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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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Why Changing Beliefs Can Be Challenging

Ever wonder why beliefs—even ones that you know are wildly irrational—are so hard to change? If they don’t make sense, you might think, why the heck do I hold on to them? I’m smart, I want to take care of myself, so why would I let some wacky ideas dictate my behavior and hold me back from eating “normally” and living my best life? I came across an answer to this question in a Center for Inquiry summary of a 2008 study done by neuroscientist Sam Harris at the University of California Los Angeles. He was trying to answer the question, “How is the brain activated differently during a state of belief compared to a state of disbelief” and asked participants in an MRI scanner questions about their beliefs on numerous subjects. He found that “Brain activation, overall, was much greater and persisted longer during states of disbelief. This is important...

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Eating Disorders Awareness Week

The fact that it’s National Eating Disorders Awareness week means different things to each of us. It might be a reminder that you’re not alone and that millions of other women and men also struggle with food and weight issues. It might bring to mind loved ones battling with or lost to anorexia or bulimia. It might finally help you break your denial and admit that you have a dysfunctional relationship with food. This week is a good time to focus on and rethink your goals regarding eating and your body. What attitudes and behaviors are you working on that will bring you closer to “normal” eating? Are you making progress? If not, why not? If you’ve been coasting along, hoping magically for transformation, what prevents you from making a commitment to buckle down and make changes? If you’re still caught between dieting and acknowledging how it can promote food problems,...

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Are You a Sheep?

Perhaps because we’re heading deeper into an election year, I keep hearing the word “sheep,” as in “we need to stop thinking like sheep and start thinking for ourselves.” Sadly, many people possess a sheep mentality and don’t even know it. The only way to wake up and realize that you’re making choices like someone who’s brain dead is to pause and reflect on why you think and act the way you do. But how many of us put in the time or make the effort? Self-reflection is an essential part of good mental health. In fact, without it, there’s no way you will achieve it. Kicking back and thinking about the why’s and wherefores of your behavior gives you breathing space to make objective assessments as in Boy, I really didn’t think that through very well or I can’t believe I just went along with the gang and now I’m...

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Stop Fixing on Food

In this culture, it’s hard not to get fixated on food (never mind weight), from ongoing bombardment of TV advertisements, supermarkets circulars, magazine recipes, and doctors’ advice. What really can get you hooked is how we seem to be talking food all the time (I know it really isn’t all the time, but it sometimes feels that way). Recently, I’ve started to pay extra attention to how often the subject comes up. Please don’t take this blog the wrong way. Some of you have had secrets about eating issues for decades and have finally come out of the closet and begun to talk about bingeing, starving, purging, and night eating. Please continue to share and learn from one another other. But I do think we’re influenced by culture and, to become healthy, we must be careful not to fall into the trap of spending our lives focused on food and eating.Think...

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Feminism and Eating Problems

One of the things you must do to recover from an eating problem or disorder is to establish or take back power over your body. It is yours and no one else’s—not your mother’s, father’s, or spouse’s, and you need to understand this on a very deep level before you can move toward physical and emotional health. A book I read recently might help you reclaim what is rightfully yours. Written by Jessica Valenti, Full Frontal Feminism (Seal Press, CA, 2007) is aimed at assuring women that being a Feminist is a good thing for their own health and well-being. As I read it, I realized how being a Feminist could help women overcome eating and weight problems. Feminism is defined as “belief in the social, political, and economic quality of the sexes.” Although that sounds like an abstract definition and is perhaps hard to connect to eating, think about it....

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Wanting, But Not Food

When you’re caught up in the heat of the moment and feel desperate to eat (not out of hunger), you may not realize that it’s not food you crave. Food can be the answer to every question, the solution to every problem, the response to every impulse. You eat because you believe you can’t have what you want that isn’t food. Food is accessible, so it’s not surprising that you reach for it automatically thinking it will meet your needs. For example, say you want your spouse or partner to stop being critical of you, give you more attention, do more around the house, or that you even want him/her out of your life. Every time you connect to that desire, you may feel frightened, hopeless, overwhelmed, and conflicted. Rather than experience and deal with these authentic, uncomfortable feelings, your mind clicks on food. Maybe you’re single and want a companion,...

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Pretzel Logic

Sometimes as a dysregulated eater you just have to have a good laugh at what goes on in your mind. Maybe listening closely also will give you a new perspective on your irrational thinking. Here’s some stinkin’ thinkin’ I hear from clients and students—and friends and family—which seems logical on first hearing, but should give you a chuckle when you realize how truly illogical it is. I hear binge-eaters insist that they had to eat the whole whatever (fill in the food item) because they didn’t want to keep it in the house. What you’re really saying is that you felt compelled to eat the food at that moment so that you wouldn’t eat it later. Now, sad to say, any disordered eater would totally understand that logic, right? But I doubt it would make much sense to a “normal” eater who might innocently ask, “What’s the difference if you eat...

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One Change

Going against the grain of trying to change too many things at once, how about doing things differently this year and picking one thing about yourself to work on. I can hear the groans already—only one?…but I have so many…one won’t make a difference… etc. The problem with making a number of changes at once is that it can spread your energy too thin. Moreover, overdoing often contributes to an all-or-nothing mentality. You know, you have to change everything, but if you can’t, you won’t change anything. This year pick one behavior to work on. Maybe not even an action, but a particular thought which prevents you from getting healthy around food—or getting healthy period. We only change when we do the new behavior (thinking is a behavior) more than the old one and when that happens often enough, we create new neurobiological pathways which causes us to act differently. Remember,...

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Positive Possibilities

If you’re convinced you won’t amount to anything, will never finish what you start, and are doomed to have the same crummy struggles throughout your life, you may be programmed for failure. Believing you’ll never become a “normal” eater is a sure fire way not to. Whether you’re battling under- or overeating (or a yo-yo combo), you have to think you can succeed in order to beat your demons. Stop and answer these questions: Do you whole-heartedly believe you can become a “normal” eater? Is your belief only half-hearted? Or are you certain you’ll never reach this goal? Belief doesn’t mean not having moments of frustration and doubt. It’s natural to wonder if major change is possible and occasionally to feel hopeless. The problem arises when you distrust yourself due the core belief that you’re basically a failure, will never accomplish much in life, and that there’s something defective or wrong...

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Choice or Disease

Whether you view eating problems as a disease or not may determine your ability to recover. When we think of diseases, we often believe we have to wait until they’ve run their course or that we need to find an external cure. Couple this attitude with the standard model used to heal from addictions--that once you have severe drug, sex, alcohol, or gambling problems, you’ll have them for life--and a condition can feel like destiny. Excesses used to be viewed as moral failures: if you couldn’t get better you were weak, and lacked self-control, self-discipline, and motivation. Now we understand the substantial part that biology plays in addictions and recovery. Moreover, we recognize that depression and anxiety often underlie chemical addiction and that there may be a biological component with food abuse as well. Additionally, there’s an inherited component to dependence/abuse problems that predisposes us toward them. We do not all...

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Reframing

Try reframing for changing your attitude toward almost anything. Reframing is like putting a new frame around a picture—it can entirely change the look of something. Changing a belief goes like this: making, “I can’t bear feeling uncomfortable,” “I can manage discomfort without abusing food,” or “I have to exercise more if I overeat,” “I can exercise my regular amount even if I overeat.” By now, those of you who’ve read my books probably know a lot about reframing beliefs. You can reframe emotions and view them in a new, healthier light. Instead of considering feeling frightened of new people as childish, think of it as a way of protecting yourself from getting hurt. Rather than look at feeling helpless when someone yells at you as being oversensitive or weak, take the attitude that you’re trying to avoid pain. When you get angry at yourself for letting guilt maneuver you into...

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Taking Care of Your Health

I’ve noticed over decades of treating compulsive, emotional, and restrictive eaters that many of you do not take care of your bodies very well. Dysregulated eating is only one symptom of poor self-care which includes many ways you don’t keep your body healthy and in good working order. Effective self-care means doing whatever you need to do to improve the quality of your life in the long run. Much of it falls under the realm of prevention in terms of life style choices. Preventive self-care involves everything from wearing warm enough clothing when you are out in the cold and using an umbrella in the rain to getting regular dental and medical check-ups. One way to work on staying healthy is by reading about what is good for your health and what is not. You can do this online or through books. Websites of the American Heart Association (http://www.americanheart.org/) and cancer...

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Restitutive versus Substitutive Reprogramming

At a lecture on aging last month, two approaches for rehabilitating stroke victims—restitutive versus substitutive—were mentioned. Restitutive therapy was described as strengthening the limb/s which are paralyzed, while substitutive therapy helps build up the limb/s that have not been affected. The more I thought about them, the more I realized that these approaches also could be used by people recovering from eating problems. Distracting yourself when you have the urge to eat when you’re not hungry or when you can’t wait to rush off to the gym or purge after you’ve eaten is a substitutive behavior. It compensates for or takes you away from impulsive behavior. Sitting with feelings and not acting on harmful eating behaviors is restitutive behavior because these actions make you stronger emotionally. Some people will lean more toward one kind of technique than the other, but both are necessary to change destructive eating patterns. Stop and assess...

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Ending Food and Body Abuse

A client caught my attention recently when I asked how her purging was going and she replied, “I don’t do that any more.” I asked what she meant and she said she simply decided that she was no longer going to engage in bulimic behavior. Sure, she admitted, she’d been tempted, but she kept telling herself that the part of her life when she would binge and purge was over. She described how she’d handled the urge to purge by telling herself she’d just have to quit bingeing if she didn’t want to throw up and that she wasn’t’ going to die if she ate “too much.” She sounded different than she had in the months we’d worked together—more adult, tougher, more confident and certain. I felt as if, looking into her mind, I would see that something had shifted. Will she continue not purging? Can’t say; that’s up to her....

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Default Settings

One of the ways to view human programming is that we each have default settings, ones we return to over and over unless we are able to override them. Overriding takes a great deal of effort and can only happen when we realize that we’ve slipped back into default and that functioning in this mode is not in our best interest. The good news is that when we recognize and reprogram automatic responses, the sky’s the limit. We all have to pay attention to our reactions 24/7 (yeah, it’s a drag, but it’s a must do) in order to identify what our default settings are, to assess whether they enhance our lives or we need to change them. For example, say you generally don’t have faith in people helping you with distressing feelings because your parents weren’t exactly there for you and you pretty much had to lick your own emotional...

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Mind Over Biology

The more I read about eating and weight, the more it appears that genetic loading and biology heavily predispose folks to overeat or be fat. When I talk with clients about genetic tendencies and biochemical imbalances, some are relieved that there’s a cause for decades of food struggle and others are bummed out, feeling branded for life. Whatever the cause of food problems, everyone can change their thinking, which ultimately produces healthier attitudes and more constructive behavior around food. There are a host of factors that may predispose you to overeating and overweight: hormone deficiencies (e.g., ghrelin and leptin) regarding hunger and fullness, early biochemical damage due to trauma and stress, genetic abnormalities (e.g., possessing a gene variant that messes with the brain’s reward signal or one that helps you store fat more efficiently), or an imbalance of the right kind of gut microbes. You can take in this information and...

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Readiness

Sometimes you think you’re ready to change your eating behavior, but there’s so much else going on in your life that takes precedence. Frequently you need to get other parts straightened out to free up energy to put into resolving food problems. If you’re struggling with difficult situations or they’re contributing to food abuse, you may have to step back from eating work until you resolve them effectively. For example, maybe you’re really unhappy in your job. Day after day you dread going into work because you’re overworked and undervalued or bored silly. Or your boss is an ogre and belittles you at every opportunity. Or you don’t feel accepted and liked by your co-workers. Yes, you can change your thinking about these situations to relieve some of the pressure, but you’re still going to be consumed by work problems until you make changes. Make them and it may be easier...

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Honesty About Eating

It’s scary how easily we can fool ourselves. Take people who consume a great many unhealthy foods while insisting that they’d rather eat whatever they want than feel condemned to deny themselves pleasurable, high-fat, high-calorie foods in order to tack a few extra years onto life. Can you hear the faux wisdom in this distorted thinking which we often use to justify doing what we want in spite of real consequences? Although the above remark may be comforting, it’s irrational and self-destructive because it’s based on the false assumption that we control our destiny. For who can foresee the spectrum of consequences of chronic, unhealthy eating which may cause debilitating, lingering disease or conditions that cut life short prematurely? The faulty assumption is that a person will die peacefully and painlessly, albeit a few years “before their time.” But might they not equally develop colon cancer, diabetes, or suffer a stroke...

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Taking Advice and Suggestions

This blog is for you dysregulated eaters who aren’t doing all you can to help yourself overcome your eating problems. My purpose is to help you learn what stops you, especially why you have difficulty taking advice and following through on reasonable suggestions that will help you recover. Until and unless you’re able to take the steps that are recommended, you’ll be saddled with unhealthy eating and emotional problems that prevent you from reaching your eating—and other—goals. I’ve learned through my professional experience that clients who succeed follow through on most, if not all, my suggestions. They may not be convinced at the outset that an idea will help them, but they trust that my decades of experience in the field in general and knowledge of them in particular will move them in the right direction. Many are ambivalent at best and scared at worst, yet take a deep breath and...

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Self-empowerment

I write a lot about feeling helpless around food and lacking inner conviction that says, “I can do this. I can change my eating.” At the core of this problem is that many of you feel powerless to change much of your life—partners, jobs, friends, etc. Well, yesterday I went to a spirited political rally where people were about nothing but change. By rallying, these folks were not only fighting to make things better, but were empowering themselves. What does politics have to do with healing food problems? Lots. Self-empowerment is contagious. Start in one area and it will spread to another, maybe even to your eating. Being with people who whole-heartedly believe they can create change rubs off on you. Hang around them long enough and you gain faith in yourself. Too many people who feel like victims pal around with like-minded folks who bring each other down. But spend...

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