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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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Weight, Eating and Microaggressions

Ever have someone say to you, “You’re not really going to eat that, are you, when you said you were trying to slim down?,” “You’re so handsome/pretty and you’d look even better if you lost some weight,” or “Whatever happened to that diet you were on a few weeks ago?” These are hardly unusual comments for higher weight people to hear. Many come into therapy sessions depressed or incensed about remarks that friends, family, co-workers or complete strangers have made about their eating or their weight.  Rather than being obvious attacks, these microaggressions can be just as hurtful and damaging to you. They’re sneaky devils that sound as if they’re not meaning to twist the knife and the people who utter them can be equally adept in feigning innocence and blaming others for their unkind utterances. Some great advice comes from an enlightening article about racism and microaggressions that explains the...
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Relapse and Resume

Want to guess my most common client complaint? It’s “How come I was doing so well for a while and then I just went back to eating like I used to?” Unfortunately, there’s no short and breezy explanation to that crucial question except to say that changing unhealthy habits generally involves a repetition of the pattern of relapse and resume. I usually feel resistance to using the word relapse and for many years I wouldn’t use it at all. But it feels right when we associate it with a lapse of better judgment or a lapse of doing what you know is best for yourself—like eating three pieces of leftover pizza when you come home from a dinner out or finishing off the pint of ice cream you’re saving for another night. Relapse means to lapse again, but implies the state isn’t permanent. The good news is that relapse is usually...
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What Self Are You Trying to Curate?

I’ve been hearing the word curate a lot lately and, though I got the gist of it, I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant until I looked it up. It’s close enough to say it means to collect or arrange things to project a certain image. While essays lament how people are “curating” their images on social media to look a certain way or to create an online identity that has a particular luminous aura, the curation I worry most about is when we create a specific idealization of who we want to be and believe we’re nothing without it.  Rather than let ourselves evolve into who we might be, we grab onto an image and fashion ourselves around it. The process, of course, begins in childhood when the shaping is primarily done by our parents, relatives, teachers and culture taking a smidgen off here and adding a lot more on...
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Is It Okay to Engage in Emotional Eating During the Pandemic?

While I strongly agree that no one should shame themselves or others for emotional eating during the pandemic (or any time), I disagree with some eating disorders clinicians who seem to be saying that under lockdown, it’s okay to eat emotionally on a regular basis. (“Don’t Be Ashamed of Those Extra Pounds” by Courtney Robin, 8/8/20, accessed 8/9/20). I think the problem in the article is that these two ideas have been lumped together when they are entirely separate. On the whole, turning to food for comfort is a behavior that eating disorders therapists discourage. If food were true emotional comfort with no downside, we would likely be out of business. But it isn’t. It’s only comforting while we’re thinking about what we’re going to eat and when we’re chewing. After swallowing, it’s all downhill. Aside from consequent guilt, shame and remorse which are a useless waste of energy, there are...
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How Being a Parentified Child Sets You Up for Eating Problems

If you did a great deal of care-taking of siblings or parents in childhood, the patterns you developed may have set you up for having an eating disorder today. This type of child is called parentified, that is, you were the parent figure to younger brothers or sisters and maybe even to parents who had mental health or addiction issues. How being parentified makes you seek food for comfort is fairly easy to understand. First, if you were charged with taking care of a parent who could not care for themselves, a role reversal identity was being forged in you, that is, you began to see yourself as needing to care for others in order to get your needs met. This is not about blaming your parent but about understanding how early dynamics set the stage for later ones. Maybe you had to make sure your alcoholic dad got up and...
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From Chaos to Rigidity and Back Again

For a long time I’ve been writing about how dysregulated eaters relentlessly ricochet between structure and freedom, mostly through dieting and bingeing, but in other ways as well. Too much freedom and we feel uncertain, uneasy, and out of control. We long for ritual, grounding, sameness, a scaffolding around which to build our lives, and containment to make us feel more secure. Too much structure and we itch for change, variety, diversity, adventure, and the rush of something out of the ordinary. Another way to view this tug of war is via rigidity versus chaos (Daniel J. Siegel, PhD, clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine and executive director of the Mindsight Institute (https://www.crowdcast.io/e/PEPPTalk/6?hls=true).  being on a diet—1/3 cup, 6 ounces, 5 grams, and 2 servings of whatever—and self-doling out little pinches of portion-controlled pleasure? Or the scale staring up at us in judgment of whether we’ve been good...
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Two Tasks to Do When You’re Overwrought

When we’re emotionally overwrought, we have two tasks facing us. The first is to manage our feelings and the second is to solve a problem that our emotions have called to our attention. For effective mental health, we must do both tasks well.  Here are examples of what we do wrong: Your 8-year-old daughter won’t do her homework. This has been happening a lot lately since her father moved out. You yell at her to get it done and tell her you’re taking away her TV privileges for a week if she doesn’t.Your mother keeps nagging you on the phone to see her beyond your weekly visit. Overwhelmed from having begun a new job, you coldly remind her how busy you are, that you have no time to visit her this week, then hang up.Your boss criticizes nearly everything you do. In response, you slack off whenever she criticizes you, which...
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Why People Hate and Buck Authority

Observing public reactions to rules and policies during the COVID-19 pandemic got me thinking about exactly why people would ignore and defy safeguards instituted to prevent them from getting sick and dying. This rebellion is similar to dysregulated eaters insisting that they don’t like people telling them what to do even when they know it’s in their best interest. Here are some of the reasons this happens in both situations.  Low frustration tolerance. Through temperament, upbringing or both, some people get frustrated more easily than others. Not everyone has learned how to ease frustration by practicing optimism, pacing themselves and self-soothing when life gets tough. To their detriment, many people lack skills to manage frustration.Confusing care and control. Children raised by controlling, critical, demanding, and domineering parents often cannot tell the very real difference between being cared for and being controlled. As adults they’re convinced that others want to wrest power and autonomy from them,...
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You Can Be Competent and Cared For

Many clients are under the false impression that they cannot be both competent and get taken care of by others in a relationship. Not true. If this is one of your conflicts, it's time to resolve it so it won’t continue to be a barrier to “normal” eating, self-care and healthy relationships. Clients with this unilateral view often grew up as parentified children. Maybe they took care of parents who had mental health or addiction problems or had to mind siblings rather than heed their own needs. Doing a job well and especially doing it without asking for help was a way they not only received praise or gratitude but was the strategy they used (consciously or unconsciously) to feel good about themselves. In their world, competence and doing a job well or perfectly was their path to self-esteem. No matter how overwhelmed and inept they felt, they couldn’t afford to...
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Does Your Family Focus on Problems?

I often come across clients whose family focus is squarely on their problems. Everyone has to have some or there’s nothing to talk about. This is an example of the victim mentality, with each family member trying to outdo the others in calamities, debacles and bad karma. If this describes your family, it’s time to look at how you’ve been socialized and the negative impact it has on your life, as adults, even now. In families that overfocus on what’s going wrong in their lives, suffering is king (or queen). If your a/c went out, there’s a sister who’ll do you one better and describe not only how her a/c stopped working, but how the pool has some bacterial contamination that makes it impossible to take a dip. Then your mother will try to go you all one better and up the ante by describing how she had to be abulanced...
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