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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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Being Critical of Appearance

Not everyone feels the same way about their appearance. Some people could care less what they wear and how they look. They’re too busy with other things to fuss about clothes, have low self-esteem, or are depressed and lack the interest or energy to make a big deal about appearance. Other people are obsessed with how they look—striving for a perfect body, spending oodles of time and money on the right clothes, unable to leave the house without taking their appearance into account. Some of these people, as well, may suffer from low self-esteem and only feel good about themselves when they think they look their best. In the middle of the continuum are people who have a reasonable pride in appearance, but don’t go overboard . Much of attitude about appearance comes from what we learned in childhood. Think about how your parents viewed their looks. If you had a...
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Self-denial is a learned facility and has its positive and negative sides. In order to function well in society both personally and professionally, we naturally need to say no to ourselves. For example, it’s not okay to break into a jewelry store and grab a Rolex watch even though you may want one more than anything else in the world. It’s also not cool to steal your best friend’s boyfriend or acceptable to believe that you must have every little thing your heart desires. Denying pleasure or gratification in service of a different or higher goal is a valuable skill that is learned through the maturation process. However, being unable to say yes to your desires in balance with saying no is self-denial run amuck. As with anything else, withholding from self can become a bad habit, a rigid, one-note approach, a practice that feeds on itself and generates a life...
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Using Problem-solving in Eating Disorders

Whether you’re a chronic overeater or undereater or yo-yo between the two, you need to harness your problem-solving skills to make progress. Some of you are probably terrific problem-solvers—the go-to people in your company, the family decider and planner, the friend who knows how to clean up everyone’s messes. In that case, you’ll be able to use skills you already have to resolve your eating issues. However, some of you may not shine at problem solving in general. You may not recognize or be willing to acknowledge this deficit and wonder why other people are happier and more successful than you are. If you don’t have terrific problem-solving abilities to begin with, it will be harder for you to resolve eating issues. The first step in problem-solving is, of course, to identify the problem. Pick one aspect of eating that is plaguing you—snacking on high calorie foods as an afternoon pick-me-up,...
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Struggling to Health

The stronger the grip your eating disorder has on you, the harder you will have to fight back. I wrote in The Rules of “Normal” Eating that trying to overcome an eating disorder is not for the faint of heart and I meant it. Fighting to overcome your dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors around food is a battle like few others. The struggle will reach into every corner of your existence and you will have to face off with food—your desire to eat or not eat—many times each day in order to become healthy and learn to eat “normally.” By struggling, I mean tolerating impulses without acting on them, tough work after years or decades of mindlessly following a destructive eating path. Your inner conflict to continue behaving the same way around food as you always have will bump up hard against your growing desire to be healthy and fit. Whether you’re...
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Sugar Addition

Recently I did some internet research on sugar addiction when the subject cropped up in a workshop. Can a person really be addicted to sugar? If so, does that mean she can never eat it and/or that if she does, she’s bound to go overboard and binge? How do you know if you’re addicted or if you only believe you are? I encourage you all to do your own research on sugar addiction, although the jury appears to be out on the subject. Some evidence indicates that rats seem to become addicted to sugar water based on specific criteria related to increased tolerance, cravings, and withdrawal symptoms, while other studies conclude that the problem is better defined in terms of psychological dependence than physical addiction. Perhaps some day we’ll have a definitive answer and a better understanding of how sugar affects our biochemistry. For now, each of us has to assess...
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An Eating Disorder or Misery

Many of you will not be able to overcome your eating problems until you get out of the unhappy situations you are working or living in. I know this advice is hard to hear, that you fear making major change, and that you will even forgo a healthy relationship with food to maintain the status quo. However, dysfunctional eating is often a reaction to a toxic situation and you won’t become a “normal” eater until you opt out of it. You may hate your job or like it but feel constantly stressed, overwhelmed, pressured, and frustrated. Or you enjoy your job, but not your colleagues who appear to delight in excluding or harassing you and go out of their way to make your life hell. Or you have an ogre of a boss who is chronically mean, condescending, blaming, insensitive, and/or petty, for whom nothing you do is ever good enough...
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3 Skills for Eating Satisfaction

One of the chief complaints I hear from clients and patients is how utterly impossible it seems to say no to food on a regular basis when they’re not hungry or to stop eating when they’re satisfied. They speak about going unconscious, falling into a trance, blocking out consequences, and being reduced to overwhelming won’t-take-no-for-an-answer desire. In clinical terms, they cannot refrain from acting on impulse. Three related skills are necessary to inhibit impulses, slightly different takes on saying no to yourself around food (or anything else). The first is the capacity for frustration tolerance, which means being able to endure frustration in order to achieve goals. If you have a doctor’s appointment but return home because you can’t easily find a parking space or if you give up on doing your taxes because they’re complicated and a brain drain, you have a low threshold for frustration. Frustration is unpleasant but...
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A question came up on the message board for my Food and Feelings Workbook (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings) about self-soothing techniques. There are a variety that, if not learned adequately in childhood, need to be acquired later on for healthy emotional regulation. As with other skills, the more you practice, the better you get and the more natural the behaviors feel. Here are 4 that should help—body relaxation, positive self-talk, mantras, and physical self-comfort. The basic relaxation technique works best in a quiet environment. Sit or lie comfortably, close your eyes, and breathe deeply, inhaling warm, soothing air and exhaling body tension for about 5 minutes. Next, tense each part of your body for 5 seconds then relax it for 15 seconds, starting with your feet and ending with your head (to include legs, buttocks, abdomen, chest, neck, shoulders, and arms). Go slowly. Visualize inhalation bringing relaxing air to the specific body part and...
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The Upside of Perfectionism

Often mental health clinicians point out how being a perfectionist can prevent someone from leading a fulfilling, happy life. We warn against pushing too hard, having personal standards that are impossibly high, and trying to live up to expectations that are so unrealistic that they can’t help but lead to feeling inadequate. All true enough, but did you know that perfectionism also has an upside? When I work with people who refuse to make themselves uncomfortable in order to change or who want to give up when they realize how arduous the recovery process is, I wish they had a healthy dose of perfectionism. Some people fail to recover precisely because they’re not willing to put in the effort, are ambivalent about recovery, don’t follow suggestions or advice, and view themselves as powerless victims. They don’t know how to set goals, maintain motivation, push themselves over hurdles, and therefore throw in...
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Introducing a Forbidden Food

One of the scariest tasks in becoming a “normal” eater is starting to eat foods that you’ve forbidden yourself. However, if you move forward with mindfulness, planning and structure, you’ll be less fearful and more successful. Every time you aim to “legalize” a new food, follow (all of) these steps. All you need is a paper, pen, food, and courage! Step 1: Pick a food that challenges you which you don’t regularly keep in the house, one that exerts a moderate irrational pull, but not the most difficult food for you to resist. Step 2: After making a choice, without judgment, record your feelings about re-introducing this food into your diet—anxious, fearful, angry, hopeless, yearning, excited, mixed. Breathe deeply. Calm your anxiety by soothing self-talk.Step 3: Make a list of at least half a dozen beliefs you have about this food: I can’t eat this “normally”; I’ll gobble this right up;...
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