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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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Ying and Yang

As a dysregulated eater, you be convinced that instead of eating one way, you’ll recover by doing its opposite. So, instead of eating impulsively, you straight-jacket yourself with perfect self-discipline. Or instead of being hyper-vigilant around food, you make no judgments at all. Both extremes are based on compulsivity and rigidity, which are antithetical to “normal” eating. Flip flopping is not growth: instead of undergoing authentic change, you’re simply bouncing from one end of the spectrum to another. Eating problems are exacerbated by trying to be one way or another. Both endpoints boil down to the same fears about food and a similar lack of self-trust and body confidence. Although some people never move out of overeating or undereating, many yo-yo back and forth between the two. Of course, the chronic nay sayer might be “acceptably” thin in this culture so that her eating habits are positively reinforced, while the habitual...
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On Giving Up Perfect

We don’t start out life trying to be perfect. Sure, we have an innate need to perform well and correctly to please parents or caretakers; yes, we enjoy the feeling of competence when we win, complete tasks, and things turns out just right. That feeling is called pride. It can be thrilling and intoxicating to come up with an elegant solution to a difficult problem; doing something to perfection can bring enormous satisfaction and appreciation of self. However, fairly early on, we learn that we can’t do everything just so. Consider a child painstakingly building a tower of blocks and carefully putting the last block on top only to have the entire structure come tumbling down. Or think about the process of learning to walk. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if we could pull ourselves up that very first time, take a few steps, and keep going without falling down? It might...
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What to Do with Feelings

A comment on one of my previous blogs raised a good question: Once you know what you’re feeling, what are your options? Unfortunately, there’s no magic or singular way to handle them. Being human is very trying, in part, because of our need to deal with painful emotions. There’s only trial-and-error and some general wisdoms to guide us. Of course, you already know that eating or obsessing about food won’t help you in the long run. That said, on to effective alternatives. When you’re slammed with emotions, you can choose from two basic reactions—either change yourself or your situation. Of course, many circumstances require that you do both. When there’s absolutely nothing you can do to alter what’s going on, you’re stuck with changing yourself, which generally means modulating feelings. This does not mean denying or minimizing them, but placing them into rational perspective and reducing their intensity so that you...
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Emotional Undercurrents

We live in a larger-than-life culture—over-the-top celebrities, high drama on the big or small screen, and screaming headlines. All this excess may make you think that emotions, too, must be huge and pack a wallop to merit attention. Not true. It’s not always the mega stars that shanghai you into abusing food; sometimes it’s the minor characters that lurk right your proverbial nose. In fact, if you’re constantly searching for emotional divas like dread, rage, jealousy, intense shame or the like, you may be missing out on some mighty important bit players playing around with your heart. The best way to interact with emotions is to keep a loose, running tab on them. Stay closely tuned to your emotional channel 24/7, then turn up the volume when you feel some static. Your emotions are as accessible and as identifiable as your thoughts if you remain aware of what you’re feeling on...
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When Feeling Deprived Makes You Depraved

Narry a week goes by when I don’t hear a mention from clients or students about feeing deprived around food: they didn’t eat something they wanted and spent the rest of the day angry and resentful or, fearing they’d feel deprived, they caved in and ate when they weren’t hungry. Concerns about deprivation run rampant through struggles to eat “normally.” Or they fought feeling deprived by pretending they didn’t care about the food in the first place. Feeling deprived around food is generally about far more than eating. However, sometimes it does come from a childhood in which you were often hungry or had little food choice. Maybe your family couldn’t afford large amounts of food or lacked the time or resources to vary meals very much. Fewer choices (or none at all) may have left you feeling deprived of options and perhaps nutrients as well. Or maybe family members were...
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Quiet Place Inside

Do you know what makes you afraid to stop and feel? Dollars to donuts, whatever it is, you’ll be able to tolerate it. As children, we really do get easily overwhelmed with emotions and they rightfully terrify us. We don’t have the brain mechanics to handle emotional intensity. For the most part, as adults, what we feel is pain with much less terror. The irony about abusing food to avoid emotional hurt is that by tolerating the pain, you avoid future pain—recriminations which follow food abuse. You’re also listening to your heart to find out what you really need. When I ask clients and students to sit quietly to see what comes up, they often look at me as if I’ve spoken in tongues. Be still? Maybe their parents were in ongoing emotional chaos or walled off their emotions, so they have no idea how to be still. Perhaps they learned...
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Opaque versus Transparent

If you have difficulty regularly regulating your food intake, you probably have problems with the flow of your emotions as well. The goal is to become so emotionally flexible that you know, as the song says, when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. That doesn’t mean becoming perfect at handling emotions, just that, for the most part, you’ll be able to appropriately let go of or contain intense affect depending on what’s necessary. I think of people who don’t show feelings as opaque. They cut off emotions so quickly that they barely and rarely feel them. No matter what angle you use to try and connect with them, no feelings shine through. They are often cerebral and intellectual people or such busy bees that they (intentionally) never have time to stop and feel. At the opposite end of the spectrum are people I think of as emotionally transparent. You...
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Thawing Your Feelings

Emotions are meant to be felt and valued. When they’re not encouraged, validated, supported and understood, we think they’re bad and that we’re bad/wrong to have them. We learn to conform to the family value: don’t think it, don’t say it, don’t feel it. If your parents or primary caretakers frequently demeaned, ignored, humiliated, invalidated, teased, or in any way squashed your feelings, you adapted by numbing out emotionally. Witnessing others suffer as a child can also induce a deadening reaction. Emotionally overwhelmed and lacking the internal resources to manage your pain, you tried not to feel hurt, pretended not to care, and covered your feelings so well that no one knew you had them (even you!). Eventually those feelings became stuck or frozen in time and you adapted to feeling as little as possible. Emotional numbness may have been a conscious goal, but more likely it was a state that...
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Information Overload

I happened to read the results of a recent Harvard University Medical School/McLean Psychiatric Hospital study on eating disorders as well as an article by Michael Pollan entitled “Unhappy Meals” on the same day that a bunch of my husband’s health and nutrition newsletters arrived. The Massachusetts study announced real news (to anyone not in the field of eating disorders, that is)—that binge-eating disorder is the biggest eating disorder in the U.S.; the Pollan article made the refreshing point that, among other things, we’ve become a nation fixated on nutrients rather than food and pleasurable eating. The health and nutrition newsletters, however, contained the same ole same ole: eat your fruits, vegetables and whole grains and nix the fats and sugars. It occurred to me, not for the first time, that while we’re bombarded with health and nutrition information daily, Americans are getting fatter and sicker as their relationship with food...
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Understanding Your Anger About Food

You may not realize how angry you are when it comes to food and eating. Although your feelings may be justified, they could be preventing you from becoming a “normal” eater. When you’re stressed or upset and insist that you deserve to eat, your struggle is with deservedness, not food. You’re fighting old battles when you adamantly maintain, “No one can tell me what I should or shouldn’t eat.” You’re stuck in old wounds when you declare, “I shouldn’t eat such and such” or “I know I should eat because I’m hungry” but don’t follow through. What are you really fighting for or against? Perhaps, as a child, one or both of your parents—intentionally or unintentionally, overtly or covertly—tried to control your natural, normal food choices to the extent that it made you angry, but you couldn’t do much about it because you were dependent on them. Instead, to please them...
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Shame

In my counseling and workshops, I’m continually saddened by how much shame people with eating problems heap on themselves. No matter how fabulous, talented, bright, and caring they are, the fact that they don’t manage food well colors their entire view of their personality and achievements. I’m not even sure that people who are addicted to gambling, alcohol, or drugs feel such pervasive, corrosive, debilitating shame. Think about it: do you really need a self-trashing disorder on top of an eating disorder? You’ve gotten into the destructive habit of coming down hard on yourself when you act out with food, but you can change what you think and say to yourself. After all, if shame were going to do the trick and end your food problems, wouldn’t it have don’t it by now? What exactly makes you so ashamed? Right now you’re stuck with eating issues, but you are not stuck...
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Stop and Feel

Most of us have no idea that we can actually control what we’re afraid of, that is, we can decide which responses are appropriate to a situation and which are not. Many dysregulated eaters suffer from anxiety and negativity, and changing their response to fear is helps enormously to increase their quality of life and relationship with food. Toward that end, I’d like to pass on to you a strategy put forth by my friend Ernie, a retired psychology professor. Here’s what he says to do the next time you’re in a situation in which you feel anxiety. Once you recognize that you feel anxious, “STOP—and do nothing for 10 seconds except look and listen.” Move from feeling to observing. Ernie uses the example of walking into a room and thinking that everyone is staring at you and recommends using 10 seconds to carefully observe what you see and hear. He...
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