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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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Intellectual versus Emotional and Social Intelligence

Clients often complain that their partners tout how smart they are and insist that their high intellect makes them right more often than wrong. While some folks might be cowed by intellectual heights, the truth is that people who use it to dominate others are actually low on emotional intelligence, however dazzling their brainpower might be. Daniel Goleman, author of one of my favorite books, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, defines emotional intelligence or EQ, “a trait not measured by IQ tests, as a set of skills, including control of one’s impulses, self-motivation, empathy and social competence in interpersonal relationships.” You know people who have it when you’re with them. They’re comfortable with just about anyone in any situation, are as interested in you as they are in sharing about themselves, have curiosity about humanity in general, and know how to make the kinds of connections that...

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Genetic Links to Procrastination and Impulsivity

Do you procrastinate? Are you impulsive? Both traits may make it difficult to become a “normal” eater and there’s research that says you may have come by them genetically. In “Like to put things off? Now you can blame your parents,” Alison Griswold (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 4/29/14, p. 21E) says that the traits of procrastination and impulsivity are considered “moderately heritable,” that is, at about the 50% mark. According to Daniel Gustavson, the lead author of a paper in Psychological Science, “genetically they (ie, these traits) seem to be related, which suggests that they’ve sort of evolved together…what makes people procrastinate and what makes them impulsive might be their specifically forgetting about their goals.” The 50% of the trait that isn’t directly inherited is likely acquired through socialization by parents who either had procrastination and impulsivity problems, and modeled this dysfunctional behavior for you, or who imposed strict, brook-no-dissent rules which made...

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What You Should Know about Mirror Neurons

What do mirror neurons have to do with eating? Quite a bit, says Megan Ross, PhD candidate, LPC, R-DMT, GL-CMA of Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center in “Mirror Neurons in Eating Disorder Treatment.” Located in the brain, “mirror neurons respond to the movement of another living being.” In this process, the neurons in one animal (human or otherwise) may get triggered just by watching the actions of another animal.” During 1990s testing on monkeys, scientists found that a monkey watching a buddy eat a banana activated neurons in its brain as if it, too, were eating a banana. Daniel Goleman in Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships explains why this is. His explanation is that brains have come to synchronize themselves to other brains to form cohesive bonds in society for survival.How this may affect us as eaters is enlightening. Generally people with eating disorders have all-or-nothing, this-way or...

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Eating Due to Envy or Jealousy

In their words or tone, I often hear clients express envy and jealousy which may trigger unwanted eating. They may not realize that this is what they’re experiencing, but these emotions are worth exploring to learn about yourself and end non-hunger eating. Envy means “bearing a grudge toward someone due to coveting what that person has or enjoys” or “the longing for something someone else has without any ill will intended toward that person.” Envy involves two parties—you yearn for the promotion your co-worker received or the house your best friend just bought. You don’t necessarily dislike people for having or obtaining these things, but might wish you were them. Jealousy means being “apprehensive or vengeful out of fear of being replaced by someone else.” It is an emotion tinged with fear, especially of losing something or someone you love. Jealousy involves three parties and makes you feel less than and...

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What’s Your Normal?

If you’re being emotionally, verbally, physically or sexually abused by your partner, you’ll likely have difficulty becoming a “normal” eater because of what you accept as “normal” in your domestic life. Several points about such misperceived normalcy were made in Time magazine (9/22/14) after the release of the video of NFL player Ray Rice beating up his then fiancé Janay Palmer and speak to the plight of the victims of abuse. One of the take home messages in the article is about what seems normal in the lives of people, mostly women, who are abused. There’s a frightening perceived normalcy about how they’re mistreated, a case of the emperor’s new clothes. When everyone else can see how poorly you are treated and condemns your partner’s actions (either because they see what’s going on or because you’ve told them), what keeps you in denial? I believe it’s the fact that being abused...

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Stop Fearing Rejection

I can’t blog about eating without mentioning feelings and I can’t speak about them without talking about rejection which often propels us right toward the cookie jar. The problem isn’t rejection per se, but the (negative) meaning you make of it because you’ve either had too much or too little of it. So here’s the best way to view rejection. Advice Goddess Amy Alkon says it better than I ever could in her Sarasota Herald-Tribune column of 6/12/14 (page 49E). Responding to a letter from a man complaining about being rejected by a woman, she speaks of being “rejection-avoidant” which means steering clear of situations in which you might be hit with a “no.” Says Alkon, “constantly flipping the bird at your fears and taking social risks is how you get okay enough with rejection to live your life like you’ll be dead soon instead of like you’re dead now…Getting comfortable...

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Anxiety and Eating

Most of my clients with disregulated eating worry a good deal about doing things right, being “good,” pleasing others, and the future turning out okay. And these anxieties drive non-hunger eating. Moreover, feeling weak, inept and defective that they can’t better “control” their worries causes them additional anxiety. A helpful book, one I read recently, is My Age of Anxiety—Fear, hope, dread, and the search for peace of mind by Scott Stossel (2013, Alfred A. Knopf: NY). It may not reduce your anxiety per se but it will lessen your belief that it’s all your fault and that there’s nothing you can do about it. Referring to genetic studies, Stossel says, “Research like this suggests that your susceptibility to nervous breakdown is strongly determined by your genes. Certain genotypes make you especially vulnerable to psychology breakdown when subjected to stress or trauma; other genotypes make you naturally resilient…certain gene combinations program...

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Eating and Aloneness

What is it about being alone or not busy that drives disregulated eaters to eat? I don’t have the exact answer to that question, but I have some ideas about it. If this has been a problem for you, it’s time to figure out what’s going on and make some changes. It’s common for me to have several clients a week who lament their ability to stay away from food when they’re home with nothing to do. Part of what’s going on for them is an uncomfortable transition from being busy to not busy. Perhaps some people are simply more sensitive to pace of living, while others are hyper aware of changes in temperature or are deeply affected by attractive or ugly surroundings. So, maybe you have a heightened sensitivity to fluctuations in the pacing of your life. Another issue is what it was like for you to be alone as...

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How to Make Yourself Miserable

I got a chuckle out of reading an article on misery which really hit home shortly after listening to a man in the supermarket 10-items-or-less checkout line yell at the woman ahead of him for having 12 items, then storm out of the store. He was a misery expert. Here are some steps master family therapist Cloe Madenes puts forth for making yourself miserable, as laid out in her guide, “Honing Your Misery Skills” and summarized by Marilyn Preston in “8 easy steps to making yourself miserable” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Health/Fitness, 2/18/14).Blame your parents for all your problems. After all they begat and made you who you are today. Avoid taking responsibility for yourself.Complain as often as you can about being bored and how unexciting life is. Perhaps even create a crisis or two to perk yourself up. Do something that will bring a shift in your life, even if it’s not...

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How Mood Affects Eating

Although many of you undoubtedly engage in non-hunger eating when you’re in a positive (aka good) mood, it’s more likely that you act on your cravings when you’re in a negative (aka bad) mood. So says Robert E. Thayer, Ph.D. in his book CALM ENERGY: HOW PEOPLE REGULATE MOOD WITH FOOD AND EXERCISE (2001, Oxford University Press, NY). To learn more about his research, read on. Thayer teaches readers to recognize what they’re looking for when they engage in non-hunger eating and how to find these same benefits through exercise. I’m not about to lecture you on the subject—and neither does he—but he makes the argument that you are not looking for nutrients when you’re not hungry. Mostly, he says, you’re reacting to your mood. And not just any mood, but a negative one. He maintains that, “Tiredness and tension usually underlie negative moods, and they cause overindulgence as people attempt...

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Are You Hung Up on Resentments

Are you someone who views the world as a hostile place and is full of resentments? If so, you might be setting yourself up for unnecessary internal distress. And you know where that might lead you—to making a beeline for the cookie jar! I recently came across the phrase “married to resentment” and it reminded me of many disregulated eaters who cling to their resentments. They remember every unkind word ever said to them (but not so many of the kind ones), every untoward act, every unintended insult, and accumulate grievances as if they’re legal tender. If you’re such a person, in your childhood you likely had parents who modeled bitterness and/or suffered unfairly yourself. If your parents were major complainers who squirreled away grievances, it might be difficult for you to imagine being any other way. If you were a victim, it may be hard to stop seeing yourself in...

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Feeling Anxious versus Feeling Fine

Most of my clients over the decades have had high anxiety which has, in part, driven them to non-hunger eating. While I believe that there’s a genetic, neurobiological component to anxiety, I also know that it’s triggered by irrational beliefs that escalate, rather than de-escalate, distress and stress. Here’s a way out of anxious moments. Anxiety is a perceived sense of a general threat to self, while fear is a specific one. You may fear particular events like being bitten by a dog, getting an injection, having Uncle Bill pinch you as he did when he got drunk when you were a child. Alternately, you may be anxious in vaguer, more general situations—around strangers or in circumstances in which you need to perform or don’t have control. Get the difference? When you’re anxious, you “leave” the present and “enter” a mental future. To remain present, you need to observe how you...

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Are You Looking to be Full or Fulfilled?

When yearning for fulfilment, It’s not by chance that disregulated eaters fill themselves with food--and with people, activities, and material goods as they seek satisfaction, contentment, connection, and meaning. Sadly, they rarely get what they’re looking for because full and fulfilled are as different as apples and oranges. Many disregulated eaters yearn for more out of and a deeper engagement with life. They talk about feeling empty as if they could ingest something which would stay there and keep them feeling full up. The problem with using food—or success, applause or achievement to do this—is that you keep having to go back for more and more and more. The applause dies down or your success happened a while ago and you begin to feel depleted. So you think, Ah, that worked before, so I’ll just go out and find some more of it and I’ll be fine. And, that, ladies and...

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Vulnerability and Emotional Eating

Vulnerability is a universal feeling, one to which we may attribute different meanings, and the meaning you make of this emotion will determine what you do with it. Associated words to feeling vulnerable, physically or emotionally, are weak, small, insignificant, in danger, in trouble, susceptible, defenseless, or exposed. Each word indicates being at risk for harm due to lack of power. That’s because when we first felt vulnerability, in infancy, we did lack power to impact our lives. Our current take on vulnerability depends in large part on how our vulnerability was treated in childhood. If we couldn’t fight back when we were physically abused by parents or witnessed one parent abusing the other or our siblings, we felt a surge of helplessness and fear. If we couldn’t talk back to defend ourselves when we were emotionally abused, we also felt frightened and powerless. Both of these automatic, natural reactions generated...

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Venting versus Complaining

There’s a fine line between sharing intense negative feelings, called venting, and their morphing into gripes and grumbles that seem to have a life of their own. The former is a useful way to manage emotions in the short-term, while the latter actually considerably adds to emotional distress. Therefore, it pays to be able to distinguish between the two. When we feel as if we can’t take it any more, we often vent—about a boss’s constant criticism, our partner’s habits, harried lives, difficult children, or chronic illness. If we’ve picked the right people to vent to (active listeners, for one), we receive validation for our feelings, a sharing of comparable experiences or reactions, and assurance that anyone would feel similarly in our situation. We then experience a release of mental and physical tension and, relieved, we are ready to let go and move on. However, there’s a particular way of sharing...

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Don’t Overuse Your Emotions

Disregulated eaters do a funny thing with emotions: they employ them whether they’re appropriate or not. That is, they get emotional about things which truly don’t necessitate affective reactions, including eating. For example, they feel guilty about eating foods of low nutritional value or ashamed when they overeat. Are these reactions necessary when we’re feeding ourselves? “Normal” healthy eaters occasionally eat foods which won’t do much to nourish their bodies, but they don’t see this behavior as related to emotions. In fact, they have zero feelings about it. They eat, it’s done, and they move on. They also don’t make a fuss about overeating. They consume too much, give a satisfied groan, then not eat until they’re hungry again. They view these matters as biology and appetite, not of the heart. Alternately, you may inappropriately attach emotions to eating alone or with others. If, as a child, you ate your after-school...

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How Self-compassion Generates Motivation

The biggest misperception I hear about giving up being hard on yourself and, instead, practicing self-compassion is that self-criticism pushes us to achieve our goals. Really? In that case, wouldn’t you and your harsh inner critic be off doing something else right now, other than reading this blog? The truth is that troubled eaters do a bang up job of engaging in self-flagellation and, if it worked to sustain motivation, you’d have overcome your eating problems ages ago. Face it, guilt, shame, self-disgust, and self-contempt are lousy motivators, while being self-compassionate is actually the winning strategy. When you show no mercy in tearing yourself apart for food failures, slip ups, mistakes, and relapses, how do you end up feeling? Worse, I’d wager, than you did after doing whatever you perceive was your error. By piling on disgust, contempt, and disappointment atop the shame or guilt, you end up feeling hopeless, helpless,...

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Is the Election Making You Eat When You’re Not Hungry?

There’s never been an election like this one and I say this as someone turning 70 next year. Feelings are high and emotional restraint is low. You can practically cut the political tension among families, friends, neighbors and co-workers with a knife. What a perfect time to turn to food to regulate your feelings. Or maybe there are better ways to manage your emotions and still enjoy a positive relationship with food. There are a few reasons you might turn to food inappropriately when political hot buttons get pressed, whether yours or someone else’s. The first is to calm yourself down after a rousing debate that still has you reeling hours (or days) after it’s over. The second is to break internal tension if you’ve been holding in your sentiments and feel about ready to burst. Here are some emotional triggers that may come up for you regarding political disagreements: Wanting...

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Hating Ourselves May Make Us Hate Others

Who among us hasn’t had the feeling, shameful as it may have been, that someone else’s happiness has highlighted our own misery so piercingly that we hated him or her, even for a moment? I’m not proud to say it and I now have self-compassion for it, but I know I had this reaction back when my eating was out of control, my body was far from what I wished it to be, and my life was full of longings for things I didn’t, and thought I would never, have. I was reminded of how easy it is to slip into hate and envy mode when you’re unhappy with yourself while listening to a radio interview of Lindy West, outspoken feminist, fat acceptance movement advocate, journalist, and author of Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, a book I have not read. She was talking about the nasty social media insults she’d...

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Be Careful What You Tell Your Brain

You are not only what you eat, but what you tell yourself. Nearly every week, a client comes into my office and tells me how “overwhelmed” she is. She’ll say it multiple times: “I’m so overwhelmed” or “I’m really overwhelmed” or “Boy, am I overwhelmed.” Although I encourage clients to connect to their emotions, I don’t encourage them to keep reminding themselves of feelings they don’t need to be having. Our brain more or less understands only commands and translates more complex ideas into them. It hears our self-talk and does what it thinks we want it to do. So that, “I’m overwhelmed” tells the brain to feel pressured, “I’m miserable” instructs it to be unhappy, and “I’m scared” signals it to feel fear. This is, of course, the exact opposite of what you want to be telling your brain when you’re overwhelmed, miserable or scared.  Try an experiment. Set a timer and...

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