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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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What Are You Trying to Prove?

A pattern that shows up a lot in dysregulated eaters is clients trying to prove something. Their goal is to show someone (or themselves) that they are or aren’t a certain way and they go at it with such a vengeance that it overrides their common sense and ability to make healthy decisions for themselves. For example, my client Dawn who’s recovered from drug and alcohol abuse has recently taken a part-time, entry-level job, her first since quitting drugs. She enjoys it but working the night shift has turned her life upside down—she’s eating poorly, is exhausted all the time, and can’t attend her usual AA or NA meetings for support. When I asked why she stays in the job or hasn’t requested a more suitable schedule, she said she’d thought about asking for another shift, but didn’t want people to think she’s a quitter. She expressed fear that her parents...

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Let Me Be Frank

Devouring a column by advice giver par excellence, Carolyn Hax, I had a good chuckle at her response (which I paraphrase) to a letter writer: When life is irritating and people are jerks, just “deal with it” and don’t make a big to-do. I confess there’ve been times when I’ve felt like saying exactly that to clients but never had the nerve because it’s sounds so un-therapist like, so unprofessional. Aren’t we supposed to be infinitely understanding, patient, compassionate, and kind no matter what?  After reading Hax’s Washington Post column (that comes out in my local paper), I began thinking about whether there’s a place for her manner of brashness in the therapy session, which is meant to be a space for honesty and straight talk. I decided there is and that my job, above all else, is to help clients become emotionally healthy and that sometimes frankness and bluntness is...

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Strategic Silence

Anyone who knows me well would use the words chatty, highly verbal, or strongly interactive to describe me in a relationship—unless I’m employing a technique therapists call strategic silence. It’s used to encourage clients to sit with and expand feelings by helping the therapist get out of their way. This blog is not about how strategic silence is used in therapy. It’s meant to teach you how to use this technique to improve your dealings with difficult people. Social discourse involves one person saying something and another saying something in return. A back-and-forth volley of words is expected as it is in playing tennis: When your opponent lobs the ball over the net, it’s assumed you’ll try to hit it back.  To use strategic silence effectively, you must accept and feel okay about breaking a social norm. You also need a valid reason for using it which is self-care and not...

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How to Change Your Response to Stress

Learning how to handle stress goes a long way toward curbing dysregulated eating. Of course, all stress isn’t created equal, but our responses are generally ingrained and we react unconsciously. In order to manage stressful situations, think about how you react interpersonally, that is, whether you move toward or away from people when stressed. There are two extremes you want to watch out for: Do you close up and push family, friends and co-workers away or do you grab onto and cling to them for dear life?  Many people cave inward when life starts to spin out of control. My client Shara says of her romantic relationship: “When we’re stressed, neither of us wants to talk. It’s like we need to crawl into our own shell to keep it together. We can go on like that for days or even weeks.” My client Grant does exactly the opposite: “I ask everyone...

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What We Must Know Is True

How do you know you’re breathing? When I ask clients this question, they think it’s a silly thing to ask and usually say, “Well, duh, I just know.” What I want them to recognize is that there are some things we don’t question. Instead, we “just know” they’re true.  Two such truths to acknowledge intertwine: that we’re lovable and have choices. Do you “just know” you’re lovable or is this a question that you’re unsure how to answer? Healthy people know they are (that is, they’re worthy of love and have lovable qualities) in the same way they know they’re breathing. Their worth and value is either a given from an early age or a question that’s been asked and answered at some point in life, so they never have to consider it again. It’s also true that there are choices and consequences in life. We make a decision and either...

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How Actor Jonah Hill Healed His Food Problems

The documentary, Stutz, will touch hearts and go a long way toward healing the mind of anyone with eating problems, weight concerns or low self-esteem. Actor Jonah Hill wrote and directed this film about his long-time therapist, renowned psychiatrist and author, Dr. Phil Stutz (not to be confused with TV’s “Dr. Phil”).  From the notes I scribbled on scrap paper watching the Netflix film: “I keep thinking of how Stutz’s teachings could help heal my clients, blog readers and Facebook followers. I was awed at how open, honest, and vulnerable Hill was, telling the world who he was below his public persona. I ached hearing Stutz’s sad life story and felt buoyed at the amazing man he became in spite of childhood suffering and developing Parkinson’s.”  Hill made this film to honor Stutz who helped him heal from over-eating, poor body image, and low self-esteem and to share with others “the powerful...

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Crash Course on Boundary Setting

One of the most talked about topics in therapy is boundary setting. If you grew up in a family with appropriate boundaries in which people knew where they ended emotionally and others began, you probably have no problem with them. You do what family members modeled, it feels natural saying yes and no as appropriate, and you choose to be around people with healthy boundaries. If your parents and relatives exhibited poor boundaries—prying into each others’ business, taking advantage of each other, always saying yes and never saying no or vice versa, and being bossy—you likely have problems with them too. Not to worry: this is a learnable skill that requires paying attention, having courage, knowing what to say when, and practicing until they trip off your tongue easily. When someone violates your boundaries, you might instinctively:  Explain what someone is doing wrong or point out they’re not listening to you.Repeat...

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Compulsive Forgiveness Does Not Serve You Well

The trend toward forgiveness has been around for decades. But what about people who have a compulsion to instantly forgive people no matter how heinous their crimes against them or others. Here are a few examples. Bobby came to see me for overeating problems, and the fact that he was a trauma survivor soon surfaced. After describing his horrendous childhood—Dad was murdered when he was six, Mom was an abusive alcoholic, and he was the oldest of five children whom he was charged with taking care of. Neglected physically and emotionally, he was the one who got stuck asking neighbors for help and money and the one who cared for his mother when she was dying of liver cancer. When I asked how he felt about caring for his mother who barely cared for him, he said he felt bad for her because she’d had a hard life. I understood his...

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Looking to be More Consistent

I confess, I’m a creature of habit: I have dance classes on Tuesday night, watch TV or read from 8:30 on in the evening, exercise 10-11 most mornings, and my best friend and I exchange phone calls every Sunday at 9 a.m. Although I have my share of flaws, I’m nothing if not consistent, raised as I fortunately was by creatures-of-habit parents. So, what do you do if you weren’t raised with a model of consistency and want to learn how to do things more regularly and stop flip-flopping between performing and avoiding certain activities? This is an especially crucial skill for dysregulated eaters who swing from under- to overeating and being a couch potato to becoming gym rats. In How to Be Consistent, Brad Stulberg explains the five principles to follow to develop habits of consistency. I’m sure you’ve heard some of them before, but maybe this time you’re ready...

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What’s So Hard about Facing Reality?

A client told me this anecdote. Her first therapist helped her to see that we can live quite well without controlling everything in our world and she was excited to share this enlightened insight with her mother. But when she told Mom that “anything can happen to anyone anytime,” Mom freaked out and quickly changed the subject. This story reminded me of a former boyfriend to whom I was complaining about my mother when suddenly he slapped his hands over his ears (in a restaurant, no less) and kept repeating “no, no, please stop.” My complaints must have stirred up a helluva storm inside him that he needed to shut out the pain my words were triggering in him. I’ve accepted that life can turn on a dime ever since my father died suddenly in the summer between my junior and senior years in college. Ever since then, I wince when...

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Let People Take Care of You and You’ll Improve Your Eating

I’ve noticed this phenomenon over my 35 years of being a therapist: many clients who are great at giving care are crummy at receiving it. These are people who become uncomfortable when someone wants to do something for them—give them a gift or do them a favor. These are often the same people who rely on alcohol, food or other obsessive habits to deal with life rather than turn to people. Take Astrid who is finally accepting now in her late 50s that there’s a cost to perpetual giving. Doing for all her neighbors, colleagues, and family members exhausts her but it also makes her insist, “It makes me feel good about myself, you know, worthwhile.” Of course, anyone can see that by saying this, she’s also saying that the opposite is true: if she isn’t giving or taking care of someone, she’s of no value. Worse, if she’s taking care...

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Frequently Asked Questions

Many questions and topics come up repeatedly in therapy that you may want answers to, so here they are. Where possible, I’ve directed you to read more about them.  Am I a bad person because I judge and feel critical of others? Rather than thinking others are bad people, use critical thinking skills (based on cognition and rationality) along with your honest emotional reactions to determine someone’s worth and appeal by weighing their pros and cons. You’re supposed to use these skills to know who’s emotionally healthy and who isn’t.  How do I know if I’m normal?  That’s an easy question to answer: there is no normal for everyone for everything. What you’re really asking? Usually, when clients ask this question, they want to know if their thoughts or feelings are healthy/unhealthy or common/unusual. In my book, it’s more important to be healthy than common. Lots of people do awful things...

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Being Okay No Matter What

Most of us spend our lives stressing to make everything work out okay. We want our children to be happy and successful, friends to like us, employers to value us and our work, romantic partners to love us and live forever, and for various and sundry other endeavors to turn out swimmingly. And in so doing, we engage in a fool’s errand. For example, my middle-aged client Josephina is divorcing her husband of many decades to live alone for the first time in her life. Tending toward anxious, she worries about feeling lonely, being able to pay her rent, and managing by herself when she’s used to depending on her husband. She told me, “I just want it all to be okay.” Another client, Alan, studying to be a paralegal, gets frantic when he receives anything less than a B due to his scholarship requirements. He works two jobs and throws...

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Words to Measure Progress

The words you use to describe your progress are key, so you’ll want to know which ones will move you forward and which will keep you stuck. Here are ways to think and talk about how well you’re doing. I’m guessing they might be quite different than the thoughts and self-talk you’re using now. Small steps. Describe progress as modest changes rather than looking for success in one fell swoop. The discussion of how to phrase progress came up with a client who said that she’s not doing any big things differently but is making small changes which are adding up. She’s going to the gym when she can, pacing her work to be less stressful, encouraging her children to be more active, not keeping juice easily accessible to them, and giving them more responsibility for thinking about consequences and taking care of themselves. Recognize success. I’ve written how the word...

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So What If It’s the Truth

I sometimes know what clients will say before the words are out of their mouths. This happened with my client Antoinette. After doing well in many ways, she succumbed to an urge to binge which led to a “medical” diet, weight loss, and rebound eating. After discussing what she’d learned, she lamented, “But, I’m fat again. It’s the truth.” The phrase, “but it’s the truth” is the one I want to call your attention to as I did to her. I believed her. It was the truth: she had regained a portion of the weight she’d lost and now her clothes were tight again. I couldn’t argue with her, but—here’s the point—since when does something being true mean we need to dwell on and obsess about it? I reminded her it also was no lie that there’s a horrible war going on in Ukraine; poverty, guns and COVID continue to kill...

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Mistakes Help You Win, Not Lose

I recently read a great quote which had no attribution, “I’d rather make mistakes than do nothing, I’d rather mess up than miss out completely.” How true, how true. It seems that people are either on one side of this divide or the other: willing to mess up in order to win or succeed or, at the other extreme, living in fear of erring and surrendering a chance to reach their goals. Sad, huh? Whether we’re talking missteps or major failures, what’s the secret the person quoted above knows that people who fear messing up don’t? It’s really no secret at all, just an entirely different mindset than believing you must do everything right that causes you to live in terror of doing things wrong. The idea is to accept that missteps are an essential part of life that we can’t escape and not be ashamed when you do something that...

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Who Takes Care of You?

The other day I read a phrase that virtually begged to be blogged about: “Okay, I’m over self-care. Everyone else can take care of me now.” How wonderful is that? We hear so much about self-care in the media (and in therapy) that the other half of the equation, having others take care of us, often gets lost in the shuffle. The truth is that life is exponentially better when we care well for ourselves and also have others care for us. You might be wondering what kind of care I mean. Most people think of doing things for people who are sick or have a disability and can’t fend for themselves. That’s one kind of caring, but there are more. I think of caring for people as falling into three categories: emotional, physical and social, but there may be other ways to think about the subject. In emotional care-taking, people...

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New You, New Thoughts

Rather than start a diet at the beginning of this year, think about January as a good time to evaluate and improve not just your thoughts, but the way you think. Change it, and your feelings and behavior will be transformed, automatically shifting you in the direction you want to go for health, fitness and higher self-esteem. Let me explain a simple tool for measuring how take in and process information. I’ve been using it since I learned about it in social work school back in the late 1980s. Be careful not to judge yourself as you’re learning about this new concept. Just take note of your habits and how you might change them. Consider what you do with new information. When you’re presented with a different way of looking at something than your usual way—for example, trying intuitive or mindful eating versus dieting—how do you decide whether to hold onto...

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The Best Way to Set Boundaries

Many dysregulated eaters have difficulty setting boundaries. All/nothing thinking leads them to accept everyone into their lives and allow people to walk all over them or keeps them emotionally defended and alone. This is known as having loose or tight boundaries. One is not better than the other. Boundaries need to be set according to what’s necessary. Like doors, boundaries can be open, closed or swing back and forth.  We learn about boundaries from parents and other adults who take care of themselves and others and say yes and no appropriately on a case-by-case basis. Boundaries are fluid—like swinging doors—set according to varying people and situations. Wise parents are sometimes available to their children and sometimes not. They watch out for them and themselves and are clear about what they will and won’t do for others. Alternately, parents with poor boundary setting provide unhealthy models for their children. Maybe they feel...

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Taking Care Of versus Caring About

A conflict that comes up a good deal in therapy is whether we can care about someone but no longer want to be responsible for taking care of them. Discussion of this topic arises more often with people who are co-dependent than with those who aren’t. In fact, it’s often a tip off of their over-focusing on other’s needs.  Here are two examples. A client broke off a long-term relationship with her boyfriend in another state. They hadn’t lived together for a while and slowly became more friends than lovers. My client made great strides in therapy, more or less leaving her ex in the dust, while he continued to be jobless, live with his parents, and do drugs. They’d been each other’s support for decades and she still had deep feelings for him, but she was tired of him calling to complain and always make himself out to be a...

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