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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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Sweet Silence

Many posts on the message boards I advise on ( http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings and http://groups.yahoo.com/group/dietsurvivors ) lament situations in which family members insist they are being caring and supportive, but instead are unsympathetic, critical, and even unkind to the person with an eating or weight problem. You can recognize when people are being hurtful by paying attention to your emotional reaction to their words, not to their stated intentions. In such instances, it’s all too easy to get into an argument or abuse food. The truth is that sometimes the only way to stay sane is to keep silent, a difficult task. When we are silent, inner turmoil builds, others up the ante to provoke us into responding, and we feel an intense desire to defend ourselves. The choice seems to be engaging in unhealthy dialogue or swallowing our misery and taking it on the chin. There is another kind of reaction that...
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Being Fat and Feeling Fat

Once again, I’m grateful for the messages boards of Diet Survivors ( http://groups.yahoo.com/group/dietsurvivors ) and Food and Feelings ( http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings ) for giving me ideas for my blogs, this time on the difference between feeling fat and being fat. As a person with dysregulated eating and/or distorted body image, when you feel fat, you’re describing eating or believing you’ve eaten too much, being bloated or stuffed, and/or experiencing your clothes as tight, making it seem as if you are too large for them. Feeling fat does not necessarily correspond with weight or being fat. At 102 pounds, you can feel fat from “normal” eating, overeating or wearing clothes that are too small. Yes, feeling fat, a subjective, internal experience, can be associated with being fat, an external one. However, as a nonfat person, you don’t have the actual sensations of carrying around excess weight, being judged, stared at, stigmatized, or discriminated...
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What is “Normal” Eating?

When I talk to “normal” eaters, I find it fascinating to hear them tell me about the times they over- or undereat and how comfortable they are around food. I can tell you that they don’t always make the best decisions. One major difference between them and someone with eating problems is that they don’t put much attention on what they’ve done “wrong.” In fact, they often pay no attention to it whatsoever. Using the analogy of making a mistake while writing, I’d say that disordered eaters try to erase a food mistake, wildly scribble across it, trying to make it disappear, or toss out the paper they’re using and start again. A “normal” eater just keeps on writing. They have little interest in what they’ve done and it may not even register on their radar screen. They don’t have strong feelings about food decisions one way or the other—that they’ve...
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Rational Eating Beliefs

I’ve noticed over and over that disordered eaters frequently go right to trying to change their behavior before doing the requisite work of transforming their beliefs about food, eating, weight, and body. Although you might be able to alter a few, minor behaviors, without working on beliefs, on the whole, you will need to examine—and perhaps revamp—your entire belief system regarding food if you wish to eat “normally.” For example, if you believe that you shouldn’t eat when you’re hungry because food is the enemy and will make you fat, you’re going to struggle over the issue. It won’t get easier to respond to your body’s hunger until you’ve developed beliefs such as, “I can eat whenever I’m hungry,” or “Eating when I’m hungry won’t make me fat.” Another instance of forcing behavioral change when you don’t have a belief underpinning it is trying to stop eating when you’re full and/or...
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Stop Beating Yourself Up

Psychology teaches us that there are two ways to change behavior: one is through incentives and the other is through punishment. Incentives mean working for reward or pleasure, and punishment involves taking action to avoid pain. One form of behavior modification is not necessarily more potent than the other, but using only self-punishment will not help you become a “normal” eater. If you are used to coming down hard on yourself in your efforts to eat more or less, you will have to change your approach. Think about how you were encouraged to alter your behavior in childhood and how your parents tried to modify theirs. Did they beat themselves up when they didn’t measure up? Did they punish you verbally or physically when you failed to meet their or your expectations? Or did they use appropriate incentives to sustain motivation and offer healthy rewards for you to do better? My...
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Eating from Boredom

Recently a question came up on the message boards I advise on (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/dietsurvivors and http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings) about eating from boredom. Boredom is an interesting emotion because it can stand alone but also may mask other uncomfortable feelings such as loneliness, sadness, anxiety and depression. There are two types of boredom: acute and chronic. You may feel acute boredom when your friend cancels plans for Saturday night at the last minute and leaves you with nothing to do or when you accompany a partner to a lecture that doesn’t interest you all that much. Chronic boredom is a regular occurrence—you frequently feel you have nothing to do or are unengaged emotionally, you lack energy to get up and go yet are antsy, you feel stuck in old routines, in your same old skin. Some boredom is inevitable. We can’t be in the thick of things 24/7. We need time to relax, reflect, and...
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Changing Weight

As we get older, most of us put on weight or have body shifts. If you’ve been slender most of your life, it can come as quite a shock to try on a garment you haven’t worn in a while only to find that it no longer fits. Or you may realize that you’re now more comfortable in a larger size than you previously wore, but find no major change on the scale. Either situation may generate an uncharacteristic, new focus on food and weight, even when you’ve not been previously concerned about them. Some people who’ve never had eating or weight problems make the transition to a larger clothing size and higher scale number fairly easily. They figure they’ve been fortunate for a long time and attribute body changes to age, decreased activity, and hormones. They may watch what they eat a bit more carefully and cut back somewhat on...
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Foresight versus Hindsight

A query came up a few weeks ago on The Food and Feelings message board ( http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings ) about how to use feelings to prevent food abuse rather than going unconscious and being barraged by an onslaught of negative emotions after the abuse. This issue arose often during my years working at a clinic with polysubstance abusers who often felt little or no fear about dealing drugs— ignoring the real possibility of arrest—but were terrified about going to jail after being caught. These clients appeared fearless, but were not: they buried their fear until they were forced to face consequences. My work was to help them experience their full-blown, post-behavior fear before they behaved badly in order to prevent it. The same process applies to eating or not eating. If your medical tests warn that you’re at high risk for major trouble in the near or distant future because of the...
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Food and Fear

A question came up recently on the Food and Feelings message board ( http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings ) about eating out of fear that you’ll be hungry later and won’t have food available. This automatic deprivational response is an excellent example of emotion based on irrational belief leading to dysfunctional behavior. (For further reading on fear and food, see my Food and Feelings Workbook.) By the time we become adults, our fears are generally so long-standing that we don’t even recognize them as adaptive responses we learned in childhood. If you want to overcome an eating disorder, you not only have to notice how your fears drive your eating behaviors, but also understand how they came about. Fears of not being able to soothe, feed, or take care of yourself arise in two ways. We learn what is “right” for us by having our caretakers do things to and for us and internalizing this...
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Depowering Food

It’s amazing the false power we give to food, how we offer ourselves up as its hostage and let it dominate our lives. We fork over our power, then spend the rest of our lives trying to grab it back. When this happens, it’s time to think of Dorothy and her friends in The Wizard of Oz—we need the courage to unmask food and see it for what it really is so that we can get it working for, not against, us. Food is nothing more than molecules, some natural, some artificial that contain the nutrients we need to live. Any specialness we perceive is conferred on it by us. Although one food may taste better than another, likes and dislikes are a matter of preference. Food may have mood-altering and anesthetizing properties, but unlike alcohol and drugs, it does not have the chemical make up to actually remove us from...
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