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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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Emotions As a Life Raft

Much of my work with clients is around sharing emotions, for they’re as important to recovering from eating problems as is appetite. Sadly, both often have been perceived negatively by disregulated eaters who trust neither their appetite nor their feelings. The good news is that you really can’t improve in one area without improving in the other. This blog is based on a 2007 PARADE Magazine article that I accidentally misplaced and recently discovered, Why Emotion Keeps You Well by Dr. Henry S. Lodge. Fortunately what Lodge has to say remains current and relevant: We may think that emotions affect only our mental health but they strongly impact our physical health as well. Through MRIs and PET scans we are able to observe the trillions of electrical/emotional signals that course through brain and body when we feel emotions, a normal part of being human. Statistics on being open or closed with...

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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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Food and Lack of Love

In the romantic comedy HOPE SPRINGS, a wife, Meryl Streep, is dying to regain the intimacy she and her shut-down husband, Tommy Lee Jones, once had. Although she doesn’t have an emotional eating problem, she reminds me of many women who’ve taken to eating rather than pursuing love or change. All in all, an instructive film. Not to be a spoiler, but Streep drags Jones to couples therapist Steve Carell. How many of you have tried or done that, only to have your partner refuse to go or drop out? Usually, but not always, the woman is the dragger and the man is the drag. If your partner won’t go, don’t give up—go alone. Remember, it takes two to tango: even if you’re not causing the intimacy problems, you can learn what to do about them. Eating is so not the solution. It hurts you and changes nothing. In several scenes...

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Deprivation and Eating

Disregulated eaters often feel deprived when they refrain from eating foods they crave. But are we truly deprived or, as the golden oldie asks, is it just our imaginations? If we’re not actually deprived, why do we persist in having the intense experience that we are—and, moreover, what can we do about it? According to the American Heritage Dictionary, to deprive is “1. To take something away from; dispossess; divest. 2. To keep from the possession or enjoyment of something; deny.” To deprive implies imposing divestiture and denial, someone doing something to you. Who is taking food from you, denying you food or its enjoyment? Deprivation occurs when we’re helpless and have no say—a frequent occurrence in childhood, but rare in adulthood, such as having a fatal disease. As children, we lack power and decisions are imposed upon us. As adults, we simply make choices. We make decisions with the recognition...

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Shame as Your Shadow

While listening to a National Public Radio program about post-traumatic stress disorder, I heard a wonderful description of how to let go of shame. Most disregulated eaters suffer from excessive, unwarranted shame which drives abusive eating and damages self-esteem and quality of life. Learning how to manage shame is a necessary life skill. On the program, a veteran was talking about his war experiences which included not being able to help his buddies who were badly injured or killed. He spoke of the debilitating shame he carried long after his arrival stateside and how it shaped his ability to get on with life, and went on to describe how his therapist helped him move past it with her explanation of shame. My paraphrase of this explanation follows. Shame is like staring at our shadow. We know it’s there, but we don’t need to be constantly looking at it to recall this...

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Feeling Defective

Most of the disregulated eaters I’ve treated over the years have felt seriously defective. This perception of being deeply and permanently flawed often drives dysfunctional eating, weight obsession, anorexia, bulimia—and perfectionism. Truth is, until you recognize and eliminate your erroneous sense of defectiveness, you won’t be able to resolve your eating problems. Letting it go is a major part of healing and recovery. A belief in your lovability and self-worth comes from how you were treated growing up. If you were treated fairly and compassionately, you will value and be fair and compassionate toward yourself. You’ll recognize your faults and try to do better without aiming for an impossible perfection. If you weren’t treated with compassion and respect as a child, it’s easy to grow up to feel unworthy and unlovable, and to come to believe that you are, at core, so defective that no matter what you do, you’ll never...

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Can You Be Too Upbeat

I’m all for not wallowing in misery, looking on the bright side, and being positive and can do—when appropriate. But there’s a downside to being relentlessly upbeat that can cause emotional disconnection. Remember, emotional health means being able to go to anywhere your emotions and those of others take you. There are two ways excess cheerfulness can play out. Say a friend who’s sharing her distress makes you uncomfortable, so you downplay what she’s feeling. She might be revealing a childhood in which she came home from school crying only to find her mother passed out on the living room couch. Or her father’s scary moods that made her hide under the bed. Without realizing it, you might become uncomfortable, keying into your Dad’s constant put downs and yelling or your mom’s narcissism which made you feel that your needs were invisible. Therefore, rather than validate what it must have been...

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Releasing Childhood Shame

If you suffered abuse, neglect or trauma as a child, you still may be carrying around shameful feelings that prevent you from being whole and emotionally healthy in adulthood. Shame’s function is to correct current bad behavior, but feeling it now because bad things were done to you as a child is a burden it’s time to get rid of. Many disregulated eaters grew up in families in which there was a great deal of shame. Of course, as kids, we didn’t think about these things. We just assumed that everyone’s family functioned as ours did and that our parents knew what they’re doing--raising us in ways that were in our best interests. Well, not always. Because they’re human, parents didn’t always realize that many of the childrearing practices they used were not only unhelpful but were dangerously wrong and powerfully hurtful to us. For example, many troubled eaters were raised...

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Developing a Brighter Outlook

We all know that anxiety is a major cause of unwanted eating, but you may not realize exactly what happens when you’re chronically anxious and the type of damage it can do to you. Learning to manage anxiety better will go a long way toward improving your health in general and your food abuse in particular. The hormone cortisol plays a critical role in the stress response—and anxiety is certainly a stressor to both mind and body. When you perceive stress, cortisol rushes in and floods the body to give it energy (a part of the fight or flight response). It also plays a part in suppressing the body’s immune response to infection, reducing inflammation. When cortisone levels remain high due to ongoing stress, the body’s sensitivity to it lessens. Unfortunately, chronic or constant triggering of cortisol leads to more inflammation, which can then produce more disease. In a Harvard School...

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What Do You Really Want?

Unwanted eating means missing out on getting other wants/needs met, so it’s vital to discover what they are and address them. I’ve narrowed down the field to several basic “wants/needs” that disregulated eaters often have when they seek food or obsess about it or weight. Meeting them appropriately will help you become a “normal” eater. When you’re tired, you may turn to food looking for an energy boost. At night you may believe you’ve still got oodles to do before you’re entitled to sleep. Perhaps your energy level takes a dive in the afternoon and you seek a food lift to get through the day. Make sure to get enough rest and sleep and to energize yourself with activity, not food. Another time you might eat is when you need to let go or take a break. Commonly, disregulated eaters push themselves to be productive because they don’t know when enough...

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What Are You Looking for When You’re Not Hungry?

On the saddest things about eating when you’re not hungry is that you’re missing out on meeting a valid need. Food is primarily for fuel, so if you’re not in need of nutrients, eating is not an appropriate response. Figuring out what you want that isn’t food will make your life happier and reduce the amount of unwanted eating you do. Emotional eaters misuse food in various ways. Do you eat to distract from feelings? Often you expect to be upset because of something that happened and therefore eat to prevent internal distress. The fact is you might really be fine with the feeling, but in the past you’ve found a particular emotion, say, loneliness or rejection, difficult, so you eat prophylactically. Or, you may already be upset and eat to minimize feelings. You might be afraid that if you hurt intensely, you’ll never stop or that emotional pain will make...

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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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What Makes Us Happy?

Think you know what makes people feel happy and enjoy life? Weight loss or becoming wealthy don’t cut it. Conclusions in a Parade Magazine article (“Sunny Side Up” by Colleen Oakley, 7/31/11) might surprise you. Some highlights. According to University of Denver researchers, folks who highly value happiness have, “on average, 17 more symptoms of depression than those who don’t.” Seems backwards, huh? Not really. Happiness is like self-trust, self-esteem, and feeling deserving: when you have these qualities, you rarely think about them. Happy people take their outlook for granted. They don’t value it less than unhappy people do; it’s simply a given. Unhappy people are the ones who think about and strive for happiness! Another interesting factoid is the conclusion that “happiness is about 50% genetic, 10% influenced by life circumstances, and 40% influenced by how you think and act every day.” Heredity can set us up for seeing the...

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The Concept of Having a Relationship with Food

I probably use the words “our relationship with food” at least once a day working with clients, posting on my message board, or in my writings, but I never stopped to think about the meaning of the phrase until a HYPERLINK "http://group.yahoo.com/groups/foodandfeelings" Food and Feelings message board member shared her thoughts on their usage. What exactly do we mean when we say we have a relationship with food? The WORLD BOOK DICTIONARY defines relationship as “a connection; the state or condition that exists between people or groups that deal with one an another.” The AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY says it’s “the condition or fact of being related.” What does that mean regarding food? Is food something we have a real relationship with or is the concept simply invented and culturally accepted? Let’s remember that the sole evolutionary purpose of food is to nourish and keep us alive. The fact that food tastes...

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Resentment Barriers to Recovery

Not only is resentment an unpleasant feeling, but it’s often a sure-fire barrier to recovery from eating problems. How full of resentments are you? Can you see how being stuck in this emotion prevents you from making progress in healing your relationship with food? Here’s my take on how you’ll benefit from chucking your resentments. Disregulated eaters often become enraged at feeling stuck with an eating disorder. It’s not fair, they insist. Why should I have to deal with these problems, they ask. They are seething with anger and I can’t say I blame them. What we have to deal with in life emotionally is very much the luck (or lack thereof) of the draw. However, being consumed with rage about what happened to you decades ago or about your biology make the situation worse. Sure, we’re entitled to be angry at the unfairness of it all. The more relevant question...

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Why We Think and Act Irrationally

I hear this question at least once a week, sometimes as often as once a day: I really want to become a “normal” eater, so why do I keep doing things which are not remotely in my long-term best interest around food? While reading an article in AARP magazine (1/12) on spending practices, I found some enlightening, helpful explanations that answer this question. In Test Your Money Instincts, Michaela Cavallaro explains a few things about why we manage our money poorly. First, she reminds us that because of the way our brains work, we tend to “choose immediate gratification over larger long-term payoffs, and we rationalize our behavior by telling ourselves we’ll do better tomorrow.” How many times, while eating when you’re not hungry, have you sworn your behavior is just for now and that you’ll mend your ways tomorrow? Probably more times than you can remember. A key reason we...

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Truth versus Our Stories

One major hurdle for disregulated eaters who’ve struggled with food for a long time is believing in recovery. Perhaps you believe there’s a truth that says you won’t or can’t have a positive relationship with food and eat “normally.” What you don’t realize is that this so-called truth is only a story that you tell yourself over and over. Not a week goes by in which a client or message board member ( HYPERLINK "http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings" http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings) doesn’t say something like, “I’m impulsive,” “I just can’t do this,” “It’s too hard,” or “I’ll never be a “normal” eater.” When I question how they know this with such certainty, they point to previous behavior. Then I point out that what’s going on is circular reasoning: perhaps they’ve had problems with food because they keep telling themselves they do. They then generally argue that their point of view is right or “the truth.” I...

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Life, Not Drama

I was having lunch with a friend who is also a therapist a while back. We shared professional chit chat, but mostly we talked about how are our private lives were going—the latest developments in some ongoing family situations and how we were bearing up. She really got my attention when she said quite casually, “I wish clients saw the ups and downs of life as just that, rather than as exceptional high drama.” How true, I thought, how could our lives be any other way. Life would not be life if it didn’t have ups and downs—a health problem, a house or car that needs fixing, tension with neighbors, family dissent, conflicts at work, or a kerfuffle among friends. There are two ways to look at these events. Either you assume that this makes up the meat and potatoes of life, the way it will pretty much always be because...

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Happiness and Eating

“The happiness of pursuit” by Jeffrey Kluger (TIME MAGAZINE, 7/8-15/13) is not about eating per se, but started me musing about food and our often driven pursuit of it. The article describes how Americans tap into the “happiness industry.” Two relevant ways are “‘pills’ (the TIME poll found that 25% of American women and 5% of men say they are taking antidepressants) and ‘food’(48% of women and 44% of men admit to eating to improve their mood).” Almost half the country engages in emotional eating! Most of you know that neurotransmitters manage our moods. Kluger tells us, “Serotonin and dopamine are often, simplistically, thought of as feel-good neurotransmitters.” He goes on to explain that, for certain people (in the article, he’s talking about the behavior of immigrants), “the power of the chemicals is that they regulate what researchers straightforwardly call search activity—forward-looking behavior that often occurs in pursuit of a specific...

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