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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Trust But Verify in Relationships

Not a week goes by that I don’t come across clients or Food and Feelings message board members lamenting about not knowing whether to trust someone. When they meet someone—a potential friend, romantic partner, colleague, or new boss—they want to know instantly whether or not to trust them. If they watched their dogs or cats (or pet ferrets or rabbits) for any length of time, they’d understand that trust doesn’t occur instantly out of the blue. Animals check each other out and they certainly check us out. My cat sniffs everyone she meets, no matter how often she’s met them. Sometimes we need to do the human version of sniffing for a bit to know what someone’s really like. In international affairs, the process of putting a bit of faith in someone and then keeping an eye on them is called “trust but verify.” You cannot trust people without their continuing...
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Choosing Friends and Lovers or Being Chosen by Them

Do you choose friends and lovers or let yourself be chosen by them? Many people fall into unhealthy relationships because they’re not proactive in picking people who are emotionally healthy. Instead, they let themselves be chosen and are so happy and relieved that someone wants them, that their neediness carries the day. Think about your romantic and platonic relationships. How did they come about? Do you generally meet people and focus only on whether or not they like you or do you lead with considering whether you like them and why? Some friendships and romances wither over time. You grow healthier, the other person changes, or circumstances alter. That’s natural and normal. Relationships which weather the test of time are generally ones in which you’ve selected someone because they have certain admirable traits or have great value to you, and you think of them as someone who will add something positive...
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Keep Narcissists on Your Radar

A while back I was talking with a client about how to deal with her narcissistic father and why she kept attracting narcissistic people in her life. This was after a session with a client who commented about how her narcissistic mother had shaped her obsession with pleasing people rather than pleasing herself. When I stopped to think about it, I figured that about 90% of my clients over the decades have had at least one narcissistic parent and how sad that was both for the parents and my clients. My client with the narcissistic dad and I started talking about how to sense and identify narcissistic people and she said she wanted to improve her “nardar.” I loved the term and we went on to brainstorm what traits to look out for. Here’s what we came up with: Narcissists are self-centered and have difficulty sharing space in a relationship. They...
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The Importance of Mirroring in Connecting to Self

Many disregulated eaters don’t trust themselves, have difficulty holding onto a stable identity, and need external validation to feel okay about themselves. This may be due, in part, to their not receiving adequate mirroring as a child. Mirroring is one of the most crucial experiences we can have to build a solid, positive sense of self.According to Wikepedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirroring_(psychology)], mirroring happens when parents mimic the infant’s expressions, vocalizations, behaviors and moods to help the infant associate the emotion he or she is feeling with the expression of it. This parental imitation validates and shows approval of the emotion the infant is experiencing. Mirroring is a key part of infant and child development. Individuals need a sense of validation and belonging in order to establish a concept of self. Parental mirroring enables infants to develop a greater sense of self-awareness and self-control by seeing the emotion they feel reflected in the voice...
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Accepting Your Parents as Highly Flawed

One challenging task of adulthood can be accepting your parents as highly flawed individuals. If they’re generally wonderful, mentally healthy people and occasionally exhibit a fragile, irrational, quirky, or upsetting aspect of themselves, that’s one thing. It’s another to accept them being considerably mentally unhealthy. Yet, acceptance is essential for your own emotional health and, often, for becoming a “normal” eater. Most clients, over time, come to see that their emotional problems today are due in major part to their upbringing. However, it can be far more difficult for them to view their parents today as highly toxic and people to protect themselves from. This is due to the residual childhood, hope-driven wish to see parents in a rosier light, the unattainable yearning for their love and approval, and because many adult children of dysfunctional parents continue to see themselves as defective and powerless, rather than recognizing that their parents’ behavior...
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Not Everyone Is As Reflective As You Are

If your partner, parent, friend or co-worker is abusive or neglectful, you might be unable to fathom how this person manages to feel okay about his or her behavior. How can people so not get what they’re doing wrong? Can’t they understand that the way they act and the things they say hurt people? How is it possible that they don’t recognize what’s acceptable and appropriate versus what’s unacceptable or inappropriate?It’s entirely possible—because they’re not reflective like you probably are. I’ve blogged about the process of reflection before (http://eatingdisordersblogs.com/?p=4488 and http://eatingdisordersblogs.com/?p=4894), so this may not be a new topic to you. Reflecting means you think about what you say and do without judging it. Judgment has no part in reflection. It is a neutral observation: “Oh, I did this and positive things happened. Hey, I didn’t do that and things didn’t go so well.” By reflecting, you learn how what you...
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When Parents Want More Than Children Can Give

Many parents are not emotionally healthy enough to have children but do anyway, which puts their progeny at serious disadvantage. If you are one of those children whose parents were not emotionally mature when they raised you (and may still not be!), you may have low self-esteem because you couldn’t meet your parents’ excessive, irrational needs—and therefore turned to food mindlessly or compulsively for comfort. You may still feel you don’t measure up today and food seek for the wrong reasons. Here’s what happens. Some parents yearn for your love or attention; what they are actually looking for is to be mothered by you. But you’re only three or seven or twelve and require and deserve mothering yourself. Or they feel insecure but may not show it and look to you to be a reflection of all that is good or perfect so they can feel like stellar parents. Or their...
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Why Online Support Improves Your Relationship with Food

I’ve always believed that my Yahoo Food and Feelings message board and Facebook "Normal" Eating page help troubled eaters feel better about themselves and their relationship with food. Now an article entitled “A burden shared” in the 1/31/15 issue of The Economist (page 72) gives me hope that what I’ve assumed might be true. Although the article is about weight loss, as opposed to becoming a “normal” eater, I’m taking a leap of faith that its conclusions are equally applicable. There has already been substantial scientific evidence published proving that friendships and support networks help people get healthier physically and mentally. In this study by scientists at Northwestern University, a correlation between weight loss and staying connected to a website was found. Of course, correlation does not mean cause and effect, but this conclusion does get one thinking about how online support might be useful in reducing food-related problems. A few...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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