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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. 

[No unsolicited guest blogs accepted, thank you]

What Are You Trying to Prove?


A pattern that shows up a lot in dysregulated eaters is clients trying to prove something. Their goal is to show someone (or themselves) that they are or aren’t a certain way and they go at it with such a vengeance that it overrides their common sense and ability to make healthy decisions for themselves. For example, my client Dawn who’s recovered from drug and alcohol abuse has recently taken a part-time, entry-level job, her first since quitting drugs. She enjoys it but working the night shift has turned her life upside down—she’s eating poorly, is exhausted all the time, and can’t attend her usual AA or NA meetings for support. When I asked why she stays in the job or hasn’t requested a more suitable schedule, she said she’d thought about asking for another shift, but didn’t want people to think she’s a quitter. She expressed fear that her parents...

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Let Me Be Frank


Devouring a column by advice giver par excellence, Carolyn Hax, I had a good chuckle at her response (which I paraphrase) to a letter writer: When life is irritating and people are jerks, just “deal with it” and don’t make a big to-do. I confess there’ve been times when I’ve felt like saying exactly that to clients but never had the nerve because it’s sounds so un-therapist like, so unprofessional. Aren’t we supposed to be infinitely understanding, patient, compassionate, and kind no matter what?  After reading Hax’s Washington Post column (that comes out in my local paper), I began thinking about whether there’s a place for her manner of brashness in the therapy session, which is meant to be a space for honesty and straight talk. I decided there is and that my job, above all else, is to help clients become emotionally healthy and that sometimes frankness and bluntness is...

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Interview with the Creator of the Term Emotional Eating


Interview with my good friend and colleague, Mary Anne Cohen, LCSW, Eating Disorders Expert Extraordinaire  1. Tell us a little about yourself professionally.      I have been a psychotherapist for 50 years! Forty years ago, I founded The New York Center for Eating Disorders to offer treatment for people with binge eating, bulimia, anorexia, chronic dieting, and body image dissatisfaction as well as help for couples and families. I hosted my own radio show on eating disorders for three years and have written three books on eating disorders. I am the professional book reviewer for and just completed my 90th review:     2. How did you get into the eating disorders field?      I struggled with binge eating on and off from childhood through my early 20s. Shame, isolation, dieting, and bargaining with myself did not help much! I began therapy and spent time in Overeaters Anonymous which was...

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When You Can’t Exercise


I was chatting at a party with a woman who was lamenting the weight she’d gained since she could no longer run 20 miles several days a week. She was frustrated that she’d put on weight, but the more she focused on eating less, the more she was drawn to food. This conversation reminded of an exchange I’d had with a client who could no longer run and felt her best life had ended until she started swimming and then everything felt fine again. Regarding swimming, living in Florida helps. These exchanges may not be foreign to many of you. During the first half of my life, I also used exercise to manage my weight. I’m not saying I wasn’t trying to be healthy as well, but I had great fear that if I didn’t do my usual workouts, I wouldn’t fit into my clothes. It was only when I was...

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How to Change Your Response to Stress


Learning how to handle stress goes a long way toward curbing dysregulated eating. Of course, all stress isn’t created equal, but our responses are generally ingrained and we react unconsciously. In order to manage stressful situations, think about how you react interpersonally, that is, whether you move toward or away from people when stressed. There are two extremes you want to watch out for: Do you close up and push family, friends and co-workers away or do you grab onto and cling to them for dear life?  Many people cave inward when life starts to spin out of control. My client Shara says of her romantic relationship: “When we’re stressed, neither of us wants to talk. It’s like we need to crawl into our own shell to keep it together. We can go on like that for days or even weeks.” My client Grant does exactly the opposite: “I ask everyone...

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What We Must Know Is True


How do you know you’re breathing? When I ask clients this question, they think it’s a silly thing to ask and usually say, “Well, duh, I just know.” What I want them to recognize is that there are some things we don’t question. Instead, we “just know” they’re true.  Two such truths to acknowledge intertwine: that we’re lovable and have choices. Do you “just know” you’re lovable or is this a question that you’re unsure how to answer? Healthy people know they are (that is, they’re worthy of love and have lovable qualities) in the same way they know they’re breathing. Their worth and value is either a given from an early age or a question that’s been asked and answered at some point in life, so they never have to consider it again. It’s also true that there are choices and consequences in life. We make a decision and either...

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What Are You Seeking When You Binge?


A client was talking about bingeing and suddenly I had vivid memories about losing myself in food and not being able to stop eating. How I felt that first heady urge to eat wildly and then the compulsion taking over. I remember the excitement, the giddiness that turned into euphoria: Ha! I’m eating whatever I want and I’m going to eat as much of it as I want. Yippee! Hurray! The feeling was so private, though somewhere deep down I was making a public statement: You can’t stop me, so don’t even try.  People who haven’t binge eaten or engaged in any other kind of compulsive behavior cannot imagine why a person would want to stuff themselves silly, way beyond hunger or satiation. Understandably, the idea repulses them. They’d hate the physical feeling and would view gobbling down food as fast as one can as debilitating and downright unnatural. And, of...

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How Actor Jonah Hill Healed His Food Problems


The documentary, Stutz, will touch hearts and go a long way toward healing the mind of anyone with eating problems, weight concerns or low self-esteem. Actor Jonah Hill wrote and directed this film about his long-time therapist, renowned psychiatrist and author, Dr. Phil Stutz (not to be confused with TV’s “Dr. Phil”).  From the notes I scribbled on scrap paper watching the Netflix film: “I keep thinking of how Stutz’s teachings could help heal my clients, blog readers and Facebook followers. I was awed at how open, honest, and vulnerable Hill was, telling the world who he was below his public persona. I ached hearing Stutz’s sad life story and felt buoyed at the amazing man he became in spite of childhood suffering and developing Parkinson’s.”  Hill made this film to honor Stutz who helped him heal from over-eating, poor body image, and low self-esteem and to share with others “the powerful...

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Your Gut Microbia May Make You Eat Sweets


I hoped this blog title would catch your interest. It’s big news, really big news that your gut microbia might be what’s making you eat the whole bag of Oreos and not just one, or an entire bar of Godiva chocolate rather than two tiny squares. Of course, the studies on sweets’ bingeing and microbia is only being done on mice, not people. But what if their conclusions are correct and something physiological rather than a moral failing has been causing you to binge on sweets?  Before I give you the science behind this theory, let me share my fear with you: that even if you’re given proof that your sweets’ bingeing or part of it may be caused by your gut microbia, you’ll still cling to the idea that it’s your fault that you overdo with food. You’ll still blame yourself for lack of self-discipline, no willpower or poor self-care....

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I can’t be the only person on the planet who objects to the word “treats” when referring to food, can I? A treat is defined as being “an event or item that is out of the ordinary and gives great pleasure” My problem is that by putting certain foods in the category of “treats” we might be doing more harm than good.  I’m thinking that eaters might do better embracing theses foods—yes, the ones high in sugar, fat or salt and often all three yummily mixed together—rather than keeping them at arm’s length. Seeing them as “out of the ordinary” might mean to some folks that they’re rarely eaten or eaten only on special occasions. My fear is that many dysregulated eaters might see treats as restrictive to only certain occasions. During the holidays, I often hear clients talk about family foods that are treats—anything from soups to breads to desserts....

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