. to cover completely, as a flood would; 3. to help, treat, or address with an excessive amount of anything.” When clients say they feel overwhelmed, they’re generally referring to the first definition—“overcome completely” or “crushed”—but nothing of the sort is going on. They’re not actually “overcome,” not “crushed.” In fact, they’re still functioning, still putting one food in front of the other, alive and kicking. In the language of definition #2, they’re still keeping their heads above water. In short, “feeling overwhelmed” is an internal perception, not external reality. When you say you’re “overwhelmed,” what...
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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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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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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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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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