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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Despair versus Overdoing

In the ongoing struggle eaters have with disregulation, few issues loom larger than sustaining motivation and effort. This happens in many areas: You regularly under- or overdo, bounce back and forth between one extreme and the other and, more often than not, end up where you started. Ever wonder why? For example, a client and I are discussing her going to the gym or speaking up to a spouse or setting limits with her child, and she tells me how she used to hit the gym every day, then stopped going completely; how she sits on her feelings about her spouse until they erupt; how disciplining her children makes her feel so mean and hurtful that she doesn’t do it. I watch as clients rush headlong into activities, then give up or withdraw. My job is to provide enlightenment about what’s happening psychologically/emotionally so they can make real, incremental progress. What’s...
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Toxins in Food

When you’re overeating, you’re often caught up in rebellion, emotional avoidance, denial, or all-or-nothing thinking, so how often do you consider what food is doing to your body? Never mind how many calories it has—or hasn’t. Calorie-free or not, the point is whether a food is a healthy or unhealthy option because of how its ingredients will affect you in the long run. Focusing on the nasty things that toxins can do to your health is one way to help you make better choices. For example, I was recently at dinner with a friend who was eating chicken salad nestled in a crispy taco shell. Near the end of the meal, she started to break off pieces of the shell, set them aside, but continue to nibble at them. At one point, she covered the entire shell with her napkin, but soon she was back nibbling at them again. Finally, she...
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I write a lot about feeling helpless around food and lacking inner conviction that says, “I can do this. I can change my eating.” At the core of this problem is that many of you feel powerless to change much of your life—partners, jobs, friends, etc. Well, yesterday I went to a spirited political rally where people were about nothing but change. By rallying, these folks were not only fighting to make things better, but were empowering themselves. What does politics have to do with healing food problems? Lots. Self-empowerment is contagious. Start in one area and it will spread to another, maybe even to your eating. Being with people who whole-heartedly believe they can create change rubs off on you. Hang around them long enough and you gain faith in yourself. Too many people who feel like victims pal around with like-minded folks who bring each other down. But spend...
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The Meaning of Food Cravings

What is the meaning of a food craving? Science has disproven the idea that craving always means nutrient deficiency—a lack of potassium drawing you to a banana or an iron deficiency driving you to order a sirloin. It can be confusing when you feel an urge to eat—whether you crave something specific like Betty Crocker brownies or have a yen for pasta—to know how to react. To follow the urge or not, that is the question. Some cravings are biologically based, such as when you haven’t eaten protein all day and go for turkey, eggs, yogurt or cheese. But how to explain what I hear all the time from clients: “If I could, I’d eat chocolate or ice cream or candy or macaroni and cheese all the time.” Would they really? Because they actually crave those foods or because they’ve been forbidden for so long they’re driven by deprivation? What should...
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Letter from a Client to Her Mother

This is the first time I’ve used blog space for anything other than my own writing. I was so moved by a letter a client wrote (but did not send) to her mother that I want to share it in the hope that it will help you as much to read it as it helped my client to write it. It’s a powerful declaration of selfhood based on a great deal of introspection and hard work. When you’re done reading, try writing your own letter (without sending it) to someone who has hurt you or with whom you’ve never shared your authentic feelings. It works! Dear Mom, In many ways your parenting has been inadequate. I know you did the best you could and that you have many strengths, too, but this letter is about the irrational and harmful things I have learned from you about myself, my feelings, other people,...
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Stress and Carbs

Just when we think we have our heads on straight about the dangers of carbs, we get thrown a curve ball. Like the September 2008 article in Mind, Mood, & Memory published by Massachusetts General Hospital entitled “A Carbohydrate Cure for Stress.” Carbs a cure for stress? Hmm. That’s sure food for thought! I thought that carbs in response to stress were the devil in disguise. According to the article, “…a healthy carbohydrate snack may be among the most effective stress-busters for individuals who do not suffer from abnormal glucose metabolism, such as diabetes.” Well, duh, we’ve known all along that carbs do the trick. The article explains why: healthy carbohydrates (whole grain snacks, sweet potatoes, etc.) trigger a cascade of biochemical brain changes that increase serotonin. Low stores of serotonin make you anxious, depressed, and irritable and high stores contribute to feeling happy, in control, and at ease. Judith Wurtman,...
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Effortful Study

Ever wonder why some people succeed in overcoming their eating problems and others don’t? Ever question why people you know have changed their behavior around food while you’re still struggling? Thanks to a posting on Linda Moran’s Diet Survivors message board at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/dietsurvivors, there’s evidence which points to at least one major key to success: the concept of effortful study. In a July 2006 Scientific American article entitled “The Expert Mind,” Philip E. Ross writes about effortful study—“tackling challenges that lie just beyond one’s competence”—and explains what has been learned about achievement through the study of chess masters: success comes from motivation and practice. Contrary to general opinion, it is not due primarily to native ability or luck, although they may play a part in any endeavor. Instead, Ross concludes that, “Motivation appears to be a more important factor than innate ability in the development of expertise,” pointing out that “success...
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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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