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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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Stop Fear of Judgment with Self-compassion

Many dysregulated eaters fear not only their self-judgments but, worse, they dread others condemning and belittling them for what they say and do. Do you know what the best protection—no, make that the only protection—is from others’ judgments? It’s having self-compassion for ourselves no matter what. Think of self-compassion as a soft but tough, tear-proof protective armor surrounding you. People may hurl slings and arrows at you, but with it you walk around unafraid, unfazed, and unharmed. You don’t judge others for judging you nor do you judge yourself for your mistakes or what others think are your frailties or failures. In a perpetual state of safety and security, no judgments can touch you. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful way to live? Here’s an example of how to use self-compassion. Say that while visiting, one of your parents makes a comment about how your house could be cleaner, demanding to know...

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To Improve Your Eating, Stop Creating Drama

Are you a drama addict or someone who can’t figure out how you end up in one crisis after another or situations which overflow with intense emotions? You probably realize that such sturm und drang adversely affects your eating, and wonder why your life is so full of drama when what you think you yearn for is calm. Here’s how. Think back to your childhood. Was it predictable, peaceful, and structured without a lot of stress and upheaval? Were your caretakers and other family members usually pretty rational and level headed and did they settle disputes quickly and quietly? Or did you never know when a family quarrel would turn loud or violent or when a parent would erupt unexpectedly or without seeming to have a valid reason? Was high drama the rule in your family or was it a rare or non-existent occurrence? Like soldiers, police or firefighters, we can...

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More on Anxiety and Eating

Two great articles from Eating Disorder Hope (Eating Disorder Hope newsletter, vol. 25) give just that, hope for troubled eaters learning to manage anxiety and decrease their emotional, compulsive, and mindless eating. In “Anxiety and overeating—what’s the overlap?” Jennifer Pells, PhD, tells us that “anxiety symptoms and disorders frequently co-occur with overeating and that studies have shown those with Binge Eating Disorder (BED) have a greater likelihood of experiencing significant symptoms of anxiety compared with the general population. I bet that many of you don’t realize that your major problem is an anxiety, not an eating, problem. Once you accept that, you can then treat the underlying anxiety which reduces unwanted eating. Pells points out, however, that comfort eating is accepted in this culture and that “it is not only those with BED who use food to cope with anxiety.” She goes on to explain the correlation between chronic dieting and...

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Learning Emotional Health from Animals

Want to enhance your mental health—which can’t help but improve your relationship with food? If animals could speak about mental health, here’s the advice I imagine they’d give. If you have a pet, observe him or her to see if you agree.Animals take the attitude of that’s life. If my cat goes to her dish and it’s devoid of food, she might circle around me once or twice, but then she moves on to other things. She’s got more to do than sulk or be angry or try to analyze what’s wrong with me or the world—or herself—when she doesn’t get what she wants. Instead, she has a snooze, plays with her toys, stares out the window, or heads outside to lounge in a shady or sunny spot (depending on the weather) on our lanai. Here’s what she doesn’t do: ruminate about why I didn’t feed her or whether she’ll ever...

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How to Stop Memory Triggers Leading to Emotional Dysregulation

To avoid getting triggered by intense emotions from traumatic memories, it’s vital to recognize when we’re in recall, accessing emotions about an event that is over and done with, or in reality, what we call the now or the present. Much of my work with clients about regulating emotions (and ending mindless eating) is preventing slippage into recall and, instead, staying in reality. To do this, we must be able to recognize the hallmarks of both states. If this idea is new to you, read these blogs before continuing: Current versus Memory-Triggered Emotions and Clearing Emotional Pain. I’m often asked how to know when you’re in recall or reality. The answer is that you’re in recall when your internal distress is intense and out of proportion to the current situation. You don’t get invited to a party and feel devastated and unloved, just like when you were a little girl and...

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What Does Emotional Health Look Like?

I often get the impression that clients don’t really understand what it looks or feels like to be emotionally healthy. Of course, emotional health runs on a continuum; there is no one person who exemplifies it to perfection. But, the same way that people may eat differently yet “normally,” emotional health has certain hallmarks. Here are examples: You take the long view of your wildly dysfunctional childhood and don’t let it get in the way of having a functional adulthood. That was then and this is now. The pain and suffering you endured through absolutely no fault of your own but through random bad luck is over because you avoid dwelling on painful memories, avoid people who hurt you, and know how to handle emotional wounding better than you did as a child. You blame neither your parents nor yourself for your deficits, but strive to overcome them. You know your...

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You’re All Wrong About Anxiety

Most of my clients are anxious, whether they have dysregulated eating or not. They fret incessantly about how they’re doing in life compared to others, whether they’re making enough “right” decisions, and how they’ll manage if life doesn’t go exactly as they’ve planned. They’re so used to believing that it’s their worries and fears that keep the sky from crashing down upon them, that they never stop and think that anxiety is no more powerful than the Wizard of Oz or protective than the Emperor’s new clothes. This realization dawned up on me while talking with a client one day. She grew up very anxious with a strict mother who brooked little dissent and made my client think there was a right way—and, of course, a wrong way—to do everything. Hence, my client’s worry about whether she should leave a job that she (more or less) hated or stick around because it...

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Mastering Dealing with Emotions

It’s important to allow yourself to acknowledge every emotion. I can’t tell you how manytimes clients say to me, “You’ll think I’m terrible, but I was feeling such and such.” And Ialways reply, “I don’t think you’re terrible. I think you have the hang of what to do withfeelings which is to know what you feel.” Here’s why it’s critical to do so. Our emotionalworld is the only place where we can be completely free. Inside our heads or hearts, tospeak metaphorically, is a land of liberty. After all, you can’t actually say or do whateveryou want without experiencing repercussions. But acknowledging what you feel simplygives you information—as long as you don’t dwell on upsetting feelings. Sometimes thatinformation is what to do with the feeling—explore it or ditch it—but how can you knowwhat action to take if you don’t have a clue what you’re feeling? For example, I have a client...

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To Grow Emotionally, Learn Something New

As a senior, I often hear and read how learning something new improves cognition and memory. Even if you have yet to reach the age where you need to shore up your mental facilities, there are still excellent reasons to take part in learning because of the emotional skills you develop in overcoming frustration, shame, envy, internal conflicts about success and failure, and understanding the concept of baby steps. I’ve been learning about learning through resuming tap lessons after a hiatus of some 20 years. I studied tap seriously as a child, then dabbled with it over the decades, making so little progress that I never got beyond the level of advanced beginner. After taking lessons for more than a year now, I’m finally a lower intermediate! But back to how new learning—what tap still feels like to me—promotes new emotional skills. First, I had to get over entering a class...

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Beliefs to Toss That Lead to Emotional Eating

A good deal of emotional eating is due to irrational beliefs, especially about people, that do not serve us well. When we build our lives around these unhealthy beliefs that run contrary to how the world actually works, we’re bound to get upset easily and often. By reframing these beliefs, you’ll provide yourself with a healthier base for better living and better eating. I’m nice, caring and loving, so other people must be that way too. Would that this were so. Many people have serious limitations in their ability to be intimate and forge positive, nurturing, mutually enhancing relationships. Most of their deficits are from growing up in dysfunctional families and from a culture that sends mixed messages about appropriate values to live by. It’s important to take these limited people as they are, not as you wish them to be. If they consistently treat you poorly and haven’t responded to your...

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It’s Okay If Your Crystal Ball Is a Bit Cloudy

Many dysregulated eaters feel a need to have an airtight plan and absolute certainty about how things will turn out before moving forward on a decision. One client calls it “getting things all figured out beforehand.” A lovely notion, but not how life really works. Face it, the process of making plans is as much for the present as it is for the future. We tell ourselves that we make them in order to ensure that things don’t go awry in the future, but equally, we plan because it helps us feel less anxious in the present about what lies ahead. Who wouldn’t want to feel more confident about what’s around the next bend in the road? The problem is that we can’t get it all figured out beforehand because we don’t know—and can’t know—what’s out there that might affect our best laid plans. Many of our fears of what could...

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Knowing the Difference Between Distress and Stress

Do you know the difference between distress and stress? You may think of them as one and the same, but they’re not. Distress is uncomfortable, upsetting and closely linked to anxiety. It often signals that we are hurt or are afraid to be hurt in some way. It’s an emotion which occurs in reaction to an external or internal trigger. I’ll get to explaining the difference between distress and stress in a minute. Here’s the instance of distress that prompted my writing this blog. A client arrived at my office early one evening flushed with emotion and started talking before she even sat down, explaining in rapid fire speech that she’d mailed her health insurance payment two months before and had just been notified by letter that her payment was overdue. We talked about what might have happened to the missing check and what she could do to remedy this situation. I...

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Are Recall Triggers the Canary in Your Coal Mine?

The triggering of recall memories are something like canaries in a coal mine. Their job is to prevent you from harm, like the poor birds flying ahead of minors sacrificing their lives to test for toxic air. Used consciously old memories can be a real benefit. Because they get triggered, you might catch onto who people are beneath the surface (he’s a trickster or she’s only out for herself) or what’s really going on in a situation more quickly than others. You’ve been there and done that and know what certain feelings and reactions may mean for you and others. However, if you let them direct your reactions in the present, you’ll never become an effective problem-solver. Let me tell you about a client we’ll call Cynthia who was excited and proud that she was now pretty much able to identify when emotional reactions were triggered by memories. She was more and...

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Can Stress Make Us Fat?

The most recent addition to our feeding behaviors is stress eating and it turns out, in fact, that too much stress may actually put weight on you. So says Nicholas Bakalar in “Long-term stress shows effects on waistlines” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 3/14/17, E10). You know how it goes: You’re facing an office deadline, need to chauffeur the kids around all day, have back-to-back clients, or it’s down to the wire at tax time, and you find yourself craving sweets or treats. According to results published in Obesity, 2,527 men and women over the age of 50 were tested in a study “quantifying stress by measuring levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in two-centimeter hair clippings, or about two months’ growth…they found that the higher the level of cortisol, the greater the body weight, BMI and waist circumference. Higher cortisol levels were also associated with persistence of obesity over time.” Researchers note that “they were...

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Hidden Reasons That Eating Disorder Clients Drop Out of Therapy

May 25 why some clients leave therapy too soon

Image by Debbie Digioia If you are or have been in therapy to deal with your eating problems, you may be interested in a therapist’s view of the hidden reasons that cause clients to drop out of treatment before they’re fully recovered. The reasons apply to people in any kind of therapy, of course, not just to troubled eaters. I’m hoping that writing about what I think too often happens will prevent such occurrences and help you understand your reasons for leaving therapy before you’re “done.” Please understand that I am not coming at this subject from a place of blaming or making you wrong. I’m attempting to explain you to yourself so that you have increased self-knowledge. That’s my job as a therapist and as a blogger about eating disorders. I’m also not talking about dropping out when you have major life changes that make it impossible time- or money-wise for you...

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When Life Isn’t Fair

May 15 2017 WHEN LIFE ISNT FAIR

Image by Debbie Digioia When life isn’t fair, many emotional eaters get wildly upset and turn to food to comfort themselves, though they may not realize what exactly is triggering their mindless eating at the time. If life’s unfairness is a major irritant in your life, you may feel differently about the subject after reading this blog. Moreover, you may find that justice not prevailing bothers you so little that you no longer turn to food when life seems to misfire. Let’s start with a basic question: What ever made you think that life should be or is fair? Did your parents complain about life not being fair which made you think that it ought to be? Were you schooled in the thinking that if we all work hard enough at it that justice will prevail? Were you taught that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people?...

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Stress Can Cancel Out Nutritious Eating

STRESS STRESS STRESS MAY 11

Image by Debbie Digioia Kudos to all of you who are trying to eat more nutritiously. Unfortunately, according to research, if you’re living a stressful life, you may be cancelling out the benefits of eating healthful foods (“Stress may erase benefits from healthy eating” by Nicholas Bakalar, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 10/11/16, p. E12). Here’s what a new study tells us. This small study (involving only 58 women) points to how mood and metabolism can affect us in ways we don’t realize. These women “ate a meal high in saturated fats. Then, one to two weeks later, the women ate a meal low in saturated fats.” The meals were identical in every other way. The only difference in these situations was that “Before each meal, the women completed questionnaires assessing symptoms of depression over the past week and the number of daily stressors in the past 24 hours.” According to blood samples taken, “Among women who...

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To Improve Your Eating, Improve Your EQ

APRIL 20 2017 IQ vs EQ

Image by Debbie Digioia If you’re smart and successful, you may wonder why you haven’t been able to resolve your eating problems. You may find it bizarre that you can have a high IQ (Intelligence Quotient), yet still eat mindlessly or emotionally and have yet to manage to enjoy a positive, sane relationship with food and your body. Your challenge makes perfect sense if you don’t have a high EQ (Emotional Quotient) aka emotional intelligence. According to psychologist and author Daniel Goleman, your EQ is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. “It is generally said to include three skills:1. Emotional awareness, including the ability to identify your own emotions and those of others;2. The ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem- solving;3. The ability to manage emotions, including the ability to regulate your own emotions, and the ability to...

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Learn How to Enjoy Being Alone to Heal Your Eating Problems

APRIL 13 2017 LEARN HOW TO ENJOY BEING ALONE . .

Image by Debbie Digioia One of the major problems of dysregulated eaters is difficulty being alone. I’m not talking about the occasional feeling of loneliness that we all experience at various points in our lives. I’m speaking of actually feeling distressed when you don’t have people or a good deal happening around you. In too many of these situations, dysregulated eaters may become so uncomfortable that they seek relief from food. In “The Empathy Gap” (Psychotherapy Networker, Nov-Dec 2016, p. 32) psychologist Sherry Turkel stresses the need to learn to be by ourselves in order to have a functional adulthood. She says, “Children learn the capacity to be alone by being ‘alone with’ caring adults. Gradually, the child becomes comfortable being alone with him or herself.” There are many ways that this result may be derailed. Parents may be out working, too busy with their other children, or too preoccupied with their own...

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How to Calm Your Brain

HOW TO CALM YOUR YOUR BRAIN 4 6 17

Image by Debbie Digioia I was looking through notes I took at a workshop I attended last year on “Calming An Overactive Brain,” and found some ideas which speak directly to why it’s difficult for dysregulated eaters to not reach for food when they’re in internal distress. My hope is that by understanding what goes on in your brain and body, you’ll be better able to manage your emotions and, even when you don’t do so, that you will have compassion for yourselves when you can’t change brain patterns as quickly as you’d like. The brain processes the environment in two ways. In bottom-up processing, you encounter an environmental stressor that throws your body-mind off balance and your amygdala acts immediately, never mind what your higher-order thinking has to say. Top-down modulation is about controlling automatic reactions to keep the body in balance. Because visual stressors are so powerful in humans, seeing some leftover...

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