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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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Life’s Non-negotiables

Disregulated eaters do best when they have some, but not too much, structure. We all need a certain amount of routine, and discovering what is absolutely necessary and what you can do without will help you feel more stable, centered and satisfied. Toward that end, it pays to know what activities or behaviors are non-negotiable in your life, that is, which ones are so crucial to your well-being that you refuse to live without them. Here are some things that are non-negotiable to people: finding a date or mate who loves nature or staying active, attending parent-teacher conferences or a child’s school performances, making dinner for the family every night and eating together, getting a good night sleep every night, visiting Mom in the nursing home weekly, eating a healthy breakfast, leaving work at five o’clock sharp, or cleaning the house weekly. When something is non-negotiable, you don’t sit around debating...

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Need and Greed

I got to thinking about greed, need and eating while reading a novel in which a psychologist character explains to a patient, “Of course, you were greedy. You were a child, you’re supposed to be greedy. Parents are there to fill your needs. That’s the whole point of parents.” Do you have difficulty differentiating need and greed when it comes to food and other things in life? Do you understand why that is? According to the dictionary, greed is excessive wanting, a wish for more than your share and what you deserve. Children, especially very young ones, can’t possibly know what they deserve or require. When we’re young, we’re a bundle of desires—for hugs, food, attention, comfort, toys, help, and information. We want what we want and are run by our primitive brain, lacking a more mature brain component to help us filter our desires. As the psychologist in the novel...

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Mood and Unhealthy Foods

Although some disregulated eaters head toward food when they’re in a good mood, most emotional eating is done when we feel crummy. If you think that eating unhealthy food makes you feel better, think again. Research says it ain’t necessarily so. Penn State researchers did a small study on 131 women to assess their moods before and after eating unhealthy foods, those high in salt, sugar, and saturated fat (Tufts Health and Nutrition Newsletter, 6/13, v. 31 #4). Their results: “If the women were in a bad mood” before they ate unhealthy food, eating made them feel even worse. Those who were in a good mood before eating bad food (“bad” is the study’s word, not mine), however, reported little change in their emotional state. Okay, this is one small experiment that leaves us with lots of questions, too many for generalizing. The subjects were only 131 random women who did...

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Why Focus on the Past

We all talk about “the past,” whether we’re reminiscing about events that happened decades ago or relating an incident that occurred yesterday. I have no quarrel with talking about what has already happened—as long as you know why you’re doing it. Too often, however, I hear discussions about childhoods and personal history that make me wonder what their purpose is. Why do you talk about “the past”? Sometimes we look to our history to fondly remember people, places, and events, intentionally recalling our graduation from college, a big date, home-coming of a new puppy, a child’s first word, or a visit to Paris. This life-enhancing activity can make you feel warm and fuzzy all over. Other times we consciously turn to memory for information—the name of that guy who was such a great dancer, the date of our last dental appointment, that funny saying of grandma’s. To recall information is also...

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Loneliness and Eating

Because I enjoy being validated as much as the next person, I was gratified to read Jane Brody’s column, “Loneliness can change your health for the worse” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 5/21/13) which describes the connection between feeling lonely and reaching for food. Understanding the connection will help you break it, so read on. Brody, a recovered emotional eater, quotes psychologist John T. Cacioppo, co-author of the book, LONELINESS: “Loneliness undermines people’s ability to self-regulate.” If you’ve read my blogs and books about disregulation and self-regulation, you’ll understand what’s happening. When we’re in emotional distress, our bio-chemistry goes into disequilibrium, and we may turn to the chemicals in food to re-regulate it. Cacioppo points to one experiment in which participants who were “made to feel socially disconnected ate many more cookies than those made to feel socially accepted,” and another in which people scoring high in loneliness “ate substantially more fatty foods than...

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Current versus Memory-Triggered Emotions

Clients sometimes get confused when I encourage them to experience all their emotions, yet discourage them from unconsciously dwelling on feelings that trickle up unbidden from the past. This advice is a bit confusing, I admit. So, let me explain. There’s a difference, at times obvious and at times subtle, between emotions that spring from a current event or interaction and those that are triggered by memory. For instance, if a friend is often late and, because of this, you end up entering a movie after it has started, you may have appropriate feelings of annoyance or anger. You’d want to connect to these feelings to rationally decide how to handle them—mention something when your friend arrives, wait until you’re having coffee after the movie, etc. However, in this same example, if your friend arrives late and your memory coughs up all the times your alcoholic father strolled in late for...

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Feeling versus Being

Here’s a mistaken belief I hear all the time from clients and Food and Feelings message board members: Because I feel a certain way, it must be true. I feel fat, I feel unlovable, I feel unsuccessful, I feel inadequate, I feel defective. Hello, feeling isn’t being. I’m all for connecting with emotions and skillfully using them to navigate life, but when you say I’m feeling any of the above, what does that really mean? Do the preceding statements equal I am fat, I am unlovable, I am unsuccessful, I am inadequate, I am defective? Because that’s what you’re telling yourself. Where’s the proof? When people say they feel fat, they often mean their body feels heavy or their stomach is stretched out from eating or drinking too much. If a 100-pound adult eats a large plate of food and feels fat, does that make her fat? If a successful dancer...

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Cultivating Indifference

You may believe that hate is the opposite of love and that there’s no alternative but to love or dislike someone or something, like food. What if there’s another affective state you could cultivate, an underrated, not often talked about alternative which would bring you peace of mind? There is and it’s called indifference. When I talk with clients about cultivating indifference, they generally have little idea what I mean. We so often think of indifference as a negative emotion, one to be avoided like apathy. We want to have passions and strong feelings. It’s so easy to fall into love or into hate because both emotions make us feel vividly alive. Some people even think that hate is the opposite of love, but how can it be? They both keep you mentally/emotionally tethered firmly to someone or something, while the true opposite of connection is disconnection. Whether you love or...

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All-or-Nothing Mentality

One of my clients calls her habit of going to extremes, her “do-it-or-screw-it mentality.” My hunch is that you have a similar mindset that gets you into trouble in all sorts of ways. All-or-nothing thinking isn’t a permanent affliction, however. You can opt out. Step 1 is to examine your behavior and assess (need I add, without judgment) whether you tend to think in either/or, full/empty, success/failure ways. Come up with examples and, if you determine this is your modus operandi, simply acknowledge the fact. If you start to get down on yourself for polarized thinking, resist, and take a long, slow, deep breath of self-compassion. You didn’t choose to go the all-or-nothing route; rather, you learned an ineffective way of thinking and behaving that you can change. Step 2 is to explore how you developed this pattern. We learn from our early role models. Take a look at family members...

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What Is Your Food Deprivation Really About?

Saying no to food when you’re not hungry may stem from feeling deprived—wanting what you believe you can’t have. Most of the time, such deprivation is perception, not reality. Alter the perception and the deprivation disappears. The first step in this process is to recognize that you feel deprived. Take a minute to consider how this emotion hits you. It’s usually an intense longing, sense of unfairness, feeling of being victimized, or desperation that you must have a food or you will not be okay. Can you see how nonsensical this notion is? No one is victimizing you, maybe it’s unfair that you “can’t” have the food and maybe it’s not, and whoever said life is fair anyway (it isn’t). You may have a deep longing for a food, but we have lots of longings that we don’t act on for excellent reasons. Not having another cookie or seconds on pasta...

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Comfort, Discomfort and Being Fine

Anxiety is incredibly prevalent among disregulated eaters. One of the ways to reduce and eliminate it is to know you’ll be fine no matter what happens. Being fine means you’ll handle whatever comes your way even if it’s not to your liking. After talking with a client recently about this subject, I began to see where her difficulty lay. Although she wanted to believe that she’d be fine in any situation, she couldn’t bring herself to accept that she could be fine if she were emotionally uncomfortable. And there’s the rub. Many of you simply don’t want to feel badly. You want to be happy, content, find life easy, and have things always go your way. Hey, I can’t say I’d ever turn down any of those possibilities, but none of them will teach you how to be fine no matter what. The only way that will happen is to know...

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One More Time on Feeling Deserving

As I’ve written before, at the root of many troubled eaters’ food problems is the issue of not feeling deserving of health, happiness, success, etc. They are conflicted about whether or not they’re deserving of good things in life and, hence, behave sometimes as if they are and other times as if they aren’t. Let’s get this straight once and for all: everyone is deserving and you are no exception. A person who feels deserving, never thinks about it. It’s simply something they are like green-eyed or brown-haired, witty or a artsy. They are because, well, they are. I know that sounds awfully simplistic, but the subject is just that: simple. Many of you try to make it more complicated as in, “I’m deserving if” or “I’m deserving because.” You’re deserving because you were born. Think about it. There’s no way some folks are born deserving and some folks aren’t. That...

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A Lazy Gene- Say It Isn’t So

I was chagrined to read a blurb in the August/September 2013 copy of the AARP Magazine about “laziness.” I recognize that folks have differing motivations and mixed feelings about being active, but I have always stood firmly against using the negative term “lazy” regarding people who don’t take care of their bodies. And I still do. From the AARP article: “A new University of Missouri study shows that rats with sedentary parents are less motivated to run on an exercise wheel.” And, “After studying their brains, we found that running was less enjoyable for these rats than for those with active parents,” says study author Frank Booth, Ph.D. Okay, so there’s a hereditary link toward or away from enjoying body movement—at least if you’re a rat. I’ll buy that there even may be a similar genetic inheritance relating to finding pleasure from moving your body in humans. But, why call it...

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Exercise Calms You Down

When we think of exercise, what comes to mind is usually its benefits to body organs such as the circulatory system. But, did you know that exercise is just what the doctor ordered when it comes to reducing anxiety? It’s true. Next time you’re upset and have the urge to eat, move your body instead. Here’s why. Scientists have long known that exercise combats anxiety, but not exactly how that process works—until now. According to “How exercise calms the brain” (THE WEEK, 7/26/13), “physical activity creates excitable new neurons in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that regulates emotion, thinking, and memory.” One would think that this process would make people more anxious, but it works just the opposite. Studying active and sedentary mice, Princeton researchers discovered that the brains of mice that ran on their wheels regularly contained more of a specific neuron that releases the neurotransmitter called gabapentin,...

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Happiness and Dysregulated Eaters

Dysregulated eaters tend to think they’ll be happy when this or that happens—when they find a life partner, become “normal” eaters, lose weight, land the perfect job, can slow down, or retire. But will these occurrences really bring happiness? If not, what will? According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, psychology professor at the University of California-Riverside and author of THE MYTHS OF HAPPINESS, “These things—marriage, family, wealth—do make people happy, but the effect is often not as long-lasting as people expect. And when the ‘thrill’ wears off and life gets back to everyday experiences, we think there’s something wrong.” (“What makes you happy isn’t what you might think,” Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 2/26/13) This sentiment reminds me of what happens when people lose weight. They’re on cloud nine for a while feeling triumphant, checking out their slimmer bodies in every mirror, buying new clothes, basking in the glow of compliments—until the newness of it all...

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Feeling versus Thinking Around Food

It’s sadly ironic that many disregulated eaters make decisions backwards. On the one hand, they overthink things—called intellectualization or rationalization—when they’d be better off tuning into their emotions and acting on what they feel. On the other, they mistakenly make choices based on what they feel rather than employing higher order thinking to decide what’s best for them. Time to turn that around, huh? Here’s an example of ignoring emotions and, instead, rationalizing. Say, you’re dining with old friends and find yourself eating way more than usual. Feeling bored, you realize that you don’t have much in common with them any more, but tell yourself they still feel close to you and believe you shouldn’t feel uninterested in friends who were once so central to your life. Rather than go with your intuition, you feel terribly guilty and end up making plans to get together with them again soon. Alternately, here’s...

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How to Tolerate Emotional Discomfort

Clients and members of my Food and Feelings message board often insist that they can’t allow themselves to feel uncomfortable emotions. For disregulated eaters trying to make peace with food and their bodies, this is a big problem because emotions are important to identify, and experiencing them is necessary to life and “normal” eating. There’s a common set of emotions that can be difficult for disregulated eaters, in particular the seven described in my FOOD AND FEELINGS WORKBOOK—anxiety, confusion, disappointment, loneliness, guilt, shame, and helplessness. By learning to experience and handle these feelings, you’ll be well on your way toward emotional health which will reduce your tendency to abuse food and your body. There is no route around experiencing distressing feelings and no secret, easy way to manage them. As Geneen Roth says, “The only way out is through.” First off, stop telling yourself that you “can’t stand” a feeling because...

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Threat versus Challenge

While reading an article about managing life effectively, I was struck by an idea it presented: the confusion people have recognizing the difference between threats and challenges. This is exactly where disregulated eaters (and others, as well) often get themselves into trouble, so I thought a blog would be in order. Many of you are confused about the difference between a threat and a challenge. Before I give you my take on the subject, consider how you would describe the way that “threat” and “challenge” are different and note whether you often confuse the two. Okay then. A threat is something that will do actual physical or mental harm. Examples include standing in front of a speeding car and repeatedly reporting to work late without an excuse. There’s little doubt that these actions will cause pain and suffering. In fact, I doubt there’s anyone on earth who would argue with this...

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Better Ways to Manage Anxiety Than Eating

On the whole, disregulated eaters are people with high anxiety. In fact, I’d guess that many of you would qualify for the diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Anxiety is manageable, however, so here are some ways to chill you out rather than eat. None of them will come as a surprise, so consider them just a simple reminder. Although you might think of exercise as an activity that jazzes you up, it’s actually a great way to calm yourself down. According to Sweating away all that anxiety (Sarasota Herald Tribune, Health and Fitness, 10/30/12), “Studies published by the American Psychological Association show that exercise improves the body’s ability to cope with stress. People who exercise also have lower rates of anxiety and depression” because “exercise spurs the creation of norepinephrine, which acts as a brain stress ‘buffer,’ keeping levels of epinephrine and cortisol, two stress hormones, under control.” Does exercise mean...

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Are Comfort Foods a Myth?

We talk about “comfort foods” all the time. Most of us like ‘em creamy, full of fat, and sweet to beat the band. Although our choice of comfort foods vary, we all have some image in mind when we think of them. And we all base eating them for comfort on the assumption that they, and only they, are the foods which will make us feel better. Not so, is the surprising conclusion of “The Myth of Comfort Food” (Wagner, Heather Scherschel; Ahlstrom, Britt; Redden, Joseph P.; Vickers, Zata; Mann, Traci, Health Psychology, 8/18/14, retrieved from APA PsycNET 9/5/14).This study looked at whether so-called comfort foods actually provided psychological benefits to people, in particular, enhancing their moods better than other foods or no foods at all. Study participants completed a questionnaire specifying their comfort foods and various comparison foods. Then, after viewing films that triggered negative affect, they were divided into...

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