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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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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 think...
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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 I...
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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 abuse, neglect,...
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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 was...
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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 looking for...
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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 nowadays...
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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 others...
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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 moment;...
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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 we don’t—a...
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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 to...
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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 may be...
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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 fly.Think...
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Growing Up in An Alcoholic Family

Numerous troubled eaters I’ve counseled grew up in alcoholic families. By that I mean that at least one—and sometimes both—of their parents had serious problems with alcohol. Being raised in such a household has a profound negative impact on the development of a child and may affect, among other things, her relationship with food.Alcohol problems include a parent: abstaining from drinking for weeks or even months at a time, then going on a bender; losing jobs for coming to work drunk or hung over; withdrawing from family life or relationships to nurse a bottle alone; acting lovingly and reasonably when sober and falling into depression or flying into rages after a few drinks. Such a household might also be rife with arguments between the drinker and non-drinker and periods of function followed by dysfunction. Moreover, a subset of alcoholics become emotionally/physically/sexually abusive during a binge, which can then be followed by...
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Giving Others What You Want

I see this happen over and over. A client who was overfed or overweight as a child, takes a laissez-faire attitude about food with his children. Or a client whose parents ignored their children’s nutritional needs, micromanages them when she has children of her own. This kind of dynamic happens outside the food arena as well. Here’s why.As adult as we may appear, there lives inside us that child that got too much of this and not enough of that. In an effort to make things right for our offspring, we often give them what we lacked. Or avoid giving them what we received too much of. For example, adults who were rigidly controlled by their parents as children, often give their children too much freedom, vowing to be nothing like their overbearing parents. At the other end of the spectrum, adults whose parents were off working or spending time with...
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How We View Others

While reading a book I’ll soon blog about, a quote nearly knocked my socks off: “…The inside of you is always looking at the outside of everybody else. So the inside of you feels inadequate, insecure, anxious and looks at the outside of people…and thinks, I wish I had my act together like she does. But then you realize that the inside of her is probably looking at the outside of everyone else and thinking the same thing” (quote from Jane Savoie in WOMEN RIDERS WHO COULD…AND DID by Karma Kitaj).What a powerful description of what goes on for us all. I say all because many disregulated eaters don’t realize that everyone’s insides are looking at everyone else’s outsides. I know Savoie’s quote is true because I’ve experienced how it works. In my 40s, one night I received an out-of-the-blue call from a woman I’d known since junior high school but...
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Emotional Separation from Parents

As a first-year grad student, I was stunned when Sophie Freud, granddaughter of Sigmund and one of my social work professors, boldly proclaimed that "We never finish emotionally separating from our parents." Decades later, I understand how we spend our lives sifting through parental messages to crystallize what we really think and feel.Separation is a life-long process filled with plateaus, milestones and, mostly, itsy bitsy baby steps. We’re taking part in separation or emotional disengagement even when we don’t realize it—as pre-teens by not making our beds or sneaking a peek at our folks’ personal items though we’ve been forbidden to do so, as adolescents by staying out beyond curfew or hanging with friends our parents dislike, as young adults by moving to another city for college or work, and as more mature adults by raising our children differently than we were raised. Each of these acts increases emotional separation.Imagine us...
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Needing Each Other

A New York Times article on human communication and touch contained a sentence which caught my eye. Although the article was about how positively people respond to touch, what grabbed my interest was more general—about why we need each other and relationships in the first place. One more reason to reach out and touch someone.Here’s what psychologist James A. Coan from the University of Virginia says: “We think that humans build relationships precisely…to distribute problem solving across brains. We are wired to literally share the processing load, and this is the signal we’re getting when we receive support through touch.” Hardwired to share the load—that’s a powerful statement which makes complete sense. When we problem solve with others, we multiply our chances of finding a solution. More brains, more brain-storming, more potential for varying solutions, and more likelihood that one of them will lead to success.Of course, the above quote is...
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Approval Seeking

One trait that many disregulated eaters have in common is the desire for the approval of others. Sadly, not receiving this hoped-for approval can provoke disappointment, frustration, rage—and a whopper of a binge. While practicing strategies to disconnect internal distress from unwanted eating, it’s also essential to let go of approval-seeking thoughts and behavior. Here’s what you can do.You’ve read it in books and heard from scores of experts: Self-approval is more important than other-approval, and the only approval you’ll ever need is from yourself. Yet you go on making others’ opinions matter more than they should and continue to fear that people in general or particular individuals will be unhappy with you if you assert your needs. When you’re desperate for your father, mother, lover, partner, friend, colleague, boss or spouse to like—or love—you, you forget that you’re fully grown and can function perfectly well without them being favorably disposed...
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Dealing with Difficult Parents

Lots of unwanted eating comes from the stress of dealing with parents who don’t respect our boundaries and who are more focused on their needs than ours. As we mature, the idea is to “separate” from them emotionally, that is, to know that you exist for you and not for them. No matter what your adult age, when parents try to control you, it’s not surprising that you turn to food for comfort. Here is some excellent advice on the subject, not from me, but from a therapist whose blog I was fortunate to read. His wisdom is so right on, I thought I’d give you his words rather than mine.Richard Wade, retired Marriage and Family Therapist, blogs and writes an advice column. With his permission, here is his (edited by me for brevity) response to a young woman whose parents vehemently disagreed with her choice of boyfriend because he was...
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Friends, Mirroring and Contagion

I admit it—when the theory that friends can make friends fat came out a few years ago, I raised my eyebrows in disbelief. How could that be, I wondered—until I read Daniel Goleman’s SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE: THE NEW SCIENCE OF HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS, which explains how over time spent with someone, our brains tend to synchronize and mirror each other. Now I understand the need to hang out with healthy people, not merely because they raise our self-esteem and make us feel good, but because they may shape our lifestyle and habits. By the way, Goleman is also the author of EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE, a classic about our internal emotional world.According to research, in part due to peer pressure and in part to how our brains adapt to and synchronize with one another’s, who you spend time with might encourage positive eating and exercise habits or put you in danger. Consider these questions. How...
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