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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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The Changing Self

Although most people who attend therapy voluntarily bring with them a desire to change, they often say things like, “Well, it’s just who I am” or “This is me.” My sense of their sense of their Self is that they see it as something static rather than ever-changing. So, this is where we start in therapy: With the understanding that emotionally healthy people are open to change and recognize that sometimes it happens in what seems like one gigantic leap and most other times it’s such a minor shift, it almost escapes notice. In Existentialism for a New Era, The Millennial Therapist Sara Kuburic criticizes the view of “finding yourself” because “It assumes there’s a preconceived, constructed sense of Self that’s been given to you and you just need to find it . . . In my mind, you create your sense of Self. And that Self is perpetually evolving . . . Every...

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Mental Health Involves Reaching In and Reaching Out

Because our culture is so very either-or and one-way-or-the-other, it’s often difficult to value the concept of “and” rather than “or.” I see this with clients who are counter-dependent and co-dependent. These folks either have to do everything themselves or feel as if they’ve failed, or have few inner resources and a diminished belief in their ability to handle life on their own and are, therefor, overly dependent on others. My client Kayla is self-assured and believes she needs no help from others. When she gets into a tight space, she grins and bears it—sometimes with the help of alcohol and often with the help of food. “It kills me,” she insists, “to have to ask others to give me a hand. I was raised to be independent and fend for myself.” Yet deep down she knows she needs people to help her. Intellectually she understands that reaching out to others...

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Watch Out for Guilty Pleasures

What is it about “guilty pleasures” that make them so enticing to some people? To both improve mental health and enjoy life, it’s time to stop engaging in this self-abusive concept. Guilt and pleasure are miles apart, at either end of a spectrum, and don’t belong together. Guilt makes us feel bad, inadequate, and selfish because we think we’ve done something wrong. Pleasure, on the other hand, makes us happy, even joyful, and often gets our dopamine popping because something feels so right. One of my clients is the king of guilty pleasures, often starting a session by asking with a sly grin: “Can I tell you about my guilty pleasure weekend?” It almost always involves dining at an upscale restaurant (which he can barely afford) and eating too much. In fact, most weekends, he does just that—with friends, his significant other, or alone. He tortures himself: if he eats at...

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How to Be Yourself

Growing up, my mother would often ask me, “Why do you care so much about what others think?” It was a fair question, although she seemed to care a good deal about others’ opinions herself. Perhaps by continually posing the question to me, she hoped I’d turn out less like her. Who knows? Whatever her motivation, her question stuck with me over the years and helped shape my life. I think of her question often because it seems these days many adults are stuck in childhood or adolescence. In the former, they’ve been groomed by parents to obey rules in fear of punishment or rejection. After all, even in the best of childhoods life’s about pleasing the powers that be. As teens, it was all about peer pressure because bonding with folks who’re not family is how we separate from family. Acceptance by our peer group provides connections when we reject...

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Assimilation versus Accommodation

Knowing the difference between the processes of assimilation and accommodation will help you make conscious, healthy choices rather than act on what might be your impulse to stay with old ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving. For example, a client had a cousin who’d recently changed sex from female to male. Sadly, my client was the only person in the family who supported and accepted this change. Her description of how she managed to get another relative to be more open-minded and accepting of their (now) nephew is a perfect example of how these psychological processes work. According to Kendra Cherry, MSEd in What is Assimilation in Psychology?, “Assimilation is the cognitive process of making new information fit in with your existing understanding of the world. Essentially, when you encounter something new, you process and make sense of it by relating it to things that you already know. Through assimilation, we...

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Do You Have a Can-Do Mindset?

Decades ago, I heard the Henry Ford quote “Whether you think you can, or you think you can't – you're right.” It’s true because our thoughts propel our actions, that is, what we think and tell ourselves is exactly what we do. Not a week goes by without a client insisting they can’t do something: get to work on time, say no to their children, sit with feelings, attend AA meetings, etc. And each time I hear them say “I can’t,” I know they won’t, no matter how much they yearn to change. For example, Portia tells me she can’t stop fuming at her husband who has a very different temperament than she does. She’s Type A and he marches to his own inner drum, getting things done when he feels like it. Every session, she comes in and complains she “simply cannot accept his scattered behavior.” How could repeating these...

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Why Choice is Consequence

Within every choice, every decision, every intention are the seeds of consequence. You might not wish it to be so, but it makes the statement no less true. If you smoke cigarettes, you might not get lung cancer or you might. If you refuse to wear a seat belt, you might be uninjured in an accident or thrown from the car and killed. If you yell at your boss, you might be forgiven or fired.  Many of us think of consequence as divorced from choice, that choice is now and consequence is later. That false perception keeps the two unnaturally detached and makes it easy to forget that potential consequence is embedded in every choice. Sure, life’s a crapshoot, but we improve it exponentially when we play the odds.  When I asked my client Stella if she worried that her heavy drinking would damage her liver, she snickered in her typical...

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How to Eradicate Bedeviling Thoughts

All 8.1 billion of us on the planet struggle with bedeviling thoughts to greater or lesser extent. Effective management depends on your view of them and the effort you put into governing them. What’s your take on thoughts? What’s their purpose? Are they facts or truths? Are they all created equal? You must seriously consider and answer these questions in order to be in charge of your thoughts rather than the other way around.  Neuroscientist and psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett author of the groundbreaking book, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain, calls the brain a prediction machine which works nonstop to keep us out of harm’s way. Emotions and thoughts are constantly interacting with each other, surfacing as considerations that either float in and out of awareness or bombard us. Some are automatic reactions to the present (wow, they’re hot) and others are memories that intrude because...

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How to Love Your Highly Flawed Self

To be mentally healthy is to know yourself extremely well and still manage to like yourself. These are two distinct but strongly related feats. In truth, some people are so afraid they won’t like themselves if they dig too deeply into their psyche that they barely scratch the surface of self-knowledge before making a fast retreat. These are people who insist they don’t need therapy and it’s a bunch of hooey, anyway, and who pretend to have enormous self-knowledge when it’s obvious to anyone who’s been with them for five minutes that they’re clueless about themselves. The first part of the equation, knowing yourself, is easier than the second. Self-examination begins with recognizing your challenges and weaknesses as well as your strengths. The goal is to hold both at once. One would think it’s more likely that positives would shoot to the surface and we’d need to reach deeper inside to...

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Responding to Unwanted or Inappropriate Questions

Decades ago, a near stranger asked me why I often wore neck scarves. True, this was my habit and that of many others, as was the fashion back in the 1980s. I’m sure I mumbled that I liked how they looked or some such, but this woman’s question never struck me as coming from curiosity. It rang of judgment (as I got to know her, it turned out she was a preachy sort) which irked me. Recently, when a client described how her mother keeps asking her why she doesn’t want children, I thought of the scarf interaction and how people often ask questions that are clearly inappropriate or unwanted. Fortunately, in my clinical training, I was taught to answer inquiries of a personal or impertinent nature with another question: “Why do you want to know?” I’ve used that response over the decades well beyond my professional arena, asking it softly,...

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Stuff Happens

Months ago, as I was ironing, my beloved iron sputtered and died. After trying various ways to revive it, I grumbled, “Ugh, now something else is broken. I’m so tired of this happening.” Then the light bulb in my head flashed on to remind me that “s**t happens” because that’s the way of the world—always was, always will be—and our wish that life would simply roll merrily along without a hitch is merely self-serving foolishness.  Objects break or get lost, people and animals get sick and die, deals fall through, plans turn to disaster, weather trumps plans, and if things can go wrong they almost surely will. We know this on some level, don’t we? We experience the process ourselves and see it happen to others every day—and yet we still cling to the fantasy that we’ll have predictable, perfect lives. If random stuff happening weren’t so difficult to bear, it...

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Values Clarification

One of my favorite courses in social work school was called Values Clarification (or something similar). Most people have never heard of the topic. Neither had I. But it’s a crucial life skill in understanding yourself and your place in the world. Good Therapy defines values clarification as “a psychotherapy technique that can often help an individual increase awareness of any values that may have a bearing on lifestyle decisions and actions. This technique can provide an opportunity for a person to reflect on personal moral dilemmas and allow for values to be analyzed and clarified. This process may be helpful for self-improvement, increased well-being, and interactions with others.” An understatement of its usefulness, in my humble opinion. Values come up all the time in and out of therapy, but we don’t generally call them that. Instead, we say: my beliefs are, I think that, what’s right (or wrong) is. When...

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Why Cognitive Flexibility Is a Must Have for Mental Health

I’m forever challenging clients who say, “I always” and “I never” or who tell me they’re a certain way, such as insisting, “I hate parties” or “I try never to hurt anyone.” These statements are a sure sign that someone is lacking cognitive flexibility or the adaptive ability to make judgments about what’s necessary or effective situation by situation.  One of the biggest mistakes that dysregulated eaters make is holding on for dear life to old ways of thinking, rather than make decisions based on current reality. For example, my client Tonya grew up in a family in which she was sexually and emotionally abused. No wonder she didn’t trust people and took pride in relying only on herself—except that no man or woman is an island and we need to depend on others to live our best lives. Her response to others was adaptive in childhood but is maladaptive now....

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Think of Yourself as Your Home

During a session with a client who’s rapidly progressing (though it doesn’t always feel that way to her), I asked if she could think of herself as a home, actually a new home she’s moving into. I admit that one of the joys of my job—and there are many—is watching the “becoming” process from dysfunctional to functional. The idea behind the house analogy is that my client is moving into herself or into being her best self. Think of what a home represents. First off, you own it. It’s yours, which brings you both freedom and responsibility for it. For example, the joy of owning your home and living there means you can do whatever you want with it within legal limits. There’s no one there to tell you what to do. If you’re self-motivated, that’s not a problem because you want to be in a place that puts your health...

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Stop Being so Self-effacing and Claim Your Victories

Are you someone who’s so humble you never claim credit for anything and brush off compliments? This quality is characteristic of many dysregulated eaters. It’s one thing to be appropriately self-effacing—modesty and humility are laudable qualities—but it’s quite another when doing something well feels so unbearable that you can’t tolerate feeling proud that you achieved a personal goal or make a difference in the world.  Many people are raised to eschew boasting and bragging and that’s fine, but how do you ever build a healthy self without incorporating positives into it? A perfect example is when I tell a client, “Wow, you really spoke up to your boss this time and you did it in a very effective way. Good work!” and they insist, “Well, it’s all thanks to you. You’re the one who taught me how to stand up for myself.”  What’s wrong here? My client was brave and moved...

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Develop an Action Mindset

Ever wonder how some people say they want to do something and then get it done? Many factors motivate change, but the final step is always about taking action.  I’ve observed this process working with a client over time. When I first started seeing Cherise several years ago, she was binge-drinking and eventually got a DUI, making it impossible to drive which hugely impacted her life. She was at the point back then where, after telling me about her latest black-out, she’d insist, “I’ve got to stop drinking. I really need to quit.”  I knew the moment I heard the word “need” that she wasn’t giving up alcohol any time soon and we had a long discussions about how external motivators don’t work nearly as well as internal ones. Since then, we’ve had many more chats about how pressuring herself to do something (especially a biggie like stopping drinking) was only...

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Are You a Super-helper (Not Always a Good Thing)?

Many people who grew up to become co-dependent go overboard helping others to their own detriment. They’re all give and no take, which puts them in a position of relying on food for comfort rather than the support of others. The 4 Most Important Things You Need to Do to Recover From "Super-Helper Syndrome" provides some spot on advice for reversing this behavior and taking better care of yourself. “Super-helper syndrome” is a term coined by psychologists Jess Baker and Rod Vincent to describe people who have a compulsion to help others while failing to meet their own needs.” Sound familiar? Their goal in life is to please and help others which is how they garner feelings of self-esteem and self-worth. Sure, we want to feel good about doing unto others, but we also want to feel as good about doing unto ourselves. Baker and Vincent want to teach “super helpers”...

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Feeling Safe and Comforted

Many people say they eat to feel comforted and can track that path to the refrigerator right back to childhood. I certainly can. At first, I sought food when I was unhappy and after a while it just became a habit and a way to not feel uncomfortable feelings. In the best of situations growing up, we feel safe most of the time in the world at large and all the time with our families. They make us feel secure through being predictable and non-threatening, by validating our feelings and encouraging us to express them (all of them), and by keeping us from harm. Growing up feeling safe includes getting emotional and physical comfort when we’re distressed. If we fall down and scrape a knee, we get a band-aid and a hug and maybe a reminder to not run too fast. If we didn’t make the soccer team, we get empathy...

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Wanting Life to Be a Certain Way

It’s great to have life goals and dreams. Having a clear vision of how you want your life to go gives you something to work toward and helps you move forward. What is not useful—in fact, it’s downright detrimental—is to decide that you must have a certain job to be happy or one particular person as a spouse or partner to feel fulfilled. That’s just a set up for disappointment and pain and for ending up feeling badly about yourself when these events don’t manifest the way you’d like them to. This dynamic happens often when searching for a mate. “If I don’t find one, I’ll be devastated,” I’ve heard clients say. Worse, many of them narrow it down to one person, “If I can’t have them, I’ll never be happy.” Setting yourself up to have to have one particular person for a romantic partner is a recipe for disaster. Sure,...

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How to End Victim Think

Many clients were victimized in their dysfunctional families when they were children or adolescents. They had no choice. Even if they wanted to run away, they lacked the means or ability. Children and other powerless people are true victims. Though the Oxford Language Dictionary defines victim as someone “harmed, injured, tricked or duped,” are you really a victim as an adult when you can avoid something happening?  Perhaps that’s where the confusion comes in. Some people put themselves in situations where they’ll more than likely get “harmed, injured, tricked or duped” and choose to do so repeatedly. There’s a difference between a car veering off the road and hitting you and standing squarely in front of the car so it can’t miss you. In the former case, you’re not choosing to put yourself in harm’s way by standing at the bus stop with everyone else, while in the second you’re going...

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