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. 

[No unsolicited guest blogs accepted, thank you]

Anxiety May Cover Anger

I’ve noticed that often when clients tell me about situations which generate anxiety in them, I feel angry. Not at them, of course: I’m experiencing the anger they’d be feeling if they weren’t so anxious. Sound puzzling? Read on and I promise it will make sense. To understand this dynamic, let me explain one way that therapists work. We use ourselves as conduits of people’s feelings, that is, when someone would naturally be feeling an emotion, say, anger, and instead intellectualizes it or feels hurt or sad, we end up feeling the unacknowledged, unexpressed feeling. Even if we can’t completely explain the ins and outs of this dynamic, my 30+ years of experience validates it. Of note, many anxiety-filled clients seethe with underlying anger—even if they don’t realize it. Misunderstood and mistreated, they’ve swallowed their needs and authentic emotions and are left with just about the only feeling they find acceptable...
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Food and Addiction

I recently read something that stopped me in my tracks: “Of course, when there are problems, people love to blame the thing being used instead of the person doing the using. This thinking is fed by the damaging contention that addiction is a ‘disease.’ Multiple sclerosis is a disease. You can’t decide to not have multiple sclerosis. You can decide to stop engaging in some behaviors.” Wow, huh! Here are my musings on the subject. First is that we need to think of “addiction” as a medical condition rather than as a disease. As long as we’re choosing terms, let’s go for one that connotes empowerment. We can’t choose whether to have an addiction, but we can choose how we respond to it. Next, as an avid follower of the scientific debate over whether or not sugar is addictive, I’m convinced by current evidence that it definitely is not. Instead, blame...
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Self-care When Life Is Hectic

Clients tell me how they used to take better care of themselves through exercise, meditation, yoga or some centering activity that brought them in touch with their mind/body. The way they tell it is that they enjoyed and benefited from the practice until life became so hectic that they “had” to give it up. Here’s another take on their story. It’s understandable that you might need to temporarily give up this kind of self-care if you need to work to eat or have shelter, in brief periods when you must provide critical care to someone, or during some major time-limited life upheaval. But aside from these situations, it’s reasonable to take good care of yourself on an ongoing basis. Ever wonder why, when life gets busy, self-care is one of the first things to go rather than some less essential activity? The answer is that you convince yourself you’re so needed...
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Biggest Eating Disorder Recovery Mistakes

After 30-plus years treating under- and overeaters, I can tell you exactly what people do wrong to impede their recovery and what they must do right to make it happen. No matter whether you’re struggling with binge-eating disorder, anorexia, bulimia, chronic restrictive dieting, or any combination thereof, here are the biggest eating disorder recovery mistakes you can make—and how to correct them. Expect change to happen quickly. By expecting that you’ll change rapidly and beating yourself up when you don’t, you lose precious time when you could be working on your issues and practicing new, healthy behaviors. Change is gradual for everyone. We’re all capable of taking only baby steps. Ironically, if you want to speed up your recovery, assume it will take a very long time.Misunderstand the change process. Forget hoping for a straight trajectory to your goals. Change not only takes time, but it comes in fits and starts....
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Vulnerability and Strength

Yet another interesting discussion cropped up on my Food and Feelings message board ( http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings" http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings), this time about vulnerability and strength. You, too, might have concerns about them. If so, read on to learn what these terms mean and how you feel about them. Troubled eaters often confuse emotional vulnerability and strength with physical vulnerability and strength because if there’s been an attack on your physical self, especially when you were powerless to stop it, your natural reaction was fear—and that fear leads to feeling vulnerable from then on. Before you’re fully grown, you are both emotionally and physically vulnerable and weak because your brain and your body are still maturing. A problem occurs, however, when you’ve become physically able to care for yourself as an adult and are strong of body but still feel weak of mind, as if your emotional self hasn’t caught up to your new, more...
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Fullness and Feeling Fat

A couple months back, there was an intense discussion on my Food and Feelings message board ( http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings) about the discomfort of feeling full. This is what the diet industry has done to us: twisted a positive into a negative by implying that the sensation of taking in adequate nourishment is bad. If you’re going to eat “normally,” it’s time to view fullness as a welcome occurrence. For most of human history—right up until the 20th century—filling your stomach with food was considered a positive act. More than that, it was the most effective one you could engage in to keep yourself alive and well. At the end of a meal, folks smiled with satisfaction, sighed with pleasure, and patted their tummies contentedly. That is what fullness should be about. Those smiles and pats signify that a basic human need has been pleasantly met and that it’s time to move on...
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Eat Without Distractions

I get preachy about eating without distraction because doing so makes all the difference between mindful and mindless eating and, ultimately, unwanted eating. Because of my own transformation from troubled to “normal” eater, I know that attending exclusively to food speeds up change. Now, here’s proof from the scientific community. Jeffrey Brunstrom, a researcher in behavioral nutrition at the University of Bristol in England, is the senior author of a study on eating and distraction. For his research, he had 22 volunteers play solitaire while eating a meal and another 22 eat the same meal without any distractions. Subjects were not told the focus of the study which was to assess post-meal fullness, the quantity of food eaten 30 minutes after the meal, and participant success in remembering what they had eaten. Care to guess the outcome? The solitaire-playing eaters—no surprise!—did worse at recalling what they’d eaten and felt substantially less...
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Making Commitments

Back in January, at a lecture by a social psychologist friend on the nature of commitments and cults, I found myself scribbling notes like mad as my mind drifted to our culture’s crazy allegiance to diets. Here’s what I learned about why, against all evidence and rationality, we insist on clinging to them. I get intrigued when research is counter-intuitive and a few observations of my professor friend were nothing but. First, he pointed out that we don’t make commitments to goals which make sense and that we know are achievable. Instead, we make commitments to things we don’t know are true and possible but hope or wish were so. For example, custom aside, uncertainty is the reason we feel a need to “commit” to marriage: because we can’t know we’ll live happily ever after, we make a pledge to ensure that it will happen. The same goes for diets. We...
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The Clinician’s View

Ever wonder how your treaters view working with you as a troubled eater? This topic came up at a workshop I taught last week for the Mountain Area Health Education Center and the Center for Disordered Eating in Asheville, NC. Here are some of participants’ sentiments, which are representative of clinicians in general. The clinicians in the workshop—nurses, therapists, and dieticians—work in clinics, private practice, hospitals, and rehabs and treat a range of problems, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, body dysmorphia, nutritional imbalances, depression, anxiety, and bi-polar disorder, along with medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. All are committed to helping clients: eat more “normally” and healthfully, love their bodies at any size, reduce health risks and increase longevity, decrease food obsession, fight destructive cultural values condemning fat and extolling thin, use their bodies more functionally, turn to people instead of food or weight/food preoccupation when distressed, and live a...
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Eating and Chronic Illness

A message board member ( HYPERLINK "http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings" http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings) asked me to blog about chronic illness and eating. Chronic illness is stressful—intermittent or ongoing pain, medication protocols, doctors’ visits, unexpected reoccurrences, indeterminate remissions, and lifestyle limitations that make "normal" eating difficult due to lack of exercise from pain or limited mobility, being home a great deal surrounded by food, increased depression, and using food for comfort or to reward yourself. Although I’m no expert on chronic illness, my take is that your relationship with food before chronic illness is often (but not always) a predictor of your relationship with it when illness sets in. Ask yourself: how healthy was my relationship with food before my illness? A similar example is that disregulated eaters who develop food allergies have trouble coping with restriction because it generates feelings of deprivation and unfairness, whereas “normal” eaters aren’t so bothered by saying no to off-limit foods....
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