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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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Eating Disorders and Food Allergies, Part 1

It’s very difficult to have food allergies on top of eating problems. Not only must you be mindful of your appetite and the rules of “normal” eating, but you have to deal with the physiological and psychological consequences of eating certain offending foods. Typical food allergies include wheat (gluten), soy, dairy (milk), eggs, peanuts, and shellfish. Studies maintain that some 15% of people in the US believe that they are allergic to certain foods, but that only approximately 1% of adults and 5% of children have true food allergies characterized by an adverse reaction that’s triggered by the immune system. In a true food allergy, your immune system mistakenly identifies a specific food or a component of a food as a harmful substance. This causes certain cells to make antibodies to fight the culprit food or food component (the allergen). The next time you eat even the smallest amount of that...

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Struggling to Health

The stronger the grip your eating disorder has on you, the harder you will have to fight back. I wrote in The Rules of “Normal” Eating that trying to overcome an eating disorder is not for the faint of heart and I meant it. Fighting to overcome your dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors around food is a battle like few others. The struggle will reach into every corner of your existence and you will have to face off with food—your desire to eat or not eat—many times each day in order to become healthy and learn to eat “normally.” By struggling, I mean tolerating impulses without acting on them, tough work after years or decades of mindlessly following a destructive eating path. Your inner conflict to continue behaving the same way around food as you always have will bump up hard against your growing desire to be healthy and fit. Whether you’re...

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Using Problem-solving in Eating Disorders

Whether you’re a chronic overeater or undereater or yo-yo between the two, you need to harness your problem-solving skills to make progress. Some of you are probably terrific problem-solvers—the go-to people in your company, the family decider and planner, the friend who knows how to clean up everyone’s messes. In that case, you’ll be able to use skills you already have to resolve your eating issues. However, some of you may not shine at problem solving in general. You may not recognize or be willing to acknowledge this deficit and wonder why other people are happier and more successful than you are. If you don’t have terrific problem-solving abilities to begin with, it will be harder for you to resolve eating issues. The first step in problem-solving is, of course, to identify the problem. Pick one aspect of eating that is plaguing you—snacking on high calorie foods as an afternoon pick-me-up,...

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An Eating Disorder or Misery

Many of you will not be able to overcome your eating problems until you get out of the unhappy situations you are working or living in. I know this advice is hard to hear, that you fear making major change, and that you will even forgo a healthy relationship with food to maintain the status quo. However, dysfunctional eating is often a reaction to a toxic situation and you won’t become a “normal” eater until you opt out of it. You may hate your job or like it but feel constantly stressed, overwhelmed, pressured, and frustrated. Or you enjoy your job, but not your colleagues who appear to delight in excluding or harassing you and go out of their way to make your life hell. Or you have an ogre of a boss who is chronically mean, condescending, blaming, insensitive, and/or petty, for whom nothing you do is ever good enough...

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What is Self-control?

We first hear the word “self-control” early in childhood and go on to use it to explain our eating successes and failures ever after. We act as if it’s a commodity we can go out and buy at the corner store, as if we either have it or don’t, as if it’s something outside ourselves that we can somehow get hold of and place inside us. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and we do ourselves a disservice by our wrong thinking. Self-control is a process, not a single action; it’s an acquired skill, more a way of thinking than behaving. It develops over time, generally starting in early childhood, but can also be learned at any time in adulthood. Let’s look at the word. The self part is pretty clear: it’s about us. The control part is more complicated. There are a number of meanings for the word control,...

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The Flip Side of Yes and No

If you’re having trouble saying yes or no to food, think about there being a flip side to every choice—each time you make a healthy decision to eat or not eat, you’re reaping a heaping of rewards. You’re not simply saying no to deprive yourself of food, but saying yes to taking better care of yourself. You’re not merely saying yes to a food you’ve previously rejected thinking it was “too fattening,” but saying no to the artificial restriction of diet think. The truth is that every time you accede to or refrain from anything in life—food or otherwise—you are moving toward one thing and away from another. Let’s say that you reject food you genuinely crave because you fear weight gain or that eating it prevent weight loss. Instead of focusing on pounds, consider all you will achieve by saying yes to that food: honoring your appetite, attempting to meet...

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Change Yourself and Your Eating Will Follow Suit

If you are journeying from dysfunctional to functional eating, you will have to change more about you than your relationship with food. In fact, that may be the final thing that shifts as you work on becoming a healthier person all around. Beware: if you only focus on whether or not your eating is becoming more “normal,” it’s easy to fall into hopelessness. You may have to develop other aspects of your personality—by altering particular character traits—before your eating habits will budge. For example, if you’re unhappy with your living situation or job, major contributors to both satisfaction or stress, you may not be able to give up disordered eating. Try as you might, you’re asking too much of yourself. Living or working under conditions in which you regularly feel unheard, undervalued, shamed, or in other ways disempowered will make change all but impossible. Once you learn to speak up and...

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Truths of Recovery

When you decide to work on overcoming your eating problems, what’s your idea of how that will happen or even when you feel a spark of hope that you could be happier and healthier around food, what’s your notion of how you’ll get from here to there? I bet that few of you have or had a clear, realistic idea of what recovery entails and, instead, your heads are or were filled with misconceptions such as: 1. Recovery will follow a straight line. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We generally make a change or two and engage in the new thinking or behavior for a while, then stop it. Why? Likely because the old ways are so deeply grooved in our brains that it’s easier to return to them. So we end up at times doing well, doing poorly, and standing still. The truth is that recovery is always...

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Measuring Progress in Recovery

Measuring your progress in recovering from an eating disorder can be perplexing: Are you going nowhere if you just had a whopper of a binge or went on a one-day fast for quick weight loss? Do you have to be symptom free to be moving ahead? Should you be focusing on the times you eat “normally” or the times you don’t? Progress can be measured in three ways. The first is by the duration of the dysfunctional behavior, that is, how long it goes on. Say, for example, your usual binge lasts for hours. Or, conversely, when you’re in self-denial mode, you can go nearly all day insisting that you’re not hungry enough to eat. You’re making progress in the first instance if you binge for 20 minutes, catch yourself, then stop. You’re making headway in the second instance if you force yourself to eat after an hour of self-imposed starvation...

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What’s On Your Radar?

When you see another person, a friend or a stranger, is their weight or appearance the first thing (perhaps the only thing) you notice? Do you automatically assess how they look or calculate their weight? Perhaps you have such a knee-jerk reaction that you’re unaware that you judge each and every person’s size, clothes, posture, or hair. Or maybe you know you give them the eye test and assume that’s what everyone does. The truth is that what we notice about others (and ourselves) is unique to us. Although you might flinch at a clothing faux pas, someone else might either be unaware of or fail to think much of it. We see what we are programmed to see. For example, you and your friends might be gazing at a ship full of passengers on deck steaming into dock. One of you might wistfully think of a romantic cruise she wants...

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What Are You Willing To Give Up to End Your Eating Disorder?

In this fix-it-quick, make-it-happen-overnight culture, it’s hard to grasp the fact that in order to overcome your eating disorder, you will have to give up doing things (often many things) the way you are doing them now. Some of the surrender will involve thinking, that is, letting go of unhealthy perceptions and assumptions and replacing them with healthier ones. Other kinds of giving up relate to behaviors, food- and otherwise. It’s natural to want to hold on to what is familiar, but you won’t recover from dysfunctional eating by clinging to the same old same old. What are you willing to give up to get healthy? You may be able to get away with small sacrifices—eating while watching TV, weighing yourself daily, checking out a colleagues’ candy dish every day on the way to the bathroom, or browsing through magazines looking at skinny models and celebrities. But it’s highly unlikely that...

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Change Is In the Moment

Most people who contact me through my books, workshops or therapy practice have no idea what they will have to go through to become “normal” eaters. I hate giving them the news that it’s a Herculean job to heal dysfunctional eating and that for many folks it will require lifelong effort because of their genetics, biology, and previous experience. However, I’ve never met anyone who’s done the work and succeeded who isn’t happier and who doesn’t strongly believe it’s been worth the work. Which brings me to the topic of change in the moment. Too often I hear of elaborate plans that disordered eaters have to modify their behavior. They make lists of things to do instead of eating or obsessing about food, read constantly on the subject, join groups and message boards, and take workshops. Perhaps they believe that the more input they get, they faster they’ll heal. While I...

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Putting Yourself First

I just returned from a wonderful time (professionally and personally) at the Lake Austin Spa Resort in Austin, Texas where I’d been invited to do two workshops on eating. Although the resort caters to both genders, unsurprisingly, only females showed up to hear me. During the workshops, it became clear that many women believed they had to be away from work and family to take care of themselves, and I was struck (once again) by how hard it is for women to put themselves first. I got the impression that many of these women felt they could do so only when they were out of their home environment. For example, discussion arose over what and when to eat if you have a husband to feed. Eyes rolled when I suggested that women ask their spouses to be more flexible about eating times; snickers erupted when I proposed that husbands consider making...

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Rational Eating Beliefs

I’ve noticed over and over that disordered eaters frequently go right to trying to change their behavior before doing the requisite work of transforming their beliefs about food, eating, weight, and body. Although you might be able to alter a few, minor behaviors, without working on beliefs, on the whole, you will need to examine—and perhaps revamp—your entire belief system regarding food if you wish to eat “normally.” For example, if you believe that you shouldn’t eat when you’re hungry because food is the enemy and will make you fat, you’re going to struggle over the issue. It won’t get easier to respond to your body’s hunger until you’ve developed beliefs such as, “I can eat whenever I’m hungry,” or “Eating when I’m hungry won’t make me fat.” Another instance of forcing behavioral change when you don’t have a belief underpinning it is trying to stop eating when you’re full and/or...

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Stop Beating Yourself Up

Psychology teaches us that there are two ways to change behavior: one is through incentives and the other is through punishment. Incentives mean working for reward or pleasure, and punishment involves taking action to avoid pain. One form of behavior modification is not necessarily more potent than the other, but using only self-punishment will not help you become a “normal” eater. If you are used to coming down hard on yourself in your efforts to eat more or less, you will have to change your approach. Think about how you were encouraged to alter your behavior in childhood and how your parents tried to modify theirs. Did they beat themselves up when they didn’t measure up? Did they punish you verbally or physically when you failed to meet their or your expectations? Or did they use appropriate incentives to sustain motivation and offer healthy rewards for you to do better? My...

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Foresight versus Hindsight

A query came up a few weeks ago on The Food and Feelings message board (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings) about how to use feelings to prevent food abuse rather than going unconscious and being barraged by an onslaught of negative emotions after the abuse. This issue arose often during my years working at a clinic with polysubstance abusers who often felt little or no fear about dealing drugs— ignoring the real possibility of arrest—but were terrified about going to jail after being caught. These clients appeared fearless, but were not: they buried their fear until they were forced to face consequences. My work was to help them experience their full-blown, post-behavior fear before they behaved badly in order to prevent it. The same process applies to eating or not eating. If your medical tests warn that you’re at high risk for major trouble in the near or distant future because of the way you...

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What If?

What if you could make all the changes in your life you need to become a “normal” eater? What if you had in your power the ability to reach your eating and realistic weight goals? There is an expression that says, “If you believe you can’t, you can’t,” illustrating that belief is the bedrock of behavioral change. Although transforming beliefs from irrational to rational is an arduous task, it can be made easier when you take away the pressure and think in terms of “What if?”. There are a number of questions that stimulate thinking (and hopefully change) in the eating and weight arena. What if you stop trying to make everyone else happy and put yourself first? What do you believe will happen? You may imagine that your world will fall apart, that intimates will be angry at or disappointed in you, or that your value to the universe will...

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Eating Message Boards

If you discovered my “normal” eating blogs through an eating message board, then you know what a support they can be for recovery. If you have never been on one, you are missing out on a terrific tool for education and self-discovery. A message board is a cyber space where people can talk about their eating and weight concerns. You can read other people’s messages or post one yourself. You can remain anonymous or identify yourself. There is no pressure to “speak,” and you can say as much—or little—as you’d like. You can bring up a topic or follow a thread which someone else raised. One rule of thumb is to avoid hurting other people intentionally. You can use message boards in various ways. You can ask questions about people’s experience with food, hunger, diets, nutritionists, or how they react to medications. You can post your own experiences with any of...

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Are You Getting Better?

I often hear people working hard at recovering from eating problems say that they feel as if they’re getting worse, not better. More often than not, this complaint is based on subjective experience rather than objective evidence. When people say they’re feeling worse, it usually means that the behavior they’re trying to reduce or eliminate has increased in frequency, duration or intensity, that they haven’t noticed sufficient change, feel hopeless, or that they are in more emotional distress. First off, people with eating issues often don’t recognize their progress. Problems—they see ‘em all; progress they miss. So I honestly don’t consider their assessment of “worse” as necessarily valid. They could be making strides in many areas that seem trivial and not worth noting—bingeing less often, speaking up, catching themselves in their stinkin’ thinkin’, learning more about their motivations and internal conflicts—and so they miss the fact that they are actually getting...

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Skills Take Time

I bet that none of you would expect to learn to become a dancer or an accountant in a matter of weeks. You’d never dream of becoming an expert ice-skater or teacher without years of practice and experience. Why, then, would you assume you could learn the skills of “normal” eating without a good long period of hard work? Why, indeed. The answer is complicated because the desire for rapid recovery is often based on false assumption: you think you should know how to eat “normally,” or believe the skills are easy to learn. We’ll spend four years in college, more in graduate school, or years apprenticing to build on-the-job expertise because we allow ourselves a grace period for “hard skill” acquisition. But we assume that we should be able to pick up “soft skills” like eating, handling emotions, becoming assertive, or having successful relationships by snapping our fingers. Not true....

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