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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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Want to Defeat Narcissists?

Clients often complain about the narcissists in their lives and I’ve written several blogs about coping with them. I was thinking about them when I was waiting for someone in a doctor’s office and clocked fellow A talking non-stop to fellow B for 40 minutes! I couldn’t believe fellow B sat patiently, injecting only a few questions. Nor could I suppress a silent cheer when fellow A finally stopped talking and fellow B said, “But, you never answered my original question.”  We needn’t become captive to narcissists, especially the ones who drone on and on (and on and on) talking about themselves. I recently read about a technique called “gray rocking” which is one tool to try out. According to Deborah Ashway, LMHC, the term describes the person on the receiving end of an interaction trying “to make themselves as boring and nonreactive as possible to decrease the amount of provoking...

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The Limits of Your Powers

It’s time to accept that you have tremendous power to manage your behaviors, thoughts and feelings and very little to govern the lives of others. Unfortunately, too many people have this paradigm backward: they feel and act powerless and believe they’re responsible for others’ actions. Here are two examples, one clinical and one personal.  A client described how a neighbor had been harassing her for months when she was walking her dog. He seemed to pop up wherever she went, even when she changed her route to avoid him. A gentle soul, she only hinted that she didn’t want his company on her walks and didn’t want to date him. One session she came in all upset. “He got hit by a car,” she exclaimed, referring to her neighbor, “and died!” Then she went on to explain how it was all her fault because he was probably out trying to find...

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Pleasure Minus Pressure

Once more a similar issue keeps cropping up in sessions, which got me thinking about a sticking point in growing and healing. This time it was how little pleasure many dysregulated eaters have in their lives, while exhibiting a seemingly infinite capacity for pressuring themselves. Here’s what I mean. We all have activities or chores we’d like to get done today, tomorrow or this week. We have formal and informal deadlines and requests and demands that others rightfully make of us. Mostly, if we want to get paid, work is required. If we have children, they come with the need to be taken care of. It’s natural to feel mild pressure about getting things done. Pressure gets us up and moving. However, if we never stop feeling pressure—because there will always be more to do—it will drive us mad. Those relentless “gotta do, gotta do” thoughts can ruin our lives if...

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I Promise I’ll Stop

I was reading an “advice” column letter from a woman saying that her actively alcoholic boyfriend “promised to stop drinking.” I sighed when I read his words, thinking about all the times they were my words about food and all the times I’d heard clients make the same promise. Famous last words or maybe we should call them famous lost words, because somehow their meaning and importance gets lost in the shuffle of life. Let’s take a closer look, or as they say these days, a deeper dive into the meaning of this promise and what prompts us to say it. I know what I was feeling when I swore to myself that I would stop noshing and overeating, turning to food when I was upset or bored, and living my life for my next meal. I was beyond frustrated with my terrible relationship with food. I was exasperated, in dire...

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More on Self Trust

Many people with eating problems don’t trust themselves, not only around food, but to make wise decisions for themselves in numerous arenas. Self-distrust is learned in childhood and is often confused with not knowing what you think or feel. Difficulty identifying thoughts and emotions is different from distrusting what you experience. Think of self-knowledge as the precursor to self-confidence. Trusting yourself comes after knowing what’s going on inside you. Labeling emotions in the most specific way possible provides this information. Yes, you have to trust that the label you put on feelings is accurate, but emotions are only a piece of the information puzzle. Assuming that you are able to identify affective states all or most of the time, you possess the major skill for developing self-trust. Of course, if you’re uncertain about what you feel or suffer from self-doubt, particularly when you’re in emotional distress, you’ll have to work on...

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Make Self-care a Given

Talking with a client we’ll call Essie about maintaining self-care, I chuckled when she said she usually stopped taking care of herself when things were going poorly in life—at work, as a single parent, and caring for her elderly mother. I realized that this is true of many clients: paradoxically, they give up self-care just when they need it most.  I asked if she didn’t walk or feed her dog when things weren’t going well in life, and she looked at me like I was nuts. “Of course not,” she insisted. “If I don’t take care of him, who will?” When I was silent and looked right at her with a “Duh?” expression, she got my point. But, the truth is, she really did think that a person only did self-care when they were up to it and when things were going well. To her, it was normal to stop certain...

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The Benefits of Becoming a People Observer

More often than I’d like, I’m saddened at clients getting themselves into nasty situations because they’ve ignored obvious red flags in people. Understandable, as many are trauma survivors who have difficulty interpreting danger. The way to grow more astute is to develop the habit of tuning up your emotional antennae around everyone. The skills of observing and assessing should not be confused with making judgments, though that is part of the process I’m encouraging. The goal is not to judge people as “bad,” but as not appropriate for you. This means watching people like a hawk, noticing everything they say and do, learning their histories, recognizing their patterns and, most importantly, paying attention to how you feel when you’re around them. I suppose I’ve always been an observer, or why become a therapist, the ultimate observer and processor? I do know that my noticing skills have improved immensely as my clinical...

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What Is Toxic Stress?

You may suffer from toxic stress and not know it. Eating disorders and substance abuse problems, chronic depression or anxiety, difficulty in relationships, and sleep issues all may be symptoms of toxic stress. Because I know the childhoods of all my clients, I’d wager that many of them suffer from it, but don’t know it because they think what they feel is normal though it’s anything but. Here’s an excellent description of toxic stress and its causes from “What Does “I Feel Fat!” Really Mean? by Carolyn Coker Ross, MD, MPH, CEDS (2/224/222, Gürze-Salucore Eating Disorders Resource Catalogue). “Abuse or neglect or any other negative experiences in childhood can lead to what is called toxic stress. Toxic stress causes an overproduction of stress hormones: cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. This leads to physical changes in the brain. The brain of a traumatized child resets itself to be in fight-or-flight—regardless of whether there...

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Do Affirmations Really Work

I began as a therapist when affirmations were all the rage, but I never bought into them, used them myself or encouraged clients to do so. Why? Because I thought it was weird that people were trying so hard to convince themselves of their positive attributes. I had a friend back then who said affirmations a lot—not only said but wrote them down and reread them daily. She hadn’t had a great childhood and certainly needed to do something to raise her self-esteem. When you walked into her bathroom, straight ahead of you was a towel cabinet whose front was covered with her affirmations. You could even see them reflected in the mirror above the sink when you washed your hands. I don’t recall exactly what hers said, something like, “You are a worthy person, You are lovable, People love you just the way you are, You are deserving of good...

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How Positive Self-talk Improves Your Relationship with Food

I had a wonderful session with a client we’ll call Ava in which she described how she’d missed a work deadline, refused to berate herself over it, but continued to feel okay about herself, and didn’t end up turning to food after the incident. She’d been practicing self-compassion and it’s taken a while, but she’s definitely gotten the hang of it. Here’s what we figured out about the process she experienced. When she was a child and made mistakes, her father was cruel to her, so Ava grew up thinking he knew better than she did and became as hard on herself as he was on her. She mentally beat herself up every time she made an error or failed to live up to her perfectionist standards. She said the unkind things to herself that her father said to her which made her feel miserable. And feeling bad drove her to...

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The Joy of Universality

I recall first hearing the term universality while taking a group therapy class in social work school. The APA defines it as “the tendency to assume that one’s personal qualities and characteristics, including attitudes and values, are common in the general social group or culture” and adds that it is “in self-help and psychotherapy groups, a curative factor fostered by members’ recognition that their problems and difficulties are not unique to them but instead are experienced by many of the group members.” In my three-plus decades running therapy and support groups, I had one client who absolutely insisted that what he felt no one had ever felt before, though I tried explaining that there are no new feelings under the sun. He was an anomaly. All my other clients felt enormous relief and even joy that others shared their thoughts and feelings because it meant that were not alone or abnormal....

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Self-care is Your Right

A client sent me this quote: “Self-care is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation” by Audre Lorde, feminist and civil rights leader. It got me thinking about how self-care is a right and about how many people don’t know that. It’s not about being selfish or thinking only of yourself. It’s knowing that your primary job in this world is to care for yourself. But, what about taking care of others, you might ask. Isn’t that a must? Aren’t we our brothers’ (and sisters’) keepers? Well, yes, it’s important to help and support others, but not at the expense of not taking care of ourselves. How you think about self-care is rooted in your upbringing. I’ve had many clients who were treated poorly and others who were made to take care of others and punished when they tried to tend to their own needs. In either case, they were never taught that...

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What Is Flow and Why Does It Feel So Damned Good?

A client asked me a while ago what activities I enjoy and why and I explained that, whenever I can, I choose those that put me in a state of flow. If you don’t have enough of these minutes in a day or hours in a week, your well-being will suffer, so here’s an explanation of what flow is and how you can find more of it.  In Why Does Experiencing ‘Flow’ Feel So Good? A Communication Scientist Explains, flow is called “the secret to happiness” and an “optimal experience” . . . “characterized by immense joy that makes a life worth living.” I’m in a state of flow when I’m writing (like now) or dancing or reading an engrossing book. I used to feel it while skiing. I think of it as being so lost in the pleasure of an experience that all else in life falls away. The article...

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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

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

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

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?

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

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

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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