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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More on Rebellion

Can I ever say enough about how misguided rebellion shapes our eating in self-destructive ways? Too many dysregulated eaters consider a rebellious attitude an attribute and are proud of their defiance and stubbornness. Flaunting the norm may promote entrepreneurship or creativity, but it has no place in the eating arena. Au contraire, it’s one of the major causes of unwanted eating. We become rebellious through trying to assert our independence from our parents or care-takers. Rebellion is appropriate, a pre-requisite for separation and authentic autonomy. We often have to work very hard to not be like our parents and not live under their thumbs in order to form individualistic personalities. The harder you had to fight rigid, controlling, manipulative parents to become independent, the more likely it is that today you’re still stuck in battle mode. Rebellion was an adaptive strategy back then to forge your own spirit. However, true separation...
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Self-love and Acceptance

I’ve been thinking about love. Not romantic love. Self-love. I hate to sound simplistic, but if we love something, we lavish caring on it and if we don’t, well, we it neglect or misuse it. Of course, there are gradients between treating yourself well and poorly, but if you love yourself wholeheartedly, you can’t continue to have a destructive relationship with food because self-love and self-trashing are mutually exclusive. Both conditional and unconditional love have evolutionary underpinnings. Because infants and children are not always likeable, the love we feel for them must be unconditional so that we’ll care for them and keep the species trucking. Alternately, adults need to be shaped in order to live in society—humane qualities need to be reinforced and inhumane ones extinguished—so the love we feel for each other is conditional. To be emotionally healthy, self-love needs to be so ingrained, so much a given, that we...
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Shame-Shifting Behavior

In the scary world of the supernatural, shape-shifters are entities which transform themselves from one thing to another. Shame can circle through life the same way: as soon as you get one aspect of self under control and start to feel proud, up pops another behavior that generates shame and brings you down. Shame-shifting won’t stop until you recognize that shame manifests what you basically feel/think about yourself. Shame is the zinger that warns us we may have done something wrong, bad or hurtful. If we experience that zing and consider that what we did was indeed inappropriate or uncalled for, shame is doing its work to prevent us from acting in a like manner again. In a healthy person who believes she is good at core, perfectly imperfect and of value, this conditioning (like rats getting zapped to deter specific behavior) works effectively. She refrains from repeating transgressions to avoid...
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Regulating Anger

Some time ago I was talking with a client about her tendency to sit on her anger until it ignites like fireworks. Difficulty with anger is another aspect of disregulation which people with eating problems often have, a manifestation of ineffective emotional management and acting in extremes. Learning to express anger appropriately takes practice, but it can make an amazing difference in your life. The extremes of cutting off angry feelings or letting them rip are learned in childhood. It’s not even always a question of suppressing anger; some people don’t even realize when they’re furious. Maybe you had a parent who stuffed her feelings or one who never thought twice about blowing his top. Or did your parent go from silence and withdrawal when hurt to uncontrollable outbursts? If these were your role models, you’re following in unhealthy footsteps. Lacking appropriate skills, not only could your folks not help you...
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React or Respond

Although it’s not all you have, the moment is where the work is at regarding changing thoughts about and behaviors around eating. Hopefully, you’re engaged in ongoing information gathering about food, yourself, and the world to influences your choices at any given time and continually assessing whether you’ve been staying on course or straying from it. Even so, what you choose to do in the moment is what counts most. Two postings last month on my Food and Feelings Message board HYPERLINK "http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings" http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings got me thinking about ways to ensure that we make effective decisions. One comment described the difference between reacting and responding. To paraphrase, the commenter described reacting as taking action from the emotional part of the brain and responding as taking action based on higher order think, ie, from our cognitive abilities. Impulsively refusing or accepting food without thinking is reacting. Deliberating about choices, reflecting about what...
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Gratitude versus Appreciation

The concept of gratitude is much in vogue, but it doesn’t sit right with me. I hear clients express how grateful they are for good things that happen to them. In fact, many feel gratitude for practically everything positive that comes their way. The dictionary defines gratitude as, “A kindly feeling because of a favor received, ”and favor as, “A kindness.” Nothing hinky there, but I’m left feeling that the word has come to mean getting something you’re not completely sure you deserve. Although there’s much to be said for humility, gratitude comes from a different internal place, and I’ve recently found myself suggesting that clients try feeling appreciative instead of grateful. Okay, maybe I’m reading too much into the word. Here’s why: the people who use it most are the same ones who have low self-esteem, struggle to feel worthy, don’t believe they deserve much in life, and suffer a...
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Crying

I can’t believe I haven’t blogged about crying. Such an important, misunderstood, under-rated function. Crying, what a hot button for young and old, men and women. The word itself might make you want to stop reading this minute and go change the cat litter or get a jump on doing your taxes. Crying has that kind of power. Too bad it’s gotten such a bum rap when it’s just the activity that might stop you from abusing food. A good amount of crying goes on in therapy. Some clients walk into my office and burst into tears and my work is to teach them to understand and modulate their feelings. Or they don’t cry at all or enough and my job is to help them understand why and let loose the tears. Either way, I end up explaining the benefits and necessity of crying. Like feelings, most people think of tears...
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More on Shame

Can I ever say enough about shame and how damaging it is to a sense of self? Discussion on my message board HYPERLINK "http://www.groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings" http://www.groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelingsoften comes back to body hatred and how to let go of negative feelings about overweight. This is a tough nut to crack. You can’t sit around and wait for body shame to fly away. You have to be proactive and nudge it out the door a bit at a time. First, however, you have to understand where it comes from and what purpose it serves. When we’re children, our parents use shame to modify our behavior. Sometimes they’re simply mean and cruel, but more often, their wrongheadedness is well intended. They ridicule and humiliate us to ensure that we become “good people” in their eyes. They act this way because they’re shame-based individuals who were brought up to believe that if a little shame motivates, more...
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Despair versus Overdoing

In the ongoing struggle eaters have with disregulation, few issues loom larger than sustaining motivation and effort. This happens in many areas: You regularly under- or overdo, bounce back and forth between one extreme and the other and, more often than not, end up where you started. Ever wonder why? For example, a client and I are discussing her going to the gym or speaking up to a spouse or setting limits with her child, and she tells me how she used to hit the gym every day, then stopped going completely; how she sits on her feelings about her spouse until they erupt; how disciplining her children makes her feel so mean and hurtful that she doesn’t do it. I watch as clients rush headlong into activities, then give up or withdraw. My job is to provide enlightenment about what’s happening psychologically/emotionally so they can make real, incremental progress. What’s...
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Right and Wrong Motivations

Often my understanding of the complicated dynamics of eating and weight grows out of my work with clients. I’m usually a step ahead of them, but not always. Sometimes I’m stumped until together we come up with answers that explain a client’s chronic self-harming behavior. This happened recently when I realized why certain unhealthy motivations for losing weight don’t work in the long run and, in fact, hinder progress. As a disregulated eater, you may put on weight until you’re disgusted with yourself and vow to slim down and start doing the “right” things—making nutritious food choices, exercising regularly, following the rules of “normal” eating, and staying conscious about food without obsessing about it. Using disgust as a motivator, you’re on a roll for a few weeks or months, even years until slowly, gradually, you stop engaging in healthy behaviors—you eat past full a few times, skip the gym for a...
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Looking Beyond Anxiety

When anxiety strikes, it may feel natural to get caught up in the “what ifs” of the future. Unfortunately, those “what ifs” can also drive you to eat or distract yourself with obsessing about food and weight. Rather than abuse food to deal with your angst, why not learn an easy technique called leap-frogging that will calm you down and help you sail through difficult circumstances which ordinarily might upset you. Generally, when you’re anxious, it’s because you’re concentrating on the event—a job interview, a visit from a difficult relative, or an upcoming colonoscopy. The more you think about the situation, the more anxious you get. You engage in this imagining or event rehearsal in an attempt to feel better, but end up feeling worse. That’s because you’re putting energy into the wrong aspect of the future. Instead of focusing on the event, which escalates anxiety, visualize how you’re going to...
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The Down Side of the Up Side

I sometimes run into delightful clients who are always straining to look on the bright side of life. They’re upbeat, positive, and prefer to see the good rather than the bad in people and situations. They’re the opposite of gloom and doomers who are certain to find the one cloud in an otherwise blue sky. Although you might think that being upbeat and seeing the good while ignoring the bad is a great way to be, it’s not. Both perspectives have pluses and minuses, but neither is a healthy way to be all the time. Disregarding what’s negative can be as unhealthy as discounting what’s positive because it creates stress, and stress can lead to abusing food. Here are two examples. Suppose you meet a person who’s often rude, controlling, and critical of you. You might like the fact that this person is intellectually gifted, has a wry sense of humor,...
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The Wild Child

In a previous blog I used the term “wild child” to refer to the part of us that eats or has the urge to eat in an unruly way. A member of my Food and Feelings message board http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings commented on the term and I’ve been thinking about this “wild child” ever since. If you’re a habitual undereater or overeater (or both), there’s a wild child within you who needs to be understood and cared for. For the chronic undereater, the wild child is the aspect of self you fear will break out and make you fat. She’s the one you’d like to lock in a cage or beat the daylights out of. You see her as the enemy, the part that must be purged from you (sometimes literally). For the overeater, the wild child is the one who runs your eating show—rebelliously flinging open kitchen cabinets, mindlessly grabbing whatever she...
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When Things Don’t Work Out

I had a recent conversation with a client about her general fearfulness about “things not working out” and how she spends her life trying to prevent bad stuff from happening to herself and her family. This is a common anxiety among dysregulated eaters, especially those with troubled childhoods. Lacking an internal conviction that they can handle whatever comes their way, they instead focus on controlling externals, ie, manipulating situations to assure themselves that no harm will befall them and that they’ll be all right. You may recognize these thoughts—I couldn’t bear losing a child, I’ll fall apart when Mom or Dad dies, I can’t stand thinking about getting a fatal disease, I’d be lost without my husband/wife/partner, What if this, what if that. If you repeatedly tell yourself that you won’t be okay, you program yourself to not be. However, if you know—deep in your heart with a fierce certainty—that you’ll...
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Fear versus Self-loathing

Last week I was talking with a client about her sometimes poor self care, specifically an apparent lack of fear regarding negative consequences around food and health areas. Surprisingly, she reported feeling no fear of harmful consequences when she’s about to eat unhealthy food when she’s not even hungry, is “too lazy” to floss her teeth, or fails to sunscreen up though she’s had skin cancer. What she does feel is “self-loathing” because she’s not doing what she should. I got to wondering how many of you have a compromised fear response: not feeling or using fear to assess consequences before making choices, and, instead, berating yourself for not caring for yourself. Used appropriately, fear is a healthy, adaptive, survival-necessary response to potential or imagined emotional or physical threat to self. An automatic reaction, it occurs when we believe something bad might happen to us. However, if you spent childhood chronically...
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Control Issues

Eating problems are about nothing if not control. Exerting too much control around food leads to desires bursting out which causes us to clamp down again—and round and round we go. Rather than micro-manage food intake or let loose completely, “normal” eaters focus on regulation. Regulation connotes flexibility and an appropriate response to internal and external forces to regain balance. Sure “normal” eaters occasionally cut back on food or go overboard, but the thought doesn’t lodge into a permanent attitude. Control is a major issue for us all: around safety, security, happiness, success, etc. These issues go way back to childhood. If yours had a great deal of unpredictability and chaos from abuse, neglect, arbitrariness and unfairness, abandonment, etc., you may try to avoid feeling helpless because it sends you into despair. Having little or no control in childhood over basic needs—including love, affection, and attention—creates adults who either give up...
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Resentment

Some folks readily do what’s advised to help them recover (from anything) without much flak and fuss. They feel cared for rather than lectured to when a doctor suggests they exercise, enlightened rather than annoyed reading an article on the dangers of fried foods, grateful rather than coerced when a therapist recommends that they join an emotional eating support group. Lacking a negative reaction, they take advantage of new ideas and at least try what’s advised. Do you? Or do you feel resentful? Chronic resentment is a serious road block to “normal” eating and emotional health. Are you someone who resents the hard work you have to do to reach your eating goals? Do you act as if tried-and-true suggestions offered by professionals are for everyone but you? Do you ignore or try to find a way around them? If so, you’re bound to stay stuck in your eating problems until...
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Being Bad

“Being bad” is an attitude that runs rampant in eating situations and is bound to get you into a heap of trouble. The behavior is so common and accepted that you might not realize its destructiveness and that it lies at the heart of acting out and self-sabotage. This kind of immature rebellion—using “being bad” to feel good—arises in all sorts of realms: shopping, money, work, chores, and living by rules in general. The attitude is summed up in the words, “I’m being bad” accompanying behavior that flaunts rules or principles or any perceived set of “shoulds.” Such as...Although your bank balance is low, you buy that new cell phone because of its bells and whistles, and while forking over the plastic smirk and think, “I’m so bad.” Angry at your boss, you sneak an extra 15 minutes on your lunch break as, “I’m being bad, but so what?” flashes across...
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Opening Up and Letting Go

Here’s a powerful quote, “There is no controlling life. Try corralling a lightning bolt. Dam a stream and it will create a new channel. Resist, and the tide will sweep you off your feet. Allow and grace will carry you to a higher ground. The only safety lies in letting it all in...the wild with the weak; fear fantasies, failures and successes. When loss rips off the doors of the heart, or sadness veils your vision with despair, practice becomes simply bearing the truth. In the choice to let go of your own way of being, the whole world is revealed to your new eyes." (From Allow by Danna Faulds). This quote is so enlightening, it bears a second reading, so read it again, slowly this time, and notice how it speaks you. What images or memories come to mind? What emotions surface? What is your most vivid experience of trying...
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Mind Like Water

Here’s something to chew on, the phrase “mind like water,“ a Zen concept. Understanding this metaphor and practicing its message is a useful approach for those of you who abuse food when you get anxious. Think of it as another tool in your toolbox. “Mind like water” means letting your mind react to life’s problems as if it were water. When thrown into water, large objects, say a boulder or even a person diving into a pool, make a big splash. The bigger the object, the larger the displacement of water, the greater the number of ripples, and the longer the water’s surface takes to return to placid. On the other hand, if an insect lands on water, there are only a few tiny ripples, and the water becalms calm again quite quickly. The point is that there’s a clear, logical, noticeable correlation between the size of an object and its...
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