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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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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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

Foodies

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...

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...

Mind Over Biology

The more I read about eating and weight, the more it appears that genetic loading and biology heavily predispose folks to overeat or be fat. When I talk with clients about genetic tendencies and biochemical imbalances, some are relieved that there’s a cause for decades of food struggle and others are bummed out, feeling branded for life. Whatever the cause of food problems, everyone can change their thinking, which ultimately produces healthier attitudes and more constructive behavior around food. There are a host of factors that may predispose you to overeating and overweight: hormone deficiencies (e.g., ghrelin and leptin) regarding hunger and fullness, early biochemical damage due to trauma and stress, genetic abnormalities (e.g., possessing a gene variant that messes with the brain’s reward signal or one that helps you store fat more efficiently), or an imbalance of the right kind of gut microbes. You can take in this information and...

Readiness

Sometimes you think you’re ready to change your eating behavior, but there’s so much else going on in your life that takes precedence. Frequently you need to get other parts straightened out to free up energy to put into resolving food problems. If you’re struggling with difficult situations or they’re contributing to food abuse, you may have to step back from eating work until you resolve them effectively. For example, maybe you’re really unhappy in your job. Day after day you dread going into work because you’re overworked and undervalued or bored silly. Or your boss is an ogre and belittles you at every opportunity. Or you don’t feel accepted and liked by your co-workers. Yes, you can change your thinking about these situations to relieve some of the pressure, but you’re still going to be consumed by work problems until you make changes. Make them and it may be easier...

Sugar and Cravings

An article in Environmental Nutrition (July 2008, vol. 31, No. 7) confirms that although sugar and sugary foods taste good and it can be hard to stop eating them, “you cannot get physiologically addicted to sweet foods.” Their studies conclude that “a craving for sweets…is the result of conditioning based on cultural, social, and individual cues.” More evidence that food is not physiologically addictive. That doesn’t mean you don’t feel as if you’re addicted. What you suffer from, however, is not an addiction, but a dependence. There have been controversies for decades about whether or not sugar is addictive. A study described in the article explains its negative conclusions this way: When people are addicted to a substance, getting that substance eliminates or reduces the craving (think heroin addicts getting high on a fix or alcoholics who feel great from a drink). However, when people craving chocolate were given a pill...