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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Forgiveness

Many disregulated eaters are stuck in the past, with much of their energy going into trying to figure out why bad things happened to them or caused their life to turn out the way it has. While I’m all for understanding our histories, sometimes there’s work to be done to move beyond it, especially when it involves people who have caused you harm. It’s easy to get fixated on folks who’ve hurt us. We can blame our unfulfilled or unhappy lives on them and avoid responsibility for having let ourselves become victims of our history. I’m not saying that for some people, especially those who’ve suffered trauma, it’s easy to get beyond pain and suffering, but that holding on to what has come before often gets in the way of living in the present and creating a better future. Nowhere is this more true than in the realm of forgiveness. Here’s...
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It’s Okay That Others Don’t Understand Us

A Food and Feelings message board member posted that her therapist had told her that “people have a right to not understand us.” Hats off to this clinician for making such a brilliant and seemingly obvious statement. They do have a right, you know, like it or not. It makes total sense that we become uncomfortable when people—especially family members and close friends—don’t understand us. First off, we feel invalidated. For some folks that’s not much of an issue because they can validate themselves or have others in their lives to provide like-minded support. But for many disregulated eaters, not being validated feels like a major blow because they assume that what the other person is feeling or thinking is right and that what they’re feeling or thinking is wrong. To them, not being understood equals not being validated equals being wrong and defective. Second, when people don’t understand us, we...
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Understanding the Motivations of Others

I’m grateful that my training as a therapist focused on understanding motivation, that is, why people say what they say and do what they do. Understanding motivation is key to having positive interactions with people whether talking about eating or anything else under the sun. After all, the why is as important as the what. Did it ever occur to you that someone’s remarks or actions have nothing to do with you even though they’re directed at you? Here’s an example. Say you’re telling a friend that binge-eating is now considered a disorder under the same clinical umbrella as anorexia and bulimia, which you mention because you know your friend used to have bulimia. Then, say, your friend gets touchy and immediately changes the subject. There are two possible explanations: Either you said something offensive or, equally possible, you didn’t, but your friend was triggered emotionally by what you said. Maybe...
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You’re Not Alone (With Eating or Any Other Problems)

I wish I had a dollar for every client who’s said, “You’ll probably think I’m crazy, but…” and gone on to tell me something. Good thing that I know they’re not crazy and can reassure them. The truth is, as different as we all appear to be, underneath we’re pretty much the same and have relatively similar emotional experiences. In what ways do people feel alone and different from others? With food and in many aspects of life—eating food picked out of the garbage can, experiencing discomfort receiving compliments, ignoring a delicious, healthy dinner they’ve made and instead gorging on leftover Halloween candy, hating their overbearing parents, envying others’ successes, feeling defective, or wishing they were someone else. Fearing you’ll be viewed as crazy implies a belief that your thoughts, behaviors, or feelings might be abnormal. In reality, nothing you or I or anyone else has ever (ever) felt is unique....
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When You’re an Outsider in Your Family

You may think you’re the only one, but many people don’t think they fit in with their families, feeling as if they’re on the outside looking in. You may have had this sense since childhood or developed it later in life as you’ve grown emotionally healthier. Either way, a sense of not belonging may be disturbing, but it’s normal and even healthy. When we’re children, our families are our mainstay of acceptance and nurturance, all we have until we make friends and find other adults who can care for us. Oddly, clients who feel as if they’re outsiders with their families believe that there’s something wrong with them, although many are actually more mentally healthy than their families. It’s all in the perspective. Clients report that, unlike their parents or siblings, they were shy and introverted; creative or exceptionally serious; unconventional and non-conformist; curious, open-minded and inquisitive. When families aren’t accepting...
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Better to Have Friends or Family?

Ever think about whether you’d be friends with the members of your family of origin if they weren’t related to you? I bet many of you would shout a resounding negative on that, while others might want to say it but feel guilty. An important question: Do your blood bonds really serve you as well as you yearn to think they do? We’re raised to believe that family is everything. Hearing this adage from relatives, religion, and society all our lives, we accept it as truth. There’s a valid reason that we’re programmed to value our family of origin: without it, as children, we’d be alone and unable to survive. The instinct to value family is crucial both physically and emotionally. However, when we can function on our own as adults, it’s time to assess our experience with family to see if it’s all it’s cracked up to be. Maybe yes...
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Talking to Parents About Their Weight Comments

It’s time to declare your body’s independence, especially from your parents. This 
means confronting their criticisms and unsolicited advice and assuring them that you’re in charge (even if you don’t feel it). Self-empowerment is the name of the game. Your job is to help your parents stop making critical, unkind comments about your body: You look so much better when you’re thinner, What about your health, You’ve got to do something about that sweet tooth, Why can’t you just diet like I do, I’m only saying this for your own good. It doesn’t matter if comments are well-meant, which they mostly are but sometimes aren’t. It doesn’t even matter if they’re said out of love and caring. These comments are inappropriate, hurtful, harmful to your recovery, and the hallmark of parents being out of touch with the reality that you no longer need to listen to or put up with their...
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Staying Attached While Separating from Parents

I’ve blogged a great deal about the importance of being your own person around your parents in order to resolve your eating problems and reach your full potential. However, separation and individuation aren’t the whole story. The key is to retain attachment to them while also becoming separate, which is no mean feat. I got to thinking about this dilemma working with a client who wanted to find something positive in her relationship with her very difficult mother. My client was working her tail off to listen to and express her own voice around her mother and was doing a good job of it, but still felt held back. The problem: when adult children begin standing up to and getting out from under the thumb of parents, they often fear drifting away from them emotionally. Such disconnection doesn’t feel much better than enmeshment because we’re programmed not only to disengage from...
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Dealing with Parents Who Mistreat You

Our most troublesome relationships are often with family members and, among these, parents often win the prize. If you’ve had problems dealing with difficult parents, it’s up to you to change to feel better around them. Here are the steps you can take which will improve your relationship, your life—and your eating. 1. Don’t expect them to be different. Change your beliefs from hoping they’ll suddenly cease their annoying behaviors on their own. Breaking news: it ain’t gonna happen. Instead, try three successful strategies. First, quit feeling like a victim and speak up when they hurt your feelings. I don’t care if they respond by saying you’re crazy or too sensitive or they didn’t mean to hurt you. Say something because it will make you feel less like a victim and more empowered protecting yourself. And just because they don’t seem to understand your request to change doesn’t mean they won’t...
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Sharing and Reflecting About Eating Problems

Many people who have difficulty with eating aren’t sure how to approach resolving their food or body image problems: Should they get support from other people or try to figure out solutions on their own? The answer is yes to both, hopefully in good balance. Over my 30-plus years treating disregulated eaters (and other types of clients), I’ve noticed that they tend to fall one way or the other with overcoming their problems. Some keep them secret and spend years working by themselves trying to get appetite right. I had a client who was a helping professional who had never told a soul about her binges and purges until she came to therapy. Not only did she truly believe that she could solve her eating problems on her own, she was convinced that this was the way they should be solved. She wouldn’t join my HYPERLINK "http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings" message board or groups...
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Idealization

Do you look at people and too often see someone better than yourself? Do you imagine or envy their “perfect” life? This process, called idealization, can contribute to poor self-esteem which makes you vulnerable to not taking care of yourself—and to abusing food. Letting go of idealizing can help you empower yourself and treat yourself better. By idealizing, you think of someone as being flawless, faultless, an ideal—rather than as a mixed-bag. Do you see only their positive traits? Sometimes you may know little about them and assume that because they appear happy, popular or successful, they must have and have had a wonderful life. Information about them that doesn’t fit into this schema gets screened out, leaving you with a lop-sided, unrealistic view of them. Idealization is a way of adapting to a dysfunctional family. If you grew up in a household in which there was chaos, any kind of...
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Desire for Connection

As I listen to clients and message board members talk about relationships—and I think about them in general—I’m amazed at our differing needs for connection. Recognizing that not everyone has the same desire or capacity for intimacy that we have can only improve relationships and our ability to avoid turning to food when connection falters. This point came home to me while doing a family therapy session in which two out of three adult brothers lived close to their parents and saw them fairly regularly. All of them were upset that brother #3, living hundreds of miles away, returned to the family home for holidays only. Mind you, this wasn’t a family that needed getting away from: they were pleasant enough and genuinely cared about each other. The third brother, the odd man out in this clan, simply had less need for connection in general than other family members did. There...
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Hanging with Healthy People

When I moved from Massachusetts to Florida, I sought out new connections with individuals and groups. Casting a wide net, I let intuition draw me to this or that person or organization. Over time, I culled my connections by following my interests and instincts, and by deciding which of them enhanced my physical and emotional well-being. Do you seek optimum health in your connections? Regarding individuals, here are some things to look for. How an individual takes care of her or himself and treats others; manages emotions; grapples with problems; is there for you; is neither jealous of nor competitive with you; can engage in and tolerate disagreement; can be honest with you; is change, not-victim oriented; can talk about intimate issues and listen when you open up with the real you; values physical and emotional health and strives for it; and shares some of your passions, values, or interests. When...
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Men, Dad, and Eating Disorders

Most of my clients, book readers, blog audience, and message board members are women—no big surprise considering that females bear the brunt of society’s pressure to be thin, a major cause of disregulated eating. Until recently, however, we assumed that men with eating disorders were a small percentage of our population. It turns out that the number is higher than we thought. According to a Cox Newspaper article, Men Struggle with weight and eating disorders, too, a national study conducted by Harvard of nearly 3,000 adults concluded that males make up 25% of people with bulimia or anorexia nervosa and 40% of those who have binge-eating problems. The previous estimate had been about 10%. One explanation for this 30% jump is likely due to initial under-reporting of eating problems, as health professionals are more likely to attribute male weight loss to depression than to having disordered eating. Another explanation is that...
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What People Think of You

Clients tell me they often wish not to care what people think of them. I’ve wished it many times myself! But it occurred to me the other day as I watched some people who should know better behaving badly that not caring what others think of us isn’t always a worthy goal after all. As usual, the subject is somewhat complicated. What you mean when you say, “I wish I didn’t care so much what people think about me,” is that you don’t want being judged by others to dictate what you say or do. You want to avoid being abused, abandoned, shamed, humiliated or in any way denigrated for being who you are or doing something that another person is not in agreement with. Fact is, we’ve evolved to care what others think—in moderation. In terms of evolution, we have had to band and work together to survive. Caring what...
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Seeing Parents Realistically

I read a novel about three generations of women a while back which moved from granddaughter to mother to grandmother. At first, observing how the granddaughter was mistreated by her mother and grandmother, I was appalled. I felt the same way about how the mother was alternately abused and neglected by the grandmother. Then, finally, when I learned about the grandmother’s hard life, I had compassion for them all. Going backwards and understanding what made each woman tick underscored the impact parents have on us, but also pointed to a direction in adulthood that frees us from our history. We are each imperfect—we say and do things to hurt other people and ourselves; we act on irrational thoughts; we live mindlessly; we’re sometimes selfless when we need to be selfish and selfish when we need to be selfless; we have limited abilities to see ourselves honestly and clearly, especially in the...
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The Power of Parents

They are so big and we are so little. Who? Parents, of course, when we are children. I was thinking about childhood the other day and the formative power that parents have over us. Yes, nature may incline our temperament this way or that, but nothing shapes us—for better or worse—like our moms, dads, and early caretakers. Take size differential. We’re small and vulnerable, and they’re large and powerful. For years, we can’t even reach the top of a dresser or counter and are dependent on them to do physically what we cannot—including, during infancy and early childhood, feeding us. If they recognize and welcome our total, fragile emotional and physical dependence on them, we learn we can get our needs met by others. If not, well, we’re left with needs unmet and a sense of utter helplessness, distrust, failure, and despair. Then there are all the things they know that...
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Caring Distance

While watching a movie, I heard the phrase “caring distance” and was immediately intrigued. The character was talking about how to maintain healthy boundaries with someone you love, a certain kind of someone. Caring distance sums up what we need to do with people whom we love but who are not particularly or always lovable. We often think of caring only in terms of actions, as in to care for someone. But caring starts in the heart, when we care about someone, aside from whatever behavior we exhibit toward them. Caring can sometimes even mean engaging in behavior which does not feel caring to its recipient—when a parent puts down his foot and cuts off the gravy train to his irresponsible teenager, when a wife refuses to let her husband or partner sit around and do nothing while she works two jobs, when an adult child moves a parent who’s unable...
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To Love or Be Loved

Earlier this summer, an interesting discussion arose on my Food and Feelings message board ("Food and Feelings": Is it better to love or be loved? In my world, we need not choose, but should expect both in an intimate relationship. As is often the case, to understand the dynamics of loving, we have to start at the beginning and explore our initial relationships. Generally, the first is with our mother. With luck (and that really is all it is), Mother loves us deeply, with great affection and—at least while we are totally dependent on her—above all else. Mothers, fathers, and other adult caretakers who are emotionally healthy should not, of course, expect that babies will love them back. As children develop, they are capable of returning love, but certainly not in infancy and early toddlerhood. This point is crucial: that parents love infants without expecting anything back. Sadly, emotionally unhealthy adults...
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Are You Hindering Evolution

Here’s a question I bet you’ve never asked yourself: Am I hindering the progress of human evolution? You are if you’re an adult who has trouble standing up to and emotionally separating from your parents. “Individuation” will not only make it easier for you to become a “normal” eater, but it’s crucial to enhancing the gene pool! One of the developmental tasks of becoming an adult is growing into a person who is different than your parents. Whether they make it easy or hard to do so is beside the point. As an adult, your goal is to reach the milestone in human development of thinking for and being accountable to yourself. This process occurs everywhere in the animal kingdom: Mom and Dad take care of Baby until Baby can fend for itself. In terms of humans, we might say that parents should give children roots to grow, then wings to...
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