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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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Reframing Not Succeeding

When you haven’t succeeded in reaching your eating (or other) goals, does that mean you’ve failed? Does not succeeding signify that you’re at the end of a process or in the middle of one? Does it mean that you’ve tried your hardest and should give up or that you’re simply not there yet? How you answer these questions will predict your success. People who’ve tired for decades to develop a healthy relationship with food or to lose weight or keep it off often complain, “I’m a failure,” “This won’t work,” or “I’ll never be a ‘normal’ eater.” Although it’s crucial to be honest and not deny or minimize reality, believing you’re a failure lays the ground work for it because it stops you from trying. In fact, it wouldn’t hurt to totally eliminate the high-voltage word failure from your vocabulary because it so easily can trigger negative feelings about yourself. When...

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Difficulty with Waiting

I was reading a mystery recently in which an impatient character chided her partner for not getting out and doing something to solve a murder. Her partner coolly replied, “I am doing something. I’m waiting.” A valuable perspective, especially for all of you who can’t sit still and insist on charging into the future—or eating because there’s nothing to do. The point is that waiting is doing something. Waiting is what comes before one action and after another, a doing sandwiched between two actions that move you forward, one in the past and one in the future. Sometimes you can’t know what the second action will be because you must wait for a reaction to your first action. Waiting is as important as taking action, but most of us do it poorly. It’s difficult because it makes us feel passive and at the whim of fate, because it churns up our...

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Closed or Open Loop People

We’ve all been in the situation of explaining repeatedly to someone how we’d like them to alter their behavior, with the result of absolutely zero change occurring whatsoever. This can leave you feeling frustrated, helpless, angry—and wanting to eat. The fact is, because of how their personalities are constructed, not everyone is open to change. If you think of people as closed- or open-looped, you’ll get the picture. For example, clients seek therapy with me because they want to eat differently. Ditto people who join my message boards, attend my workshops, or read my books. They are open-looped people seeking out new information or insights to improve themselves. Sure, they may be a bit wary of change, but they basically see becoming different as making life better than it has been. We can think of them as open-looped, that is, they are eager to take in new bits of data about...

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Personality and Eating

I wrote THE FOOD AND FEELINGS WORKBOOK due to the realization that clients had a very difficult time following their appetite according to THE RULES OF “NORMAL” EATING because their feelings—or more precisely their lack of attunement to and understanding of their feelings—kept getting in the way. In short, the fact that disregulated eaters need to better manage emotions is one of the things that’s been keeping them stuck in unhealthy eating and self-nurturing patterns. Now it seems that researchers have quantified mood and its relationship to body weight. An AARP article, Mood and Food: Can’t lose weight? Your personality may be to blame (1/12) offers some enlightening conclusions. Not astounding insights, but more reason to work on managing your feelings more effectively in order to become a “normal” eater. A National Institute on Aging study “found that impulsive people weigh about 22 pounds more than those who are cautious. Antagonistic...

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Thanks from Your Wild Child

I’ve blogged often about the wild child in you that’s been getting its way around food—the part that’s entitled, defiant, demanding, uncaring about consequence, and who lives only in the moment. But there’s another part of the wild child that knows she’s out of her league around food and desperately, more than anything in the world, wants the loving, nurturing, compassionate, caring part of you to reign her in and be in charge. Young children have no idea what’s good for them. They act impulsively and lack the life experience and awareness to look beyond now to consequence in what adults call the future. They barely have a past, never mind figuring out what lies ahead. Although they don’t know exactly what they don’t know, they yearn for safety from adults who seem to have wisdom. In short, they sense that you might know what’s best for them no matter how...

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What’s Normal?

Many disregulated eaters grow up in dysfunctional families and, therefore, lack understanding of what constitutes normal behavior and feelings—you may do whatever your parents did or exactly the opposite and be confused about what is mentally healthy or unhealthy. This uncertainty limits your life skill effectiveness and makes it harder to improve your relationship with food. So, here are some guidelines for emotional health. There are people in the world who will love, value, and take care of you age appropriately. They’ll listen intently to what you have to say, take you seriously, believe you, compassionately challenge you when you do things not in your long-term best interest, validate and support your feelings, and enjoy being close to you. It’s natural to want to confide, share, and express feelings and expect a friend/lover to do the same. This creates mutual trust, understanding and closeness. There are people who will tolerate you...

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Write Your Own Treatment Plan

I’ve been writing treatment plans for clients at different worksites since the late 1980s, and now do them for telephone/Skype clients when I do an initial consultation. It recently dawned on me that disregulated eaters would benefit from developing their own treatment plans. It’s a pretty straightforward endeavor. Here’s how. A treatment plan gives structure to getting from here to there. It’s a crucial tool for disregulated eaters who crave the do’s and don’ts inherent in diets (minus restriction). A treatment plan is different from devising goals because of its flexibility and internal exploration. In most clinical settings, a treatment plan review is done quarterly or even monthly. After each review, the plan is rewritten to meet current needs. You can devise one for yourself. My treatment plans have four parts but you can create your own: Strengths, Challenges, Goals, and Avenues to Reach Goals. Strengths include abilities and competencies, such...

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Science-Based Ways to Build Mental Health Skills

I’m always looking for evidence-based ways to help clients improve their mental health. There’s so much pseudo-science out there, that I was delighted when a friend told me about the website of Greater Good in Action: https://ggia.berkeley.edu/. All of their practices are based on scientific studies and trials. Of course, that doesn’t mean that all of their suggestions will work for you. It only means that they work for many people. The Greater Good in Action at UC Berkley encourages these practices:Awe: Observing nature and the beauty of the worldCompassion: Loving-kindness, eliciting altruism, feeling connected/supportedConnection: Effective apology, forgiveness, shared identity, friendship, gratitudeEmpathy: Increasing closeness, letting go of anger, active listening, positivityForgiveness: Forgiveness, letting go of anger, effective apologyGratitude: journaling, letter-writing, positivity, nature, relationshipsHappiness: strengths’ focus, random acts of kindness, best possible self, gratitudeKindness: shared identity, feeling connected, compassion, make giving feel goodMindfulness: body scan meditation, mindful breathing, self-compassion breakOptimism: three good things,...

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Metaphors of Self-talk

I love using metaphors in writing and therapy. They’re powerful tools to engage the unconscious mind and change our thinking without even realizing it’s happening. Fact is, we often think and self-talk in metaphor without knowing it, so we might as well intentionally use ones which are positive and promote transformation.A while back a client described a binge she’d had as “falling into a hole,” after which she gradually returned to “normal” eating. Let’s take a look at her metaphor. What sensory sensations and emotional reactions does this image generate in you? Holes are often deep and dark places and falling into one might cause us to feel claustrophobic, panicky, and maybe hopeless about climbing out. We view falling into one as a bad thing to happen to us. So this client was equating all these feelings with having taken in more food than she wished to and making a judgmental,...

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Hope Is Not a Plan

While listening to an NPR program on changing our thoughts about death and dying, one of the experts interviewed encouraged listeners to become proactive in their lives, wisely admonishing that “hope is not a plan.” I couldn’t agree more. How often do I hear clients and Food and Feelings message board members express their hopes without strategies to transform them into reality. And how do you think that turns out? Without a plan, outcomes are generally poor, and disregulated eaters feel like failures. For example, say, you’ve been eating relatively “normally” for a couple of months and are about to visit your family for a week. In the past, when you’ve gone back home, you’ve fallen into unhealthy eating behaviors—snacking mindlessly, making mostly unhealthy food choices, and gobbling up everything on your plate. Rather than develop a plan to avoid these behaviors, you simply hope things will be different because you’ve...

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What Means the Most to You?

Disregulated eaters often are not merely unhappy with their eating but with their lives. In fact, sometimes this every day dissatisfaction is what drives them to eat. In order to have a satisfying life, you must know your values—What means a great deal to you? What do you love above all else? What activities bring you the most happiest? If you knew you were going to be stranded on, say, an island for the rest of your life and had the opportunity to choose what you wished to bring along with you, you’d want to make some serious decisions. Rather than what you “feel like” taking, you’d want to think long and hard about what is dearest to you and what would keep you alive and thriving. Let’s even say that certain choices could be replenished, but you couldn’t change your initial decisions. Whatever you chose, you’d have to stick with...

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Addiction versus Habit

What’s the difference between having a habit and having an addiction? It’s important to distinguish between the two, which I don’t think disregulated eaters always do. I say this due to how often I hear them say that they’re addicted to food when I think they really mean that they’re habituated to it. Here’s an example. Recently I had some medical tests that required abstention from coffee and lactose products, which meant not having my morning cup of java or nightly yogurt while watching the late news. I knew from experience that I’d have a wicked withdrawal headache without the coffee which is addictive, so I started cutting down gradually a few days before and voilá, no headache on testing day. And, although I felt a pang for the yogurt, I felt physically fine without it. Let’s look at the difference in not consuming these foods, noting similarities and differences. I...

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We’re Always Faking It Til We Make It

A debate that comes up frequently on my Food and Feelings message board is whether telling ourselves things we don’t believe—that we’re lovable or deserving—is foolish self-deception or the way to encourage change in thinking or behavior. This is another way of asking if, as the AA saying goes, it works to fake it til we make it. Truth is, all learning is through "faking it til you make it.” Do you think I told my initial psychotherapy clients how uncertain I was that I could help them because I lacked clinical experience and often felt as if I had no clue what I was doing? As you were acquiring your job skills, did you admit to customers, clients, colleagues (or your boss) that you were flying by the seat of your pants? As a salesperson, would you tell prospective buyers that you have no proof and only hope that a...

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What Dysregulated Eaters Are Searching For

Disregulated eaters often tell me that they engage in unwanted eating because they’re unhappy or can’t find meaning in life, so I was pleased to come upon an article in THE WEEK (2/22/13) which draws enlightening distinctions between the two. The article, The last word, puts forth the wisdom of Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist who lived through the Holocaust, authored the classic MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING, and died in the late 1990s. Frankl saw happiness and seeking meaning in life as two extremes which were mutually exclusive. To him, happiness is momentary and fleeting, while finding meaning brings more lasting, positive feelings. He says that “happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to ‘be happy.’” He means that we can’t simply go around grabbing at happiness, but that it must be the consequence of other pursuits. That is, one becomes happy as an...

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Mindfulness Meditation

I went to a terrific lecture on Mindfulness Meditation, a powerful tool for changing thoughts and feelings, de-stressing, and becoming emotionally and physically healthy. For those of you who want a research-driven, evidence-based approach to stress reduction, reducing disregulated eating, and achieving greater happiness, this is it. Mindfulness meditation is no “woo-woo” method of improving your life. It has a proven track record which you can check out at Massachusetts General Hospital: Mindfulness meditation training changes brain structure. Quoting from a handout on the subject, mindfulness is the “dispassionate observation of and discerning the difference between sense faculty activity and thinking-fabrication.” It is a type of meta-cognition (rising above thoughts) by not getting involved in them. In this approach you know you have thoughts and recognize them as simply that. Just as, while waiting for a train, you don’t hop on every one that stops at the station, you don’t engage...

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Stop Using the Past to Predict the Future

It makes perfect sense that humans have used the past to predict the future. Consider the maxim that “those who ignore history are bound to repeat it” and that “you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.” Although I wouldn’t argue with either adage, I want to warn you about using your past to predict your future. I was thinking about this subject while talking with a client whose dysfunctional family created a great deal of chaos for her in childhood. She was always on high alert and trying to figure out if Mom was going to blindside her with criticism or if Dad was going to be drinking which meant driving unsafely. It was essential for her physical and emotional survival that she look for connections between what happened last time Mom was in a bad mood and Dad was on a bender and how...

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Musings on the Life Unlived

Though I haven’t read the book, here are a few excerpts from the prologue of MISSING OUT: IN PRAISE OF THE UNLIVED LIFE by Adam Phillips (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2013). Although some of you may scratch your heads as you read—Phillips is a complex, deep thinker and philosophical writer—I hope you’re able to appreciate how you can use these concepts to help in resolving your eating and body image problems. On it being okay to want and not have what you want: “What we fantasize about, what we long for, are the experiences, the things, and the people that are absent. It is the absence of what we need that makes us think, that makes us cross and sad. But we [also] learn to live somewhere between the lives we have and the lives we would like.” On creating the story of our lives: “There is always what will turn...

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De-stressing Over To Do Lists

Disregulated eaters often become victims of their to-do lists. Feeling stressed by what you believe you have to do, you’re more likely to turn to food to reduce you’re the pressure you’re experiencing. Here’s how to get yourself out from under. What helped one client I work with who drove herself crazy with whatever tasks she had left undone was to first and foremost realize that she had created the list herself. Sure, she had a job that required her to work and complete tasks, but she’s the one who felt driven about accomplishing them quickly and perfectly. No one was pressuring her. Too many of you whip yourselves into a frenzy in order to wipe your to-do list clean—only to create a new one the moment you’ve checked off the last item. When you do this, as the saying goes, you feel like a hamster who can’t stop running on...

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Find Happiness to Improve Your Health

You may believe that if only you were happier, you’d have a better relationship with food. But what makes for happiness—wealth, genetics, a great job, a loving family? You might be surprised to know it’s none of the above and readily available to you. According to a University of North Carolina study, happiness comes from pursuing the goal of helping others (“A genetic guide to true happiness,” The Week, 9/13/13). This study involved 80 volunteers who had their blood drawn after being asked the frequency that they felt “hedonistic pleasure” and/or deriving a sense of purpose in life by contributing to their community. Researchers found that “the genes of the volunteers whose lives contained lots of pleasure but little meaning were priming cells to express high levels of inflammation—which is linked to cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease—and a weaker anti-viral response to infection.” Seeking short-term pleasure (and what is non-hunger eating...

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No Need to Be Perfect to Be Lovable

I was Skyping with a client who mentioned feeling awful about herself because she was having difficulty in a college math class. Many people I treat have a similar reaction—not to math, but to letting not doing well in an activity sour their view of themselves. And, of course, feeling negatively about themselves often primes them for a binge. Here’s how to think. You want to start from the premise that you are going to do some things well in life and some things poorly, that you have strengths and weaknesses just like everyone else, and that your success or failure in an activity has nothing to do with your value as a human being. Working off this assumption, you won’t misinterpret what doing poorly means. Of course, you might still wish to do well in, say, math, but doing well or poorly won’t remotely define you’re worth. When I told...

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