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]

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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What Can’t You Bear?

I hear clients say, “I can’t bear to think about it” or “I couldn’t bear to do that,” but I don’t always know what the word means. Will they fall down dead, emulsify on the spot, go catatonic? When you think or say those words to yourself, what exactly is it that you fear will happen? The fact is, telling yourself that you can’t bear something makes it more than likely that you won’t be able to. Conversely, reminding yourself that you’re capable of bearing anything that comes your way ensures that you’ll be able to ride it through. When we say we can’t bear something, we seem to believe two things—that something will make us exceedingly uncomfortable and that this feeling of discomfort will cause us to become dysfunctional in part or whole. Sometimes we think we’ll become so anxious that we’ll need sedation or so depressed that we won’t...
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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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Fear of Failure or Fear of Success?

When I started out as a therapist, I didn’t think much about what we call “fear of success.” I believed that the underlying problem—the real fear—was of failure. Now, thanks to the numerous clients who have educated me about their issues, I understand that people also suffer from a bona fide fear of success, a fear that is common among people with eating problems. As a disregulated eater, it’s crucial that you recognize and deal with the fact that you actually might be afraid of achieving recovery. Success and failure are natural occurrences. Success is, of course, more desirable, but each state is part of life. It’s a no-brainer why people fear failure. When we fail, we may feel ashamed and inadequate, and our self-esteem may plummet. We’ve all failed in minor and major undertakings and most of us never would choose failure over success. There are people, however, who are...
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Structure versus Freedom

A problem that crops up frequently with clients is what I call the desires for structure versus freedom. You know, you love the idea of following a plan, having routine in your life, and establishing goals. That is, you love them initially, until somewhere down the line, you stop loving these things and, instead, find them annoying, confining, and overwhelming. You chafe at the rules and rigidity, quit following the plan, and give up on the goals. Then sooner or later you yearn for them again—and round and round it goes. If you engage in this self-sabotaging pattern, it’s time to figure out what’s going on. The first thing to observe is if this is a pattern in your whole life—you do it with the gym, food, not watching so much TV, or staying organized. That is, you make promises to yourself about the way you will be and get psyched...
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Are You A Rebel Without A Cause?

I spend a good deal of therapy time talking with clients about being stuck in rebellion. Not adolescents, but adults—people in their 40s, 50s and 60s who are still wasting precious time and energy fighting imaginary powers that be. Mind you, our discussions aren’t about them getting out and protesting for civic or global causes. They’re about how they continue to rebel against “authority” and “shoulds” in the food and other arenas and how this behavior, more than any other, keeps them stuck in overeating. Let me be frank: If you want to become a “normal” eater, you have to/must/need to ditch your rebellious attitude. Got to do it. Unless you’re living with someone who is trying to control your eating (and, why, as an adult with free choice, would you choose to live with this kind of person?), your thoughts of, “He can’t make me eat healthy,” “I’ll show her,...
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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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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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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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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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Spirituality -- Or Not

An interesting discussion went on a while ago on my Food and Feelings message board (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings) regarding the role of spirituality in helping people change their relationship with food and their bodies. Obviously, change can happen with or without being a spiritual person. I’ve seen amazing transformations by folks who are highly religious and those who are total non-believers. What’s important is for you to identify and utilize what works for you. The dictionary definition of spirituality is, “devotion to spiritual things instead of worldly things,” with spiritual defined as “having something to do with the spirit or soul.” People who are spiritual usually think of themselves as having a part of themselves that is not physical, a divine soul or essence. They may look for a “greater” meaning or purpose in life and see themselves as guided by and in the hands of God or a higher power. They might use prayer...
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Fear of Failure

I was talking to a phone client about her stuckness and she admitted that behind it is a giant fear of failure. You, too, may believe that your history is your future, especially if you’ve struggled with food for decades and gained and lost weight repeatedly. Dread of once again not achieving or maintaining your goals may keep you from pursuing them. Fear of failure stems from experience. You’ve tried and never gotten very far with “normal” eating or have shed pounds only to see them creep back on. When this has happened, you’ve been ashamed of your inability to maintain a healthy weight or of the fact that you’re still struggling to have a positive relationship with food after all these decades. You don’t want to get your hopes up (again), don’t want to put all that energy into thinking you dreams might come true (again), don’t want to face...
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Forgiving versus Forgetting

Forgiveness can be tricky business. Societal messages encourage us to forgive so that we can move on. Plus, we know in our hearts how painful it is to nurture a grudge. Although being unforgiving of others hurts us, so too can the automatic reaction of wiping the slate clean prematurely. Forgiveness is a nuanced subject, not an all-or-nothing affair, whether we’re talking about our own transgressions or those done to us. Why forgive? Because it hurts to harbor painful feelings against ourselves and other people, because we can get stuck in rumination, vengeful thoughts, and I-should-have- said-this and why-didn’t-I-do-that. A major reason forgiveness is troublesome is that we often couple it with forgetting, disappearing a distressing occurrence as if it never happened. We wonder: If I pardon myself for eating too little or too much food, how will I remember to eat right? Don’t I need a constant reminder of the...
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To Cry or Not to Cry?

Some people may think that tears are what healing and therapy are all about, but that’s not necessarily true. I see two types of clients: those who cry easily and those for whom shedding a tear is like pulling teeth. Both sets suffer from emotional management problems, and my goal is to help each move toward a healthier middle ground. Some clients begin to cry the minute they sit down on my office couch. Either they’ve been holding in tears until they see me or they’ve been on crying jags throughout the day (or week) and can’t get a grip. Others let loose the minute we touch on painful subjects such as childhood abuse, the death a loved one, frustration with their weight, or family or work problems. They complain about lacking control over when and where they cry: the tears just come unbidden. Most end up feeling ashamed, out of...
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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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