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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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Stability and Self-care

A while ago I had a heartening discussion with a client who was finally able to keep her self-care consistent and was amazed at the difference it made in her eating and her life. Here are a few ideas we came up with that underlie her transformation, along with several metaphors that helped in maintaining her stability and consistency. Talking about how often she’d felt “depleted” which would drive her to eat, she shared how she’d recently turned this situation around by making several changes at once. First, she refused to allow her spouse to constantly criticize and talk down to her. Second, she began taking time for herself, including walking for 15 minutes daily and having a quiet cup of tea when she felt tense. These actions alone made her feel more solid and whole. By practicing ongoing self-care, when she entered a period of stress, she felt up to...

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You Have the Power

Many of my clients and Food and Feelings message board members turn to food when they feel powerless, especially vis a vis their parents. That’s because they ironically yearn for and spend time trying to gain power—the ability to get things done—that they already have (and have had for years). For sure, when we’re children, we’re seriously powerless. We can’t reach the top of the dresser, go places by ourselves, or get to run the show. Not only are we too physically small and weak to have much leverage, but we don’t have a completely formed, functional brain (that doesn’t happen until our late 20s!). So it makes sense that we’re forced to rely on adults, specifically our parents and older family members, to get virtually all of our needs met. Because they have power, we must adapt to their needs (crazy as they often are) in order to meet ours....

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Does Eating Solve Your Problems?

Many disregulated eaters have convinced themselves that eating solves their problems, or at least extinguishes the distress they have about their problems. Really? I’m of the opinion that eating to solve problems only causes more of them. I’m not saying that when you were a child eating didn’t make you feel better emotionally. Back then when you overate, binged or snacked in secret, you might have felt comforted without the guilt, shame or disappointment in yourself that you feel today when you engage in these behaviors. When your problem was, “I’m in emotional pain and I have no other way of soothing myself,” eating came in very handy. Maybe overeating helped you tune out the nightly battles between your parents at dinnertime, or crawling under the covers and snarfing down candy bars provided you with a bit of sweetness in a life that was full of bitterness, or maybe being a...

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Breaking News—There Is No Child Within

I hate to break it to you, but there is no “child within you” or “inner child.” The term has been around for decades, and I hear it often when talking with clients. If you’re willing to give up this concept, you can replace it with one that is more constructive and healing. If you’re an adult, you can’t be a child. You have the brain and other body components of an adult. Sure, you may act like a child, think immaturely, feel childish, or be totally in touch with and affected by your positive or negative memories from childhood—but you can’t do this as anything but the adult you are. There is no “part” of you that is a child, as in, “The child in me wants to strike back when someone hurts my feelings” or “There’s a wounded child in me.” Where is that child? Exactly which part of...

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Confidence versus Discernment in Making Eating Decisions

Many disregulated eaters insist they can’t possibly resolve their eating problems without being confident that they will. Although confidence is touted in generating success, it can be a red herring. Truth is, you can be confident and still make poor decisions, as you well know when you consider the times you’ve felt absolutely certain that you’ll never binge or diet again. So, agreed, confidence is not the key to recovery?Instead, how about the quality of discernment which is synonymous with judgment, clear-sightedness, discrimination, and insight? Now there are some useful qualities. Your poor track record with food isn’t due to lack of confidence, but to a deficit in discernment—poor insight into the cause of your eating problems, failing to allow yourself to consider consequences, and not taking into account a host of feelings and beliefs which drive disregulated eating. For example, most of us have seen horror films in which the...

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Do We Need More Mindlessness

I know I’m bucking the trend here, but hundreds of conversations with clients have convinced me that there is an often missed correlation between mindfulness around food and mindlessness in the rest of the lives of disregulated eaters. From my perspective, many of them would benefit greatly from being more mindless in life so that they can become more mindful around food. Here’s why. As I wrote in Nice Girls Finish Fat (whose ideas also apply to “nice” men), your typical disregulated eater—at least those I’ve come across in my 30 years in the field—is no goof off who wants only to party, play, take life easy, and let loose. I’m not saying that some weren’t perhaps that way at one point in their lives, only that when I meet them, they’re fixated on being responsible, doing things “right,” achieving success, and desiring above almost all else to be “good” people....

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Motivation for Self-care

Because most of you are searching for ways to become and stay motivated when it comes to eating, exercise and self-care, it’s important to understand what motivates people, in general, and you, in particular. Moreover, it’s crucial to recognize ways you’ve been trying to motivate yourself that have been proven not to work long term, such as focusing on weight loss and approval-seeking. What works? Read on. The following theories and tips come from an interview (Talk of the Nation, The Art and Science of Motivation, NPR) with two experts on motivation: Steven Reis, author of WHO AM I—THE 16 BASIC DESIRES THAT MOTIVATE OUR ACTIONS AND DETERMINE OUR PERSONALITIES and Daniel Pink, author of DRIVE—THE SURPRISING TRUTH ABOUT WHAT MOTIVATES US. Dr. Reis defines motivation as “the assertion of your values” and strongly encourages us to surround ourselves with people who are supportive of them. Because we all prioritize values...

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Saying No in Non-food Areas

A client told me that she’d just been put on medication on which she couldn’t drink alcohol or would suffer serious side effects. Although she usually had a glass of wine at night to unwind, she said it was no big deal giving it up because the medication would make her feel better and she didn’t want to cause herself harm by drinking. Sighing, she said she only wished she could say no to food as easily. She went on to wonder how the alcohol decision felt like such a no-brainer, yet the idea of giving up certain foods made her feel deprived and resentful. I pointed out that other people might feel exactly the opposite: to give up specific foods would be no big deal, while the thought of reducing (or eliminating) alcohol consumption would send them into a tizzy. This led to discussing what’s really going on when we...

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Fixed versus Growth Mindset

In an issue of Psychotherapy Networker (Sep/Oct 2012, vol. 36, no. 5, p. 20) I read a review of the book MINDSET: THE NEW PSYCHOLOGY OF SUCCESS by Stanford University developmental psychologist Carol Dweck which explains how our self-view can be changed to spur us on to success by shifting our mindsets. It’s relatively simple. The article, “The Truth about Bullying,” by Stan Davis, explains Dweck’s concept of fixed versus growth mindsets. People with a fixed mindset see themselves and their attributes or inadequacies as more or less permanent—they’re good at some things and bad at others, outgoing or shy, lovable or unlovable. Fixed-mindset thinkers view their successes as a “reflection of their more or less immutable gifts or talents” and view their failures as a “reflection of unchangeable deficits and weaknesses.” So many disregulated eaters have this kind of fixed mindset: they’re either this or that and mostly don’t feel...

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The Desire versus the Act

Disregulated eaters tend to act as if feelings and behavior are one and the same, or at least as if they’re so intertwined that they can’t be separated. A line in a mystery I read long ago struck me as a useful description in distinguishing the two. I hope it helps you recognize the difference, especially around your eating. The line came from the protagonist in Lawrence Block’s mystery, EVEN THE WICKED: “There is, I have been taught, all the difference in the world between the desire and the act. The one is written on water, the other carved in stone.” The speaker is a recovered alcoholic, a deeply flawed but reflective private eye who has found a better life in recovery after years of addictive misery. Not so different from disregulated eaters who are working towards “normal” eating and learning not to act on impulse. I like the way that...

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Perfect Eaters, Perfect People—Not

Disregulated eaters, as we know, tend to see things in terms of perfect or defective. How many times have you looked at someone who appears healthy and thought how they must be eating “right” all the time? How many times have you met people whom you thought had no flaws and wished to be them or like them? The truth is that there are no perfect eaters because there are no perfect people. Because I recognize that people who know of my work may perceive me as a perfect eater, I’m wary when they ask what I eat or how often, and evade answering these questions as best I can. I also know that clients who feel defective often project a wish onto me that I be perfect, and I try to show them some of my (many) imperfections to dispel this untruth. If I show and accept my flaws, I’m...

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Learning to Delay Gratification

Many of you may look around at friends, family, or perfect strangers and wonder how the dickens they can stop themselves from overeating or noshing when they’re not hungry. One answer is that they’ve learned to delay gratification. Although this behavior involves genetic tendencies, childhood learning is also major behavior-shaper. Parental modeling and instruction are strong influences in developing the ability to delay gratification. Did your parents model waiting for rewards or have difficulty controlling their impulses? What did they teach you about the benefits of restraint? Moreover, how did they teach this lesson—compassionately or punitively? If you were unfairly punished for surrendering to impulse, might you be rebelling against restraint today? Trust affects kids’ patience (SCIENCE NEWS 11/17/12) describes the findings of a new study: “Kids’ beliefs about the reliability of the people around them can dramatically shape willingness to wait for a sweeter payoff…” This means that if you...

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Self-reflection versus Self-critique

I had an interesting discussion a while back with a client about what self-reflection is and isn’t. It makes sense that if she had questions about it, disregulated eaters in general might have them too and that the subject would be blog-worthy. Self-reflection is a critical skill for recovery and emotional growth—but only if you do it correctly. Basically, the problem arose for a client who said that every time she tried to reflect upon her actions, her inner critic grabbed center stage and wouldn’t give it up. She thought, therefore, that reflection meant evaluating herself as good or bad. For her, and for many disregulated eaters, assessment almost automatically means coming up short and giving yourself a negative review. This mindset explained why self-reflection was such an onerous process for my client, which is exactly the opposite of what it’s meant to be. Self-reflection is an observational, non-judgmental process, a...

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The Value of Mindlessness

I’ve long said that this culture, and especially disregulated eaters, need more intentional mindlessness in their lives along with, of course, more mindfulness. Of course, it’s not something one could campaign about the way there’s a movement for mindfulness, but the value of mindlessness should not be underestimated. Maybe it’s simply a question of being mindful enough to know when you want to be mindless. When you’re really tuned into yourself, that would sound like this: I sure am exhausted and my brain and body long for a rest. If that’s what I’m craving, then I’m going to tune out the world for a while until I feel refreshed. Do you hear any judgment here? Notice any struggle about whether this desire is right or wrong? None at all. My point being that the body/mind knows what it wants and needs and you ignore mindlessness at your own eating peril. If...

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What Do You Think You Deserve?

Do you often eat food that isn’t good for you and that you’re not hungry for because you insist, “Well, why shouldn’t I eat it? I deserve it.” Truth is, when you feel truly deserving of good things, you don’t think this way. Yes, you do deserve to eat yummy foods, but with entitled eating, yumminess lasts until you guiltily swallow the last bite or feel sick to your stomach. Hello, you’re not eating for pleasure, but because you don’t have enough of it in your life. What follows your fleeting food fling is hours or days—or a lifetime—of feeling crummy about your eating and yourself. What you’re actually proving is that you don’t believe you deserve to feel good because feeling yucky is exactly what happens when you regularly eat for non-hunger reasons. Paradoxically, you end up driving home the point that you deserve pain and suffering, not pleasure. How...

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Social Isolation and Eating

A reminder of the importance in social relationships to help you become a “normal” eater. As Geneen Roth says so insightfully, in order to heal from eating problems, troubled eaters need to replace food with people. It seems that science agrees with Roth. If you are willing to do this, it will speed your recovery. In “Loneliness, Social Integration and Consumption of Sugar-Containing Beverages: Testing the Social Baseline Theory” (R.E. Henriksen, T. Torsheim, ad F. Thuen, 8/8/14, doi: 10.1371/journal.pome.0104421) the authors assert that “Social Baseline Theory (SBT) proposes that close relationships aid in metabolic resource management and that individuals without significant relationships may experience more demands on their own neural metabolic resources on a daily basis when solving problems, remaining vigilant against potential threats, and regulation emotional response.” This Norwegian study used self-reported data on “social integration and consumption of both sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened sodas and juices.” Their results: “perceived...

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Positive Self-Talk with a Twist

Who doesn’t know that it’s better to speak positively than negatively to yourself as a foundation for transformation? Hopefully all of you. Now here’s a new twist: when speaking to yourself, replacing the word “I” with “you” or your own name. Studying “the pronouns people use when they talk to themselves silently, inside their minds,” University of Michigan psychologist Ethan Kross concludes that “a subtle linguistic shift—shifting from 'I' to your own name—can have really powerful self-regulatory effects.” (“Why saying is believing—the science of self-talk” by Laura Starecheski, 10/7/14,3:16am/ET, Shots, Health News from NPR), According to Kross’s research, this shift can change how we feel and behave.He cites basketball star LeBron James, speaking about himself by using his own name when discussing his 2010 decision to switch teams: "I wanted to do what was best for LeBron James," said the athlete, "and what LeBron James was going to do to make...

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Success Comes at the End of a Crooked Line

“The shortest line between two points can be a crooked line,” said Bertolt Brecht, 20th century German poet, playwright, and theatre director. If this is true—and I believe it is—what does that mean for your recovery? My guess is that you will need to do a whole lot of rethinking about what progress and the journey toward success mean in order to reach your goals. The moment I read this quote, I thought it was terrific, mostly because of the visual image it triggers. We too often think of success as linear, as going from “here” to “there” on a direct course, and that mistaken assumption actually makes it far more difficult to succeed than believing that you’ll be doing a lot of zigging and zagging before you come to rest at a comfortable place in your relationship with food. Doesn’t a crooked line describe exactly what you’ve experienced? For example,...

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The Lights in the Tunnel of Recovery

A while ago, a client mentioned finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel of her food and emotional problems. It dawned on me then that rarely are we in tunnels that are pitch black, totally devoid of light. In fact, most tunnels we find our way through have intermittent light that provides enough illumination to help us emerge from them. Where have the lights come from in your “tunnels” of overcoming eating problems, clearing trauma, and healing from emotional wounds? It’s important to remember what and who lighted your way so you can bring up those memories when you feel trapped and alone in the darkness. Moreover, it’s far more beneficial to focus on these “lights” than on how trapped you felt in whatever tunnel of despair you had been in. These bright memories alone can light the way for you now out of pain and suffering. Which...

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How Resilience Improves Normal Eating

A crucial trait that moves people from disregulated eating to “normal” eating is being resilient. High resilience is what makes them more resistant to the stresses and strains of life and better able to cope without turning to food. Read on to learn more about resilience and how to pump yours up. Research suggests that resilience may have its roots in an abundance of the brain chemical neuropeptide Y, with evidence suggesting that its levels have a strong genetic component. Dennis Charney, a psychiatry and neuroscience professor at the Ichan School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, “studying American prisoners of war in Vietnam who did not, despite the traumas endured, become depressed or develop PTSD, determined that they had 10 “critical psychology elements and characteristics…identified as: 1) optimism, 2) altruism, 3) having a moral compass or set of beliefs that cannot be shattered, 4) faith and spirituality, 5) humor, 6) having...

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