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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Right and Wrong Motivations

Often my understanding of the complicated dynamics of eating and weight grows out of my work with clients. I’m usually a step ahead of them, but not always. Sometimes I’m stumped until together we come up with answers that explain a client’s chronic self-harming behavior. This happened recently when I realized why certain unhealthy motivations for losing weight don’t work in the long run and, in fact, hinder progress. As a disregulated eater, you may put on weight until you’re disgusted with yourself and vow to slim down and start doing the “right” things—making nutritious food choices, exercising regularly, following the rules of “normal” eating, and staying conscious about food without obsessing about it. Using disgust as a motivator, you’re on a roll for a few weeks or months, even years until slowly, gradually, you stop engaging in healthy behaviors—you eat past full a few times, skip the gym for a...
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Perfect Bodies

Last month I went to the beach with a friend and, there, on the blanket next to us was a woman—in her early 20s, I’d guess—who most folks in this culture would assess as having a “10” body. Evenly toned and tanned, she also had a pretty face and straight, brown hair pulled back into a ponytail. Her bathing suit, a shocking neon blue, could probably be seen for miles. She certainly looked as if she had it altogether body-wise. Why, then, did I feel so sad for her? For all of you who think you’d beg, borrow or steal to have a perfect body, think again. For example, compare this woman to the young women who had set up their chairs and beach umbrellas on the other side of us. They had far from perfect, plump, soft bodies. I don’t recall their bathing suits or their hairstyles or anything else...
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Ignoring Hunger

One of the worst things you can do that ensures you won’t become a “normal” eater is to regularly ignore hunger signals. People who skip meals when they’re hungry only cause and reinforce appetite dysregulation. Frequently avoiding food when your tummy is empty is like refusing to put gas into your car and continuing to drive—eventually you’re going to run into trouble. There are several unhealthy reasons dysregulated eaters use for not eating when they’re hungry. First is that they have no time to eat. C’mon, how long does it take to toast a slice of whole grain bread for breakfast and slather it with yogurt/jam/peanut butter? To microwave veggies, a sweet potato, or eggs for lunch (and pack ‘em to go if needed)? To grab an apple, banana, or piece of cheese in the afternoon. Folks less often skip dinner, the meal they allow themselves and make time for. A...
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Care versus Control

Last week I was talking to a phone client about her rebellion against taking good care of herself. Small wonder. Because of her dysfunctional upbringing, she’s confused about being cared for versus being controlled. Instead of believing that messages from others or from herself to herself are aimed at helping her, she feels controlled and strikes out in rebellion. When her inner voice tells her she should start the day with a healthy breakfast or stop eating when she’s full, it doesn’t sound caring and she doesn’t feel cared about. Instead, she feels bullied into doing something. Sound familiar? It’s easy to see how you could get care and control confused if your parents expressed love in a bossy or dictatorial way. Sure, some parents really were trying to control you when they insisted you should or shouldn’t eat something, but it’s likely they knew no other way to care about...
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Tips for Stopping Eating

Of all the rules of “normal” eating, the one that gives overeaters the most trouble is stopping when they’re full or satisfied. When food tastes delicious, it can feel like agony to lay down your fork. “Normal” eaters, as well, sometimes continue eating although they’ve had enough food or just because it tastes so darned good. However, they also know how to quit while they’re ahead. Here are some tips to learn and practice. When overeaters consume too much food, it may be because they only consider the negative consequences of overeating after they’ve done it—how yucky they feel physically and the weight they’ll gain. They’re scared, but the fear of consequence comes too late to change behavior. The time to get in touch with anxiety about being stuffed or gaining weight is before eating. If you only connect to fear after eating, you’re putting the cart before the horse and...
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Stress and Eating

How stressed you are now and, more importantly, how stressed you were growing up, may be at the root of your eating difficulties. By stress I mean the affective recognition of feeling internal pressure along with its physical manifestations in your body. If your childhood included chronic neglect or abuse—sexual, physical, or emotional harming such as shaming, degrading, living with constant fighting, witnessing abuse, and feeling scared and helpless much of the time—you may have a compromised stress response. Stress generates a two-part response to physical or emotional threat to self. The perception of or an actual threat triggers part one, an alert in midbrain that signals the release of chemicals such as norepinephrine and adrenaline and in your adrenal glands that elevates heart rate, blood pressure and breathing to prepare you for action. Other body-readiness activities also occur, including the release of glucose and fatty acids as fuel for fight...
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Hormones and Appetite

The subject of eating and hormone deficiencies is on my mind. I read about it in a Wall Street Journal article last month which concluded that appetite—no surprise—may be more about biology and biochemistry than previously thought. Days later a nutritionist colleague referred me to a website promoting a replacement for an appetite-regulating hormone some overeaters may lack. Interesting, but scary stuff, reminiscent of the nature-nurture debate—that is, how much power do we really have over our bodies? The WSJ article explains that a lack of leptin, a hormone secreted by fat cells, is one of the reasons that people regain lost weight. Leptin plays a key role in fat metabolism because its levels decrease when we lose weight, generating a host of physiological changes which promote pounds creeping back on. In studies, it doesn’t matter if people were lean or obese before losing weight. Whatever their body mass, after losing...
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Why Call Change Work?

I’ve been noodling about why we call the act of self-transformation “work” and whether giving it this label may not bias us against it. After all, most of us think about work not as something we love to do, but as something we have to do, like it or not. You know—yard work, homework, housework. Perhaps calling the journey toward “normal” eating work does a disservice to it and makes change more difficult. Maybe it’s time to reframe the process into something more positive and enticing. To begin with, “work” implies a beginning and an end. We start and we finish, but do we ever really fully achieve human potential? Can we coast or rest when work is complete if what we’re working on is our imperfect selves? If learning is work, does that mean we stop learning when work is done? A more helpful approach might be to think of...
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I’m intrigued by “foodies.” As I understand the word, it refers to people who are enamored with food. They love the thought of it, its wondrous variety, how it looks and smells and tastes and feels going down. They have an appreciation for fine food, including its exemplary preparation and high quality. Does their relationship with food increase or decrease eating problems among them? An interesting question. Not being a foodie (and coming from a non-foodie lineage), I can’t speak on the subject from personal experience. My expectation for food is what some have called low. It need be (not necessarily in this order): nutritious most but not all of the time, accessible, palatable, and have sticking power. If it makes my taste buds sing, all well and good. When I talk with foodies, however, I know they have an utterly different experience. They notice subtleties of flavor, texture, and presentation...
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Struggle Harder

Through my decades of experience with dysregulated eaters, I’ve concluded that the #1 problem in a stalled or slow recovery is that you don’t struggle hard enough with your food demons. You make efforts here and there to not eat when you’re not hungry or to stop when you’re full, but more often than not, you’re sporadic in your thrusts, give in to food abuse urges too easily, then wonder why you’re still stuck in unhealthy behaviors. In my March 9 and June 1, 2007 blogs, I wrote about the value of struggle, the process which, along with insight, curiosity, and self-compassion, is essential in developing skills for “normal” eating. When you’re trying to overcome a longstanding eating disorder, you can’t just tilt at recovery half-heartedly. Any and all encounters which might lead to food have to be a pitched battle. If you want to learn to eat sanely, each time...
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