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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. 

[No unsolicited guest blogs accepted, thank you]

Changing Behavior to Change Beliefs

Most of the time I focus on helping people alter their beliefs to change their emotions and behaviors, but once in a while I’m reminded of how the belief/emotion/behavior triad works in other ways. For example, how behavior can shift emotions, especially when you can’t get yourself out of the rut of, “I can’t…This is too hard…Life is terrible…No one cares, etc.” Well, you get the idea—when it really is nearly impossible to talk yourself out of your stinkin’ thinkin. In that case, if you can’t shift the reality inside of your head, you will have to shift the reality outside of it. Here’s how. Let’s say that negative, depressing or anxiety-provoking thoughts are running rampant through your brain and stomping all over your good sense no matter how hard you try to bat them away. You’ve tried reframing your irrational beliefs and showering yourself with positive self-talk until you’re sick...
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Structure versus Freedom

A problem that crops up frequently with clients is what I call the desires for structure versus freedom. You know, you love the idea of following a plan, having routine in your life, and establishing goals. That is, you love them initially, until somewhere down the line, you stop loving these things and, instead, find them annoying, confining, and overwhelming. You chafe at the rules and rigidity, quit following the plan, and give up on the goals. Then sooner or later you yearn for them again—and round and round it goes. If you engage in this self-sabotaging pattern, it’s time to figure out what’s going on. The first thing to observe is if this is a pattern in your whole life—you do it with the gym, food, not watching so much TV, or staying organized. That is, you make promises to yourself about the way you will be and get psyched...
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Stages of Relationship Health

When we are unhappy in a romantic relationship and lack a blueprint for what constitutes functionality, we may wish for improvement but not know how to achieve it and, in frustration, turn misguidedly to food. Most of us know what physical and sexual abuse are and are clear that we need to put a stop to them, but we’re less clear about what makes for or how to handle emotional abuse or neglect. Hence, it continues and we continue to rely on food for comfort, consolation, and distraction. Lots of folks, mostly women, who are victims of emotional abuse or neglect, lay low, hoping it will end on its own. Let’s call this Phase 1. They walk on eggshells and try to fly under their partner’s radar, all too well aware of how they feel when their partner flagrantly rejects, belittles, shames, ignores, yells or curses at them, but unsure of...
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Are You A Rebel Without A Cause?

I spend a good deal of therapy time talking with clients about being stuck in rebellion. Not adolescents, but adults—people in their 40s, 50s and 60s who are still wasting precious time and energy fighting imaginary powers that be. Mind you, our discussions aren’t about them getting out and protesting for civic or global causes. They’re about how they continue to rebel against “authority” and “shoulds” in the food and other arenas and how this behavior, more than any other, keeps them stuck in overeating. Let me be frank: If you want to become a “normal” eater, you have to/must/need to ditch your rebellious attitude. Got to do it. Unless you’re living with someone who is trying to control your eating (and, why, as an adult with free choice, would you choose to live with this kind of person?), your thoughts of, “He can’t make me eat healthy,” “I’ll show her,...
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Yet More on Legalizing Food

If you’re still struggling with food legalization, I hope you’ve read my blogs on the subject. This one builds on the previous two. Frankly, I’ve found that the concept works for some people but not for others, and it’s difficult to know in which category you fall. Finding the best path for you is yet another facet of healing from eating problems. A reminder that legalization is a concept: food is neither good nor bad and there is no imperative that one food is morally better than another. Nutritiously better, yes; morally, no. That perspective frees you up to make choices based on food preference (enjoyment) and health. However, and it’s a big caveat, you need a healthy belief system to use the concept of food legalization effectively. You have to believe 100% that there are no good or bad foods—no uncertainties allowed! Most people who jump into legalizing food still...
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More on Legalizing Food

As a first step in healing eating problems, legalizing food is a tricky and complicated business, based as much on biology as psychology. Many disregulated eaters get stuck in the effort to widen food horizons and don’t move beyond it. This blog and future ones can’t tell you exactly how to manage legalization, but will help you sort out the issues. When the concept of legalizing foods surfaced in the late 1970s/early 1980s, it was positively revolutionary. I know, I was one of those eaters who was revolutionized by it. Eat whatever you want whenever you want in whatever quantities you want—what an astounding idea! It worked for a lot of us. Merely thinking that we could eat the foods we’d forbidden ourselves enabled us not to. It took many months and years of practice to convince ourselves that all foods were fair game. I used to think, I can eat...
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Legalizing Food

When the idea of "legalizing" food was introduced some three decades ago, I was just starting to work through my own dieting/binge-eating struggles. By the time I began to treat and write about disregulated eating, I was pretty much a “normal” eater and no longer thought about food as good or bad, legal or illegal. Now, I’m concerned with how much trouble disregulated eaters have with the term legalization. For too many of you, it seems to provide license to go hog wild with food which, of course, creates more problems than solutions. My ideas on legalizing food may differ from other experts, and hopefully will help those of you who are trying to expand food options constructively. Here's what legalization means (and has always meant) to me: I have the right to and, therefore, can eat anything I want any time in any quantity. For me, legalization is a belief...
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Thoughts on Fat

I’m always thrilled when the media catches up to enlightened thinking. Sadly, it’s a rare occurrence, which makes it worth mentioning because, to greater or lesser degree, what we read, hear and see often shapes our thinking. A NYTimes article by Roni Caryn Rabin, “Fat Wasn’t Always a Bad Thing,” jumped off the page at me. It’s one of the few I’ve read for public consumption that views fat from a logical, realistic perspective. The article explains the purpose of fat in evolutionary terms: folks who had the most meat on them survived times of food scarcity and famine (which was most of human history), while those who were lean died. Fat was a good thing! In fact, fat was just about the best thing you could be if you wanted to live long and prosper. The heavy people who survived, of course, passed on their genes to subsequent generations who...
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Nice Guys May Finish Fat Too

Now that my new book, NICE GIRLS FINISH FAT—PUT YOURSELF FIRST AND CHANGE YOUR EATING FOREVER, is out, I’m often asked whether nice guys have the same problems as nice gals. The answer is yes and no. There are many excessively nice guys out there who have the same traits and use food in much the same way as “nice girls,” but they don’t have the double whammy of family dysfunction and cultural expectations shaping their personalities and relationship with food. When I think about the overweight “nice” men I’ve known and treated, their unhealthy family histories jump right out at me. Many had mothers who were narcissistic, frail, dependent, or entitled. As boys, they lived to serve and take care of their mothers because that’s how they received love and affection and avoided rejection. They often had to back-burner their own needs in order to please Mom or Dad. These...
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The 90-Second Emotion Rule

In her amazing book, MY STROKE OF INSIGHT: A BRAIN SCIENTIST’S PERSONAL JOURNEY, Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D., maintains that it takes about 90 seconds to pass through the physical phase of experiencing an emotion. Aside from recommending the book as a terrific read, I found her knowledge of and insights into the workings of the brain useful in thinking about behavioral change, in this case about emotional eating. Taylor says it takes “less than 90 seconds” for an emotion to get triggered, surge chemically through the blood stream, then get flushed out. She goes on to assert that within this brief period of time, the automatic emotional response is complete, so that whatever we feel after that is our choosing. Stunning information! Her take is that we need to be present and open to the feeling at whatever intensity it comes. If we short-circuit it, we won’t receive the full impact...
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