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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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How to Pick Healthy Intimates

When you get shaped by growing up in a dysfunctional family, you may not know the criteria for choosing mentally healthy intimates. Many disregulated eaters surround themselves with folks who aren’t good for them—or anyone!—then wonder why they’re driven to eat mindlessly. Here’s a list of some of what I think makes and doesn’t make for an emotionally healthy friend or romantic partner.The person has most, if not all, of these traits most of the time: kind, considerate, caringgenerous, giving, with an abundance (not deprivation) mentalityan empathic, good listener, genuinely interested in what you have to say, questions you about yourself and really wants to know the answers, values and “gets” youhonest, ethical, has friends who are honest and ethical, trustworthy, reliable, accountableintelligent with common sense, has good critical-thinking and problem-solving skillscomfortably admits to mistakes and failures, does things to be proud of her/himselfhas interests, close friends, a good sense of...
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On Parents, Power, and Vulnerability

It both amazes and saddens me when clients who’ve been living successfully on their own for decades confide that they still feel vulnerable and powerless around their parents. Mind you, most of these clients are middle-aged and often parents themselves, and reside in states, countries or even continents that are far away from their aging parents. Yet many of them are still “battling” with their parents over who is in charge of them. I tell them the truth: that though they may feel vulnerable and powerless, they are not. They have won not only the battle to take charge of themselves, but the entire war.Moreover, we don’t have to do anything super-human to win this tug of war. Fact is, once we reach our late teens or early twenties, we’re quite capable of being self-reliant. Parents may treat us and we may act as if we’re not, but biologically we are....
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Improve Your Eating by Breaking Up with Your Parents

Over and over again, I hear clients and Food and Feelings message board members suffering with the same problem. They’re afraid to speak their feelings and end up eating them away, a particularly common occurrence with their parents, even though these clients and board members are now adults.Let me be straight with you. This complex developmental task may take time to accomplish, but it’s crucial if you want to be an emotionally healthy and fully functioning adult. Don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s no big deal, because it’s just about the biggest deal there is. Feeling—and, worse, acting—like a child around your parents makes you feel less than. I get that you may feel sorry for them and, therefore, compulsively wish to shower them with kindness. Or that you feel angry at them and, reactively, immediately sink into guilt that you’re being ungrateful for whatever you got or get from them....
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Double Messages and Double Binds

My Food and Feelings Message Board members have been discussing a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t dynamic called double messages and double binds. This dynamic generates feeling trapped and helpless which may lead to despair and abusing food. Understanding what’s going on in these situations and how to stop it is key to improving psychological health.A predominant way of communicating in dysfunctional families is through giving double messages. The problem isn’t confined to families, of course. It can occur in any kind of relationships. Messages are given three ways. They may be oppositional through conflicting words, as when a parent says, “You look so pretty in that dress. What a shame you’re not 10 pounds lighter.” How confusing! Do you really look pretty or not? Or, when you’re told by your partner, “Go ahead and apply for the promotion, but I’d be really surprised if you have what it takes for it.” Is your...
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Benefits of a Social Network

Why do therapists harp on developing and maintaining relationships rather than avoiding connections, isolating, and doing everything yourself? The answer is that there are many physical and mental health benefits from being in social networks.Nick Hopkins of the University of Dundee in the U.K. (“Karma of the Crowd” by Laura Spinney, National Geographic, 2/14, p. 130), answers the question of why belonging to a crowd might enhance health through shared identity: “You think in terms of ‘we’ rather than “I,’” which changes your relationship with people. “What happens is a fundamental shift from seeing people as other to seeing them as intimate.” The article goes on to say that, “Support is given and received, competition turns into cooperation, and people are able to realize their goals in a way they wouldn’t be able to alone. That elicits positive emotions that make them not only more resilient to hardship but also healthier.”Need...
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Early Learning Stays With Us

What we learn early in life as a young child, even as a late-stage fetus, often unknowingly guides our lives. Moreover, memories get encoded in our brains and remain there without us realizing that we have learned anything. Understanding the effect of this childhood learning is crucial to resolving your eating and other problems.To comprehend the impact of our earliest learning, here’s an example of research about the fetus and music from an article entitled, “Study points to learning in the womb” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 11/3/13, p. 5A). It turns out that infants whose mothers listened to certain music in the final trimester of pregnancy showed an ability to identify the pieces when played again a few days after birth when monitored by brain scans. And there already have been studies which show the impact of a mother’s eating preferences on her newborn. It’s amazing how much our brains pick up without...
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Myths About Family

A client and I had a great session brainstorming myths about family, stemming from her realization that, though she binges far less than she used to, the times she does binge are often around holidays and family gatherings. If she could clear up the myths she’s been believing, she thought, she might be able to stop bingeing completely. The myths we came up with, mostly from her dysfunctional family, are as follows:We love each other and act lovingly toward each other.We stick together, show each other loyalty, and have each other’s backs.Belonging to family is what we aspire to.Belonging to and being accepted by family is the most important thing in the world.A cohesive family unit is more important than individual needs and personalities.Being like family members is better than being different from them.Families should spend a great deal of time together.Family members are responsible for and obligated to each other.Family...
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Separation and Individuation

Over the decades, I’ve worked with scores of young adults who are trying to find their way in the world and make peace with food. Their issues often center around forging a new, comfortable adult identity and managing said identity around their families, which can be a highly stressful task. Well, no one ever said that growing up is easy.Of course, the process of maturation goes far better when parents allow us to work out identity issues ourselves. That doesn’t mean leaving us to flounder, but for parents to be there as sounding boards and advice givers, but only upon request. Much of figuring out who we are and want to be is done through peers and the world at large. No one has it figured out in their 20s, I don’t care how great they look from the outside. This decade is meant for experimenting with values and lifestyles and...
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How to Get Treated with Respect

Not being treated with respect by a boss, spouse, partner, colleague, parent, child, co-worker, or whomever may drive you to seek comfort in food. If you want respect, you must act in ways that make crystal clear that you will settle for nothing less. Here’s how.If someone is determined to be mean, critical, shaming, hurtful and disrespectful, there’s often nothing you can do about it. But more often than not, you hold the power to command respect and don’t use it. Think of the times you’ve repeatedly been spoken to rudely and not called someone on it, have failed to stand up for yourself when a defense was exactly what was required, or have let people walk all over you—then headed straight for the cookie jar. Those behaviors are on you, not on the folks who’ve been rude or cruel, because you failed to show yourself respect. So...Stop apologizing for things...
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Thinking and Talking About Your Childhood

Coming from a therapist, it might sound strange asking you to consider if you might think and talk too much about the unhappiness you experienced growing up. Don’t therapists want you to open up and examine your origins and history? Don’t you benefit from time-tunneling into the shadowy events and murky corners of your childhood?Well, yes and no. For example, say you took a walk in the woods every morning and thoroughly enjoyed yourself. I’d say that’s a wonderful way to start your day. However, if you had frequent terrifying experiences in those same woods—being mauled by a bear, bitten by a snake, and had contracted a wicked case of poison ivy—yet still insisted on heading into them each morning, I’d wonder why. Wouldn’t you?To be sure, I’m not in any way speaking here about looking backward if you’ve never examined or have just begun exploring how your childhood connects to...
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When People Tell You What You Need to Do

I’ve written often on the dangers of disregulated eaters insisting they “must, should, ought, need, etc.” to do things. These words are prone to kick up a backlash and only start you fighting with yourself, exactly the wrong strategy when you’re trying to make healthful food choices. Likewise when people insist you “need” to do something. Learning how to handle others’ demands will help you make wiser decisions. This subject came up with a client whose dietician—a helpful, caring, woman—told her that she “needed” to cut back on portion size, stay away from high-sugar and –fat foods, and pay more attention while eating. This client had been doing all that and was pretty pleased with her food intake, although she granted that it wasn’t perfect. She tried to tell the dietician that, but only heard more “needs” and “shoulds.” After the session, my client told me she went on a binge....
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You Can’t Argue with Crazy

How could a radio interview of an Iranian journalist held captive in Iran for three months (then released) possibly relate to you and your eating problems? Here’s how. The interviewer asked the journalist about his interaction with his guards and interrogators. This led to talking about the journalist managing these relationships by choosing to react as if these people were crazy—what I’d call irrational, not necessarily mentally ill. So let’s stretch our minds a bit and consider your difficulties responding to people who also act irrationally and how some of these interactions drive you to mindless eating.If I’m recalling the story correctly, the guards and interrogators in this situation insisted that the journalist was a spy because he’d acted in a sketch on US TV in which he’d played a spy. Who knows if they really believed he was spying or were using the show as a pretext to keep him...
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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 what Frederic...
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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 experience a...
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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 your friend...
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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. The majority...
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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 of...
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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 and...
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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 admonishments. Most...
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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 parents...
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