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 Handle Bullies

How-to-Handle-Bullies
It’s impossible to go through life without running into bullies. They’re in our families, at school, at work, in our neighborhoods and in governmental bureaucracy. Whether we’re talking about a bully in your personal or professional life or one in the political arena, there are best ways and worst ways to manage them—and manage them you must.  In case you’re not sure what constitutes a bully, here’s a general description: self-centered, angry, controlling, demanding, lacking empathy, shaming, disrespectful to others, and acting outside of civility to get their way. They have no sense of fairness and are pretty much all take and no give, though some might appear charming, which might mean they lean toward sociopathy. They may not try to push you or others around all the time, but this behavior is characteristic of them, especially when they want their way. People who’ve grown up in dysfunctional families, with maybe...
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How to Be the Best Learner You Can Be

How-to-Be-the-Best-Learner-You-Can-Be
The most common complaint I hear from dysregulated eaters is that they’re not becoming “normal” eaters fast enough. Their frustration and disappointment are due to misunderstanding what the learning process is all about. It is explained beautifully in How to Keep Learning All Your Life, which also offers a prescription for finding happiness and satisfaction at every stage of life. Authors Robin Abrahams and Boris Groysberg describe a key component to learning: “Experiences of mastery teach people that they can learn, that the initial state of helplessness or confusion in the face of a new challenge will dissipate and be replaced by competence. A healthy learning environment, therefore, provides plentiful and diverse opportunities for people to experience mastery.” They add that such an environment includes, “safety to fail. No one achieves mastery—at crawling, coding or anything else—without some initial awkwardness. Learning inevitably involves getting it wrong, taking too long, forgetting key...
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Turn to Your Wiser Power

Turn-to-Your-Wiser-Power
A client was talking about learning to self-validate, then brought up seeking advice from her higher power. I asked, “What about your wiser power? What does it have to say?” I suggested it might be helpful to consult with it, since it was easily accessible.  I’m a big fan of wisdom and have blogged about it before. Wisdom is knowing what’s best for you based upon the information you have. It’s mostly comprised of knowledge and experience with a little bit of intuition thrown in. It’s what you’re seeking when you ask everyone else what to do and what you want when you keep playing out scenarios in your head, not knowing which one to pick. Here's the thing with higher versus wiser power. Seeking guidance from a higher power is a way of still looking outside yourself for answers. There’s nothing wrong with that. We can’t know how to do...
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A Last-ditch Strategy to Make Things Happen

A-Last-ditch-Strategy-to-Make-Things-Happen
I‘ve always found ultimata useful even though many people find them unacceptable. The word means to make a demand that has consequences either way. Frankly, doing that has always sounded very much like simply taking care of business: giving someone choices that have repercussions. But saying that someone must do this or that “or else” sounds to some as if they’re going beyond wielding power appropriately. I beg to differ. Here are some examples. My client Joshua would get calls in the middle of the night to pick up his alcoholic brother, Larry, and drive him home. Joshua complained repeatedly about Larry’s selfishness yet continued to do Larry’s bidding. Joshua tried explaining to him how it ruined his sleep and caused him to make costly mistakes at work after a midnight run. He also tried reasoning with and begging Larry to call someone else.  When nothing worked, I suggested giving Larry...
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How Did Your Parents Take Care of You?

How-Did-Your-Parents-Take-Care-of-You
When I listen to clients with poor self-care describe their childhoods, it’s pretty obvious why it’s poor today. How in the world could an infant grow into adult who values themselves when they’ve never been well taken care of? What is most painful to hear is how self-critical clients are for drinking too much, smoking, binge-eating, or other self-harming behaviors.  Take Florene, the child of parents with alcoholism who sought help from me for food and alcohol problems. When her father stopped drinking long enough to get a job, he was happy and loving to Florene and her younger sister and when he was on a bender, he disappeared for days at a time. Her mother’s drinking, more constant and even, led to her lack of attention to her daughters. Typically, she’d come home from her waitress job exhausted, tell the girls to do their homework, then head into her bedroom...
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The Art of Enjoying a Well-paced Life

The-Art-of-Enjoying-a-Well-paced-Life
When I speak of improving the pacing of your life, I’m not saying that you can tinker with it once and that it will regulate itself. Life simply doesn’t work that way. But I do believe that we can engineer our lives to give us a balance of what we need in terms of up and down and self and other time to bring us maximum satisfaction. My hunch is that when your life is paced to better suit your needs—and adjusted as necessary—that this shift will lead to a decrease in mindless eating.  Step back from your life and, without judgment, consider the amount of time you’re busy and energized versus relaxed and wanting to chill out. To repeat, don’t make any judgments about not being productive enough or feel angry that you don’t have enough time to relax. Just note, in the average day or week, how the times...
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The Difference Between Wanting and Deciding

The-Difference-Between-Wanting-and-Deciding
Clients come to see me wanting to change their eating habits and I often have a hunch about which ones will fail and which will succeed. There’s a hesitancy in those who tend to fail (rather than a full steam ahead attitude) causing them to formally drop out of therapy or stop coming to sessions. I feel badly that I can’t help them enough, but also recognize that people often change a bit at a time, not in one fell swoop. At any rate, I was thinking about what makes for success or failure in altering habits when a column on transforming eating habits caught my eye. Its author, Bryant Stamford, PhD, is a professor of kinesiology and integrative physiology at Hanover College. His theory is that most people fail at reaching their health goals because they’re still in the stage of “wanting” something but haven’t “decided” to go for it....
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Something Better Than Hope

Something-Better-Than-Hope-
One of my clients was aghast when I suggested she might want to stop relying on hope as much as she did. Her initial reaction was, “If I give up hope, how will I move forward? There’s nothing left without it. I could never give it up.” This is an unfortunate mindset, because, as she now realizes, “Hope can be deceiving.” Hope is defined as “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen” (Oxford Languages Dictionary), and therein lies the problem. We think of hope as making something happen, causing it, when all it does is act as a space holder until other things we do, think and feel deliver a specific outcome. Hope makes us feel good and is fine if we understand that, in itself, it does not deliver results. Hope also has a substantial downside. Think of all the times you’ve hoped that someone...
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Biases Beyond Weight

Biases-Beyond-Weight
I’m occasionally taken by surprise that in one breath clients complain about being stigmatized for their higher weight and in another show prejudice against a variety of human differences. They don’t see their biases based on skin color, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation, but complain about others being biased against their size.  Here's an example. One of my clients, whom I would describe as sweet and kind, went on an unexpected rant about “letting illegal aliens into this country.” Rather than get into a political debate on the subject of immigration, I was curious about her making negative judgments and lumping together all “illegal aliens” (the correct term is immigrants, not aliens, as they do not come from another planet, only another country!) and asked her if she knew any. She admitted she didn’t, but that she “didn’t like the looks of them,” at which point I asked if her...
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Put Attention on Your Intentions

Put-Attention-on-Your-Intentions
I think I know why some of you don’t succeed, including in overcoming your eating problems: your intentions and where you put your attention are not a matched set. Not even close. That is, your stated intentions are heading you in one direction while what you focus on is pulling you in another direction completely. For example, I have a client who wants to eat better, be healthy, and lose weight. Although he makes sporadic attempts to do all the above, where he puts his energy is in getting ahead at work. I suggest he do a weekend workshop on mindful eating, and he says he can’t take time away from some big work project. Then he tells me the following session that he spent most of the weekend eating in front of the TV and barely got his work project done late Sunday night. See what I mean? His intentions...
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Are You a Goal-a-Holic?

Are-You-a-Goal-a-Holic
If you’re like some of my clients, you race from one goal to another without stopping and use checking off accomplishments as a way to fuel pride and boost self-esteem. The problem is that when throwing yourself headlong into the next task to reach your goals is the most important endeavor in life, experiencing down time becomes something deemed bad and wrong and to be avoided at all cost. Does this scenario sound sadly familiar? If so, you may be a Goal-a-holic, someone who gets their biggest buzz from keeping busy setting up goals and meeting them. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fine to have and meet goals. Goal setting is an important life skill, but it’s only one half of the equation, the other half being knowing how to enjoy life and feel good about yourself when you’re not creating and pursuing goals. This other half of the equation is...
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Stop Following the Herd

Stop-Following-the-Herd
Maybe because I’m an only child and didn’t have siblings to influence me, I’ve found myself generally averse to the herd mentality. You know, when you feel a need to do or not do something because of what others are doing. I’m quite happy with this facet of my personality, as it led me to stopping dieting in my late twenties when it was all the rage with friends while putting me on the path to “normal” eating. For example, I’ve always been slow to take up the latest fashions and, when at last I do, they’re often long gone by. By the time I finally decided I did like bell bottom pants after all, they were out of style and tapered legs were in. By the time I got around to having my hair cut a la Sassoon, my friends were all growing their hair long again. I’m struck with...
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Really Free Up Your Time

Really-Free-Up-Your-Time
It’s ironic how so many dysregulated eaters rush around and complain about how much they have to do, but always make time for a binge. I hadn’t realized how ironic this phenomenon is until I was talking to a client who was wildly excited that giving up binge-eating had freed up her time to do activities she enjoyed. She said, “I can’t believe all the free time I have now that I don’t spend all those hours scouring my kitchen cabinets for something to eat—and then eating and beating myself up afterward.” I understand: I’m a recovered binge-eater. It’s true how our lives and minds get filled up with what we’ll eat, shopping for it, cooking it, spending hours gorging until we’re sick—not to mention the clean up and precious minutes post-binge raking ourselves over the coals for “being bad.” Did you ever try adding up the precious time you’ve wasted...
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Hurry Up and Wait

Hurry-Up-and-Wait
My mother had a saying, “hurry up and wait,” which I’m reminded of working with my dysregulated eating clients. I confess I looked the phrase up recently and chuckled at how true it is. Humans spend an inordinate amount of time pushing ourselves to move quickly to get something done, only to find that when it is, we’re still stuck waiting. The best example is rushing to get to the doctor’s office, only to find yourself sitting in the aptly named waiting room for a good long time before being escorted into their office. This phenomenon happens on the road to any kind of recovery: alcohol, drugs, food, etc. In the case of eating disorders, people place an undue amount of pressure on themselves to get where they want to go, which is, more often than not, to a number on the scale. Occasionally, it’s a clothing size, but generally clients...
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How Helpful Is Intuition?

How-Helpful-Is-Intuition
Intuition can be a blessing or a curse. We usually use the word casually to mean a gut feeling or a deep, emphatic sense of something. How much we rely on it may dictate how life works out for us. But what do we really know about intuition?  According to Psychology Today, “Intuition is a form of knowledge that appears in consciousness without obvious deliberation.” It “tends to arise holistically and quickly, without awareness of the underlying mental processing of information,” the result of a subtle, unconscious gathering and registering of impressions of the world around us. At times, following intuition works. When I was practicing in Boston, my client Andie spent most sessions trying to figure out where to move to: either a small city or big town that was laid back with warm weather. She was constantly researching possibilities, traveled to some of them, and talked with people who...
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Use Behavior to Reinforce Positive Choices

Use-Behavior-to-Reinforce-Positive-Choices
My clients with dysregulated eating get a big kick out of my describing a way I avoided unwanted noshing way back when: by hooking my finger into the collar of whatever I was wearing and dragging myself away from the refrigerator while repeating, “If you’re not hungry, you don’t want food.” The action comes from vaudeville shows where a performer who was doing poorly would literally “get the hook.” Picture an oversized cane hooked around a performer’s neck yanking them offstage into the wings. Silly as the behavior sounds, it reinforced my intention not to eat when I wasn’t hungry. I’ve suggested a combination of self-talk and physical action to prevent clients from emotional or mindless eating. Here are some word-action combos you can practice. Better yet, come up with some unique pairing of your own. Many clients feel defective because this was how they were raised to feel about themselves....
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How to Find a Great Therapist Match

How-to-Find-a-Great-Therapist-Match
Even when you think you might be ready to start or return to therapy, you may wonder about finding a therapist who’s a good match. In these days of tele-therapy, it can be both easier and harder to find someone. The field is wider, providing greater selection, but that also may make it more difficult to narrow down your choice. It may surprise you to learn that I started therapy (by choice) when I was 14 years old. I’ve had some half dozen therapists over the decades—fair and great ones—and learned something from them all. If you’re in the market for one or are evaluating your current therapist, here's some excellent advice about how to make this important choice from “Not making progress in therapy? Make sure you and your therapist are a good fit.”  The author encourages you to do the following: Don’t expect your therapist to fix you. Make...
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How to Become More Resilient

How-to-Become-More-Resilient
Because resilience is a proven ingredient for success, happiness and satisfaction and the lack of it has been shown to lead to a poor quality of life, it’s important to recognize that you can grow resilience, the ability to recover from hardship, trauma and other stressors. You can build emotional muscle to avoid being taken down by adversity and bounce back from it more quickly and effectively.  “The Kids Are Alright” (Newsweek, 9/3/21, pp 16-26) provides an explanation of resilience, including its manifestations at the neuro-cellular level. According to its author, Adam Piore, susceptibility to depression is unsurprisingly linked with avoidance of risk and a more negative life outlook, while “resilience is associated with a more positive” outlook and “boldness” and taking chances. For example, if you’ve been burned enough times in the romance department, you might stop dating for fear of being hurt again. This behavior will help you avoid...
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Satisfaction versus Achievement

Satisfaction-versus-Achievement
I recently came across an author who suggests that happiness comes from satisfaction, not from achievement and I thought about all my unsatisfied clients over the decades who had achieved so much but rarely felt that what they’d done was enough or was up to par. And so off they went seeking satisfaction with food. Satisfaction is a quirky thing, but hardly elusive. You can feel satisfied watching a spell-binding movie or TV series, reading a book about the Civil War, weeding the garden or making a four-course meal. These are just a few of the activities that can bring satisfaction, as can getting a solid night’s sleep or cleaning out the garage. Satisfaction doesn’t come from the party you’re attending, but from what you bring to it. That is, it comes from a deeply felt sense of pleasure in what you’re doing. It’s not about what you’ll tell people after...
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From Secrets to Sharing

From-Secrets-to-Sharing
There’s an AA saying that says “our secrets keep us sick.” It’s true. Personally and professionally, I’ve seen how they harm us. You know it too, how they burrow deep and slowly eat away at emotional well-being. Why do we keep secrets and how can we break free and start sharing them? There are several reasons we keep secrets: We’re ashamed of what we did or didn’t do, said or didn’t say. Because we’re ashamed we believe that other people will see our actions as shameful, and we can’t bear heaping other people’s shame onto our own.We’re afraid of retaliation. Sometimes our secret actions (or inactions) put other people in harm’s way, and they may be angry or retaliate if they find out. We don’t want the punishment they may mete out. We were brought up that what we do is private and no one else’s business. Perhaps we don’t even know...
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