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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Abuse or Disease

What’s in a name? A recent letter to the editor in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune made the case that people should think twice about using the term substance abuse because alcohol and chemical dependence qualify as diseases. Of course, my thoughts immediately jumped to people who have an unhealthy relationship with food, so I spent a while thinking about the terms we use to describe them—anorexic, bulimic, binge-eater, food abuser, and disordered, dysfunctional, restrictive, over- or undereater. How often when we use these terms do we view people has having a disease? Perhaps using the terms anorexia and bulimia, but hardly likely when we’re talking about restrictive or binge-eaters. If you’re a disordered eater, it sounds as if you simply need some straightening out, as if once you get things in order, you’ll be fine. Dysfunctional also has the ring of behavior capable of being turned around. After all, if something isn’t...
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Calorie Labeling

I read recently that the New York City Board of Health will adopt a regulation on March 31 to make restaurant chains post calorie counts for the food on their menus. I’m unsure of the ins and outs of the regulation, and confess to having mixed feelings about its usefulness for both personal and professional reasons. While the regulation is intended to enable diners to make more appropriate food choices, I’m not certain that’s how things will play out based on my—albeit narrow—eating experiences at a spa that offered extensive nutritional information on its menus. One of the first things I noticed sitting down to eat was that the calorie and fat gram counts on the menus instantly grabbed diners’ attention and became the focus of endless discussion. I could almost see the calculators clicking away in their brains as I tried to ignore the not-so-tiny numbers listed next to each...
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Acknowledging Feelings

I try to avoid thumbing through women’s magazines, but sometimes when I don’t have a book handy, I succumb. Occasionally, I find an irresistible tidbit of information that makes slogging through the ads and beauty tips worthwhile. For example, in the February issue of Allure, there’s a brief column on emotions that reinforces what I’ve always known in my gut and through therapeutic experience. The column summarizes the findings of a study on emotions, concluding that “Not (ital mine) acknowledging a feeling stimulates emotional arousal in the brain.” In this experiment, two groups of people viewed images of faces along with two descriptive words below each picture. One word described the facial expression and the other word was neutral. Brain scans showed that when the volunteers paired the neutral word with an expressive face, the amygdala—the alarm center of the brain—showed increased activity. However, when they identified the feeling word associated...
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Stop Focusing on Food

You know the old question: Do you live to eat or eat to live? Well, no surprise which attitude is held by “normal” eaters. If you’re highly food centered—even as a restrictive eater, controlling your intake while obsessing about it—it’s difficult to develop a positive relationship with food. The goal is to enjoy it, without food itself or thoughts of it becoming the focus of your life. Naturally, most people have favorite foods and restaurants—the Chicken Kiev at the new place in town, the crusty, whole wheat bread at the café down the street, the caramel fudge at the candy store at the mall, or the super creamy cheesecake at the bakery. We all have different cravings and special foods that satisfy them. Enjoying delicious food can be a real treat and enormously satisfying and memorable. Although food originally tasted good so that we’d eat it to survive, over the millennia,...
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Ending Food and Body Abuse

A client caught my attention recently when I asked how her purging was going and she replied, “I don’t do that any more.” I asked what she meant and she said she simply decided that she was no longer going to engage in bulimic behavior. Sure, she admitted, she’d been tempted, but she kept telling herself that the part of her life when she would binge and purge was over. She described how she’d handled the urge to purge by telling herself she’d just have to quit bingeing if she didn’t want to throw up and that she wasn’t’ going to die if she ate “too much.” She sounded different than she had in the months we’d worked together—more adult, tougher, more confident and certain. I felt as if, looking into her mind, I would see that something had shifted. Will she continue not purging? Can’t say; that’s up to her....
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Eating Disorders Awareness Week

The fact that it’s National Eating Disorders Awareness week means different things to each of us. It might be a reminder that you’re not alone and that millions of other women and men also struggle with food and weight issues. It might bring to mind loved ones battling with or lost to anorexia or bulimia. It might finally help you break your denial and admit that you have a dysfunctional relationship with food. This week is a good time to focus on and rethink your goals regarding eating and your body. What attitudes and behaviors are you working on that will bring you closer to “normal” eating? Are you making progress? If not, why not? If you’ve been coasting along, hoping magically for transformation, what prevents you from making a commitment to buckle down and make changes? If you’re still caught between dieting and acknowledging how it can promote food problems,...
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10 Ways to Change Your Eating

Although there are a host of things you can do to work toward “normal” eating, here are 10 ideas that are tried and true. Some will be easier than others, but all are necessary if you want food to stop being a hassle and to have a positive place in your life.1. Take a step back and reflect on the way you relate to food and how you could improve the relationship. Reflecting is a good way to break denial. Stay relaxed and don’t pressure yourself to change. Just identify a few changes you could make.2. Consider whether your eating patterns are simply bad habits or whether you have major underlying issues to work through—ie, are you used to munching while watching TV (habit) versus using food to avoid emotional pain (underlying issue).3. Develop compassion for yourself. Replace harsh judgments with being forgiving when you do something you perceive as wrong,...
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Improving Self-care

It’s not unusual for people with eating difficulties to have problems with self-care in other areas as well—drugs, alcohol, hurtful/damaging relationships, or simply treating yourself poorly. It’s common for folks in their teens, 20s and 30s to struggle with issues of self-worth and self-care due to rebellion against family or culture or from plain ignorance and poor role modeling. In fact, it’s often a rite of passage into adulthood; improved judgment comes with experience and maturity. What of those of you who continue to harm yourself into your 40s, 50s and beyond—drinking, drugging, eating, smoking and treating your bodies as if they were disposable? In these decades, you’re no longer struggling to form an identify. Yours is solidified, but your values and actions regarding self-care haven’t evolved from your early years. You may climb a career ladder as high as you can go, but you probably never feel deserving of your...
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Are You a Sheep?

Perhaps because we’re heading deeper into an election year, I keep hearing the word “sheep,” as in “we need to stop thinking like sheep and start thinking for ourselves.” Sadly, many people possess a sheep mentality and don’t even know it. The only way to wake up and realize that you’re making choices like someone who’s brain dead is to pause and reflect on why you think and act the way you do. But how many of us put in the time or make the effort? Self-reflection is an essential part of good mental health. In fact, without it, there’s no way you will achieve it. Kicking back and thinking about the why’s and wherefores of your behavior gives you breathing space to make objective assessments as in Boy, I really didn’t think that through very well or I can’t believe I just went along with the gang and now I’m...
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Body Grievances

Often times I run into women—in my practice, in my life—who have everything going for them, look great, seem full of pep and energy, yet are stuck on losing weight—they insist—in order to be happy. Maybe it’s three pounds or fifteen or 100. Sometimes it’s enough that people would notice and sometimes no one ever would. Anyway, the point is that I wonder what would happen if these women let their weight loss dreams go. The “excess” weight doesn’t necessarily inhibit their being attractive, healthy, or successful, so what is it really all about? My guess is that there are a couple things going on. First is that we have few if any role models of women feeling okay about their bodies. When was the last time you heard someone, a female someone, say she liked her body just as it is? I don’t honestly recall ever hearing that comment. Even...
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