Karen's 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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Stop Emotional Flooding to Avoid Dysregulated Eating

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Back in the days when I was a world-class emotional eater, I was also highly reactive to my feelings. I was easily hurt, took things more personally, and wanted to lash out at others to defend myself. I still can be more reactive than I’d like to be (sigh), but I’ve learned to manage my feelings better and express them differently or even not at all. The psychological term for what happens when we’re over-reactive is emotional flooding which happens when an emotion builds up and takes over your brain. You’ve all experienced flooding—when something happens and you’re infused with an emotion while the the rest of the world falls away. It’s as if you’re seized by the feeling which is why the reaction is also called being hijacked by your amygdala.  Here's an example. You’re in a rush and have been waiting several minutes for a parking space at the...
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Pleasure Minus Pressure

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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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Why It’s Hard to Reject Unhealthy People

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One recurrent issue with clients is helping them in choosing intimates who are more emotionally evolved than they are so they can grow into better versions of themselves. For example, Jarelle works hard in recovery from alcohol, drug abuse and to overcome a childhood of sexual and emotional abuse. He’s thoughtful, insightful, a college graduate, and wants badly to have a happy life though he feels hindered by PTSD and depression. His major problem is choosing people who wind up hurting him and then feeling victimized by them. Freud called this the repetition compulsion: people try to master past traumas by recreating a painful childhood relationship in the present in order to orchestrate a better outcome—which does not happen. Instead, Jarelle picks people similar to his parents, an act we call self-sabotage.    Part of the problem is that Jarelle’s parents (nearly his entire family) weren’t very kind and caring about...
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What Are We Looking for When We Fight with Others?

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Many of my clients seem to argue alot.  A husband and wife bicker about almost everything, a divorced client and his former wife go at it over raising their daughters, and a mother and daughter are constantly at each others’ throats even as they swear they want to get along better. I’d attribute their behaviors to the COVID pandemic, but their battles started long before then and are still going strong.  At any rate, this got me thinking about why we argue (and that “we” includes me). It takes so much energy and effort, causes such grief, and often doesn’t get us anywhere. Why do we do it and what do we hope to accomplish when we get into verbal fisticuffs? We want what we want or for things to be a certain way: the toilet seat up or down, a vacation always by the shore and never in the mountains,...
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I Promise I’ll Stop

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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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The Necessity of Connecting to Self

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I’ve had several recent discussions with clients about their male partners who are emotionally walled off, though women too are often disconnected from their feelings. This very human problem learned in childhood has sad ramifications in adulthood. One problem, as many of you know all too well, is that you’re disconnected from both emotions and appetite. You recognize you want food even when you’re not hungry but not what you’re feeling underneath, usually some sort of discomfort you’d prefer not to experience. Distancing from your emotions is bound to mean trouble because what is the function of emotions if not to move you toward happiness and away from pain.  One of my clients frequently laments, “But I don’t want to be uncomfortable.” As if she has a choice. What she means is that she doesn’t want to feel certain feelings because they make her feel badly, in her case, leaving her...
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How to Know You’re Stressed

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Not a week goes by when a client doesn’t tell me a story about their overeating without adding, “I was stressed, and I didn’t even know it.” This is a common problem for many of us in this culture, being out of touch with feeling stressed and only finding out we were after the fact, often when we’ve eaten to try to reduce it. The problem is two-fold, being poorly connected to ourselves emotionally and physically and not respecting the signals we send ourselves when we’re stressed. A client and I were talking about this very issue. She’s a busy mother with a part-time job she does at home and raising two children pretty much alone because her husband travels so much. While we were discussing the difference between being busy (which she enjoys) and stressed (which she, of course, doesn’t), I started thinking about how any of us can recognize...
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Book Review – Let Go of Emotional Overeating and Love Your Food

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I’m always interested in reading a book by a seasoned psychotherapist who, like me, has also recovered from emotional overeating. It’s the perfect combination to educate and counsel people who want to manage both their emotions and relationship with food. In Let Go of Emotional Overeating and Love Your Food, Arlene Englander, MA, LCSW, offers a 5-point plan that, when diligently and joyfully followed, will change your relationship with food. She describes emotional eating as “eating neither to satisfy hunger nor for enjoyment, but in a desperate attempt to distract oneself from painful thoughts and feelings.” In short, when we emotionally overeat, we not only abuse food but also mistreat ourselves. To help readers understand and identify with what she says, she shares experiences from her own emotional eating days and uses case examples from her clinical practice.  Her major focus is to teach readers how to connect with themselves and...
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How Co-dependence Wrecks Your Life

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Care to guess what percentage of my current clients are co-dependent? A whopping 76%. I made this count after reading an article (written for clinicians) on the subject: “The Neuroscience of Codependency for Client Understanding and Treatment.”  Due to learning maladaptive patterns in childhood, you are co-dependent if you: are overly selfless and trusting, repeatedly put others’ needs first at your expense, over-empathize and over-identify, often are taken advantage of and victimized, and surround yourself with your opposite type—narcissist or sociopath. The article’s author, Mary Joye, maintains that, “Abandonment, abuse, neglect, parental addiction, death of a parent or any childhood trauma can result in a lifetime of grasping for love like a frantic infant or to become submissive to a narcissistic or demanding partner.” Sound familiar?  Joye explains the neurobiology of co-dependence, that is, how it affects people emotionally, cognitively and physically from infancy on: “If a child does not experience...
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You’re Only as Healthy as the Company You Keep

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I’m often amazed to hear about clients’ unhealthy friends—substance abusers, unstable people with mental or physical health problems who refuse treatment, dangerous risk-takers, perpetual victims in abusive relationships who won’t acknowledge problems or leave, and narcissists who take advantage of clients financially or emotionally or both.  Clients tell me story after story about these “friends” and come up with all kinds of reasons they keep them in their lives: feeling sorry for them, having been friends for years or since childhood, their possessing many redeeming qualities, or friends having no one to care for them. Clients accuse me of being coldhearted when I suggest that these so-called friends don’t add much to their lives and take away a lot.  I explain why it’s hard to detach from friends or at least reduce contact or closeness with them. Sometimes clients have too much compassion for them. Or they overidentify with them. Or...
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