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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Book Review: The Food and Feelings Workbook

I’m going to use blog space today to encourage you to read my second book, The Food and Feelings Workbook—A Full Course Meal on Emotional Health. My purpose isn’t to sell more copies (though that’s always nice!), but to share with you a powerful vehicle for learning about your emotional relationship with food. If you already know about the workbook, have read or are reading it, well, then you don’t need to continue on and have a few extra few minutes today to do something else. The workbook came about from my experience treating people who worked hard on becoming “normal” eaters but couldn’t get there because of how they used food to prevent or lessen uncomfortable feelings. It didn’t matter whether they were over- or undereaters or yo-yoed back and forth. The issue was how they turned to food to avoid and modulate emotional distress. The workbook explains the purpose...
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Taking Care of Your Health

I’ve noticed over decades of treating compulsive, emotional, and restrictive eaters that many of you do not take care of your bodies very well. Dysregulated eating is only one symptom of poor self-care which includes many ways you don’t keep your body healthy and in good working order. Effective self-care means doing whatever you need to do to improve the quality of your life in the long run. Much of it falls under the realm of prevention in terms of life style choices. Preventive self-care involves everything from wearing warm enough clothing when you are out in the cold and using an umbrella in the rain to getting regular dental and medical check-ups. One way to work on staying healthy is by reading about what is good for your health and what is not. You can do this online or through books. Websites of the American Heart Association (http://www.americanheart.org/) and cancer...
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Perceptions of Stress

An article on emotional eating (What’s Your Relationship with Food? by Karen Collins, RD, American Institute for Cancer Research, at MSN.com/Health and Fitness) focuses on the possible causes of emotional eating. Collins describes one school of thought which maintains that it’s caused by dieting and deprivation, ie, the rebound effect. She also explains that people who head for the Häagen-Dazs when they’re upset may have faulty perceptions of stress, meaning they work themselves into a tizzy when they don’t really need to. While it’s old news to most of you that chronic dieting and food restriction lead to overfocusing on food and overeating, you may not have considered that how you perceive stress and your ability to cope with it is a major cause of emotional eating. As a cognitive-behavioral therapist, I’ve known, written, and talked about this link for decades. Irrational thinking leads to irrational behavior; rational thinking leads to...
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Not So Sweet

Proving once again that what seems too good to be true probably is, a recent LA Times article sheds new light on the use of saccharin for weight loss. A study in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience found that saccharin appeared to drive rats to overeat by “breaking the physiological connection between sweet tastes and calories.” In experiments funded by the National Institute of Health and Purdue University, rats received yogurt sweetened with either saccharin or glucose, which is pretty close chemically to good old table sugar. Because body temperature typically rises after digesting food in the production of energy, the researchers evaluated rat temperature after eating. Interestingly, the rats fed the sugar substitute had a smaller increase in temperature than the ones fed glucose. Moreover, the rats consuming yogurt and saccharin gained more body fat than those eating yogurt and glucose. In short, the sugar substitute not only failed to help...
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Restitutive versus Substitutive Reprogramming

At a lecture on aging last month, two approaches for rehabilitating stroke victims—restitutive versus substitutive—were mentioned. Restitutive therapy was described as strengthening the limb/s which are paralyzed, while substitutive therapy helps build up the limb/s that have not been affected. The more I thought about them, the more I realized that these approaches also could be used by people recovering from eating problems. Distracting yourself when you have the urge to eat when you’re not hungry or when you can’t wait to rush off to the gym or purge after you’ve eaten is a substitutive behavior. It compensates for or takes you away from impulsive behavior. Sitting with feelings and not acting on harmful eating behaviors is restitutive behavior because these actions make you stronger emotionally. Some people will lean more toward one kind of technique than the other, but both are necessary to change destructive eating patterns. Stop and assess...
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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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