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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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Do You Have Pre-Traumatic Disorder?

Yes, you read the title of this blog correctly: Pre -Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s a condition I made up which in no way takes away from the serious and enduring effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (aka PTSD) which many of dysregulated eaters suffer from. I’m not in any way making fun of PTSD or minimizing it, I assure you.      The bona fide PTSD may happen when an external event dysregulates and overwhelms our nervous systems. The fictitious condition, which many of my clients also have, comes from catastrophizing external events and spending too much time thinking about future possible disasters. It’s a way of viewing the world as a glass that’s always half-filled, and not with water, but with poison. It’s a mindset that says, “Something terrible will happen to me and I’m positive that I won’t be able to cope with it. It will ruin my life and...
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Thoughts on Suicide

After a recent spate of high-profile suicides, I thought it important to talk about the subject openly because some of you reading this blog may be thinking about it. Or have thought about it. Or have attempted it. Or maybe you know someone who’s taken his or her life. Whenever necessary, I speak directly with clients about the possibility of their being suicidal, but it’s never an easy subject to bring up. However, it’s a lot more comfortable than what I would be feeling if a client attempted it.   I’ve had clients who’ve been passively or actively suicidal, and those who’ve had to be hospitalized or hospitalized themselves when things got too iffy for them or for scary someone else. I’ve known people, mostly acquaintances, who’ve killed themselves—a co-worker decades ago, a man I very briefly dated who lived in Canada, and two very wonderful elderly people who led full...
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Which Type of Happiness Makes People Happiest

Josh Humi, author of “Life Guide”, asserts that there are two kinds of happiness: experiential and reflective (“A Living Humanist Document,” The Humanist.com, 9/28/17, accessed 9/29/17, https://thehumanist.com/ ). He explains the former as “the enjoyment of a present-moment experience (for example, eating a tasty meal or sharing a laugh with friends),” and the latter…”as one’s belief that he or she has lived a valuable life, to the extent that one reasonably believes he or she could have lived a valuable life (for example, via personally meaningful accomplishments).” He describes reflective happiness as having a “long-lasting ‘background’ impact on one’s happiness,” that is, that “all else being equal, pursuing the latter will likely have a greater positive impact on one’s happiness over the long run.” I would add that reflective happiness adds depth and breadth to who we are, while experiential happiness is limited to what we did.   I’m blogging about...
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Fatalism Versus Irrational Hope Regarding Eating Disorders

A client mentioned seeing parts of her childhood reflected in Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance, a book I recently read at her suggestion. What struck her was Vance describing how people may respond to childhood dysfunction in an unhealthy, polarized way through either fatalism or irrational hope or a mix of the two. This is a perfect description of the mindset of many dysregulated eaters, especially regarding their relationship with food.   Fatalism is a belief in a fixed destiny that we are powerless to change or escape. An example is believing that what was said of you as a child—no one will ever love you, you’re not good enough, or you won’t amount to anything—is true. Fatalist thinking then leads to you act in such a way that you end up not living up to your potential, failing to follow through...
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Negative Effects of Loneliness and Isolation

Many clients eat for comfort when they’re lonely. As I’ve blogged before, we’re all lonely once in a while. That can’t be helped. The kind of loneliness that clients are referring to is a chronic feeling which some people remember having had since early childhood.   It is not isolation, per se, that causes loneliness problems, but “the subjective perception of isolation—the discrepancy between one’s desired and actual level of social connection.” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, “Loneliness and isolation aren’t the same thing” by Jane Brody, E24, 12/19/2017). We all know people who have few social connections and seem just fine with their quantity and quality. We may know others who surround themselves with friends and family, but still seem disconnected from them and also, perhaps, from themselves.   There are a number of reasons that people might be lonely. Some came from small, isolated families who had or saw few relatives. Outsiders...
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Understanding People Who Hurt You as Expressing Their Hurt

One valuable lesson, among many, that I’ve learned as a therapist is to not take hurtful remarks or actions personally. When clients say something unkind to me, I try to understand why they said it. This focus has helped enormously in my personal, as well as in my professional, life. This doesn’t mean that I repeatedly allow people to hurt my feelings or that I let them off the hook for their remarks or actions. It means that I do not internalize what they say to or about me and think negatively of myself because of it.   Here are some clinical examples of what I mean. A relatively new client said to me, “Well, at least you’re not as worthless as my last therapist.” I could have interpreted his comment as meaning that I’m still pretty useless and not very helpful. Instead, I thought that he might have had a...
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What’s Preventing You From Feeling Happier?

What’s preventing you from feeling happier? You’re probably saying things like, “I’d be a lot happier if I had: more money, a spouse, children, a better job, less weight to carry around, someone to love me, more time to myself, success (whatever that means), a better body, increased popularity, or didn’t have to listen to people tell me what to do. Well, according to experts, believing that any of those things would somehow magically bestow happiness on you is dead wrong.   I love what Albert Einstein said in a handwritten note to a bellboy in Japan in 1922, “A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.” (Time, 11/6/17, p. 58) When I read this quote, I realized how many of my clients who are dysregulated eaters (and many who aren’t) suffer from some kind of restlessness, much of it coming from...
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How to Stop Being Unhappy

In her article, “How to make yourself perfectly miserable,” Marilynn Preston shares the advice of master family therapist Cloé Madanes, who lays out eight ways we perpetuate our misery. We all engage in them occasionally. The goal is not to fall into them unconsciously and make them a mainstay of your life. ( Sarasota Herald Tribune , http://www.heraldtribune.com/entertainmentlife/20171205/preston-how-to-make-yourself-perfectly-miserable ,12/5/17, E18, retrieved 12/5/17). Rumination involves constantly worrying or thinking about what’s wrong in your life, including what you did to cause it. If you spend a great deal time focused on your problems, how can you not be miserable? Observe how often you ruminate and whether the focus of your life is on the positive or the negative. Boredom is natural once in a while, but if you chronically complain how bored and uninterested in life you are, you’re promoting unhappiness. You’ll also be miserable if you engage in unhealthy, impulsive behaviors...
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Beware of Imposter Syndrome

I posted on Facebook about the Impostor Syndrome (IS) a while ago and was surprised that I couldn’t find any blogs of mine about it. To remedy that deficit, here’s an explanation of what IS is, how it impacts dysregulated eaters, and what to do about it.   According to “Feel like a fraud?” by Kirsten Weir (American Psychological Association gradPSYCH Magazine, 11/13, http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud.aspx , accessed 11/26//17),  The Impostor Syndrome or Phenomenon is a form of “intellectual self-doubt” and is “generally accompanied by anxiety and, often, depression.” As these three conditions are commonly seen in dysregulated eaters, it pays to learn how to stop feeling like a fraud and start believing in yourself to up your self-worth.   The term was first described by Suzanne Imes, PhD and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD in the 1970s. They found that high achievers were unable to assess themselves adequately and appreciate their success. Rather...
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When a Breakup Sends You to the Cookie Jar

I was surprised to read in an article that breaking up is like kicking a bad habit until I thought a bit more about it. It can be like giving up alcohol or your drug of choice, which in this case happens to be a him or a her. Unfortunately, the plethora of emotions that we feel after a break up can seriously dysregulate our nervous system and it makes sense that some people would re-regulate by making a beeline to the cookie jar.   In “Why a romantic breakup is like kicking a bad habit” by Danielle Braff (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 8/8/17, E18), Kinsey Institute researcher and author, Helen Fisher, describes love as “an addiction biologically designed so that we can mate successfully.” This makes sense when we recognize that many of our behaviors are dedicated to promoting evolution. She says that the same region of the brain that is connected...
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Don’t Confuse Compassion with Over-Identification

Many people are confused about the difference between having compassion for someone and over-identifying with him or her. It’s a critical distinction, especially if you’re inclined to feel sorry for people and then end up losing yourself in the relationship and/or taking better care of them than of yourself.   According to self-compassion author Kristen Neff, compassion is meeting suffering with kindness—part empathy and part wishing to treat someone as kindly as you’d like to be treated. There’s nothing wrong with compassion, which I encourage you to feel toward others and yourself. But, there’s everything wrong with over-identification. The Oxford Living Dictionaries defines it as, “The action of identifying oneself to an excessive degree with someone or something else, especially to the detriment of one's individuality or objectivity.”   ( https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/overidentification , accessed 9/16/17) When we have compassion, we feel for someone. When we over-identify, we feel someone’s emotions to the...
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The Critical Importance of Emotional Health

How is it that so few people understand the purpose of emotions and how essential and valuable they are to us? The answer lies in our culture, especially its Puritan aspect, and in our ego-driven attachment to things rather than ideas and inner wisdom. Considering this off-base perspective, I was delighted to read what former US Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, MD, had to say about the relationship between physical and emotional health (“What it means to be healthy,” National Geographic, 9/2017, p.3).   Reporting that he realized the importance of emotional well-being while traveling around the country, Vivek says that “people were experiencing a high degree of emotional pain. I think of emotional well-being as a resource within each of us that allows us to do more and perform better. That doesn’t mean just the absence of mental illness. It’s the presence of positive emotions that allows us to be resilient...
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The Difference Between Yearning and Wanting

How often do you use the word “want”? Probably a good deal. What about the word “yearn”? Is there a difference between yearning and wanting? According to Drs. Judith and Bob Wright, founders of the Wright Foundation and Wright Living, there most certainly is. (“How to understand and handle an abusive boss” by Lindsey Novak, At Work, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 9/4/17, D15)   This topic is particularly relevant for dysregulated eaters who have food wants galore and often unmet yearnings. The Wrights tell us that wanting stimulates dopamine, generating that temporary rush you feel when you get what you desire. “Yearning, on the other hand, is paramount to one’s survival. When yearnings are met, one’s system is flooded with feel-good neurochemicals.” They’re saying that the high from getting what we yearn for is far better than the quick fix from satisfying a mere want.   This idea makes me think about pride,...
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The 10-Second Cure for Eliminating Unhealthy Thoughts

Most of us have no idea that we can actually control what we’re afraid of, that is, we can decide which responses are appropriate to a situation and which are not. Many dysregulated eaters suffer from anxiety and negativity, and changing their response to fear helps enormously to increase their quality of life and relationship with food.   Toward that end, I’d like to pass on to you a strategy put forth by my friend Ernie, a retired psychology professor. Here’s what he says to do the next time you’re in a situation in which you feel anxiety. Once you recognize that you feel anxious, “STOP—and do nothing for 10 seconds except look and listen.” Move from feeling to observing.   Ernie uses the example of walking into a room and thinking that everyone is staring at you and recommends using 10 seconds to carefully observe what you see and hear....
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Is There a Difference Between Feeling Guilt, Regret or Sorry?

We all find ourselves in situations in which someone has done something that hurts us and it’s important to be able to distinguish whether or not their apologies ring true or not. I’m not being nit-picky when I say that we need to know just what to look for. In order to recognize if a wrong-doer’s response is genuine and meaningful, we must carefully observe what an individual says as well as what he or she subsequently does.   Take the phrase “I’m sorry,” which usually indicates that people feel regret or remorse for having caused someone pain: they wish they hadn’t done what they did or had done what they didn’t do. Examples include feeling: repentant for having had an affair, sad that they hadn’t taken you to the hospital when you said you had a stomach ache (which turned out to be appendicitis), or disappointed in themselves for resuming...
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Being Strong All The Time is Not Effective Mental Health

An article I read entitled “It’s O.K. to be a coward about cancer” (Time magazine, 8/7/17, pp. 21-22) got me thinking about our culture’s obsession with being strong no matter what happens. I firmly agree with what the author, Josh Friedman, has to say—how pushing ourselves to be strong is neither realistic nor helpful. For example, it can pave the way to emotional eating.   Friedman, a cancer survivor himself, made reference to U.S. Senator John McCain’s public diagnosis of brain cancer, contending that to encourage and expect people to be “strong” while suffering serious diseases is wrong-headed and foolish. I have a friend who has endured several types of cancer over the many decades I’ve known him who does just that: insist he must be strong. His forceful statements about this need always seem to me more wishful thinking than realistic expectation.   As Friedman says, our “tough guy narrative...
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More Wisdom from Brene Brown

If you don’t know who Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW is, it’s time to get acquainted with her. She’s an author, TED talk speaker extraordinaire, and a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She is one wise woman whose insights every person with an eating disorder needs to learn from. Here are some nuggets of wisdom from an article she wrote on the “Physics of Vulnerability” in the May/June 2017 issue of Psychotherapy Networker (pp. 32-33).   Brown believes that if you’re not allowing yourself to feel vulnerable often enough or refuse to move out of your comfort zone, you won’t get anywhere in life. I would add that if you spend most of your time obsessing about how to do something right and always need to feel safe and sure of an outcome, you not only won’t get very far in recovery, but you’ll have...
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It’s Okay to Have Conflicting Thoughts on How You Want to Eat

It’s not uncommon to have mixed feelings or thoughts. I’ve written about this dynamic related to eating and body image in Starting Monday and in The Food and Feelings Workbook. How can we not have them? I lie in bed many mornings thinking about how I both do and don’t want to arise and begin the day. I feel ambivalent about almost every vacation or event that breaks up my routine—I look forward to something new and different, while feeling I’d just as soon pass the time enjoying my usual schedule.   If mixed feelings are the norm, why do we get so upset about them? Why do we view them as negative and fight so hard to avoid them? We find ourselves averse to conflicting feelings or thoughts for two reasons. First, we may assume that there’s something wrong with us for not being unilaterally and single-minded about what we...
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Stop Trying So Hard to Be Good

If you’re a regular blog reader of mine, you likely know that I have a strong negative bias against using the words “good” and “bad” in relation to food or eating. In fact, I have strong negative feelings about those two words, period. I say and write them occasionally, but try my darnedest not to because there’s usually a more descriptive word to use for both of them. Here’s my case against the words “good” and “bad.”   First, is there anyone among us who didn’t hear these words ad nauseum as children? We’re schooled to always try to be good and to, at all costs, avoid being bad. We’re even told that Santa knows which way we’ve been, so it’s not just about pleasing our parents, relatives or teachers, but we’ve got to mind out Ps and Qs if we want to receive any presents from old St. Nick.  ...
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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....
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