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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. 

Reasons You Won’t Recover from Your Eating Disorder

One of the reasons I eventually was able to overcome my chronic dieting and emotional and overeating was that I’m a tenacious person and not inclined to give up when I set my mind on doing something. So, persistence served me. More importantly, there is no area in my life that I wouldn’t discuss and try to change (with the help of a therapist) in order to become a “normal” eater. I was willing to delve deeply into whatever was wrong in my life (lots!) and take steps to remedy it. Nothing was off limits for discussion and discovery if it would help me stop being a crazy person with food and weight. One of the barriers clients have is shying away from aspects of their lives that are obviously not working for them. Even talking about those areas makes them squirm. At first they may deny problems, but eventually (if...
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Are You a Practitioner of Learned Helplessness?

Learned helplessness is a psychological dynamic which comes up often in therapy and is useful for clients to understand. It’s “a phenomenon in which repeated exposure to uncontrollable stressors results in individuals failing to use any control options that may later become available. Essentially, individuals are said to learn that they lack behavioral control over environmental events, which, in turn, undermines the motivation to make changes or attempt to alter situations.” (APA Dictionary of Psychology, https://dictionary.apa.org/learned-helplessness , accessed 3/6/19) It has been tied to depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and could be a good fit with eating disorders as well, though that belief is from my clinical experience, not from research. Gillian Fournier in “Learned Helplessness” calls it “A condition in which a person or animal has come to believe he or she is helpless in a situation, even when this is untrue.” (Psych Central Encyclopedia of Psychology, accessed 3/6/19,...
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Feeling Less Than May Make You Want to Eat More

Many dysregulated eaters chronically feel less than. They’re sure they’re not qualified for a job, even after getting hired. Comparing themselves to others, they always come up short. No matter what they’re doing or who they’re with, the feeling of being less than what others expect of them (or of what they expect of themselves) overwhelms them. Feeling smaller than, they eat to feel bigger. Here are some examples: · A client we’ll call Joe met a woman named Marla doing online dating and they went out a few times. During conversation, without bragging or being uppity, she mentioned that she came from a wealthy family. Joe, who grew up in poverty and now made a decent income for a man his age, felt that she would never be interested in him. When he met her family several weeks later, he continued to feel less than around them and that they...
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Why We Do What We Do

We act in certain ways because we’re driven by what we call human nature. Over the centuries, there have been varying views of what that entails. “The bad news on human nature, in 10 findings from psychology” by neuroscientist Christian Jarrett (Aeon, 12/5/18, adaptation of an article published by The British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, accessed 12/7/18) may help you understand more about why we and others say and do things that are not always in our best interest. Here are some evidence-based conclusions about our baser desires and reactions. · We believe that people deserve their fate and blame the less fortunate for what happens to them. In part, this may be why many dysregulated eaters are hard on themselves and confuse taking responsibility for their actions with self-blame. · We are not particularly rational, open-minded creatures. Remember this when you’re arguing with someone and the facts that you present...
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Accepting What You Can and Cannot Change part 2

It’s crucial, as words go in the song “The Gambler,” to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em. It’s vital to recognize when and where to pitch your tent and it’s just as vital to accept when it’s time to pack everything up and go home. In my previous blog, I described aspects of our lives that are possible to change, including friends, eating, job, lifestyle, and partners. Here are some fairly permanent features in our lives: We cannot change our: · family of origin with whom we’re stuck for better or worse. They were there when we came into the world and tend to want to stick to us like burrs. We can try to pretend they’re not our relatives, but they are our flesh and blood whether we like it or not. Of course, we can regulate distance from them and even choose to be...
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Accepting What You Can and Cannot Change part 1

It’s curious that sometimes I think my clients who are dysregulated eaters view what they can and cannot change exactly backward. For example, I think it can be hard to budge weight, but easier to shift what and how much we eat. They think it’s easier to change others than themselves and I believe in the opposite. Here’s a list of things I see as changeable. In part 2 of this blog, I’ll review the things I see as relatively fixed and not possible to change. We can change our: · friends because we chose them, or we allow ourselves to be chosen by them. Somewhere, maybe way back when, we formed a bond and have agreed to keep it and call it friendship. But that doesn’t mean we must keep it if it isn’t serving us well. As we change, we may need to cast off old friendships and seek...
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Humans are a Mass(Mess) of Contradictions

Our brains developed to quickly assess “good” from “bad” people, that is, those that we expect will be friendly to and not harm us from those we fear will be hostile and hurt us. Back when the first humans came on the scene, this was a useful brain feature to help us assess and monitor our relationships with others. But now it oversimplifies relationships and encourages all/nothing thinking which actually works to deter healthy relationships and causes unnecessary stress and reactive unwanted eating. An example of how wildly complicated humans are can be seen in a February news story of a man who bought $540 worth of cookies so that two Girl Scouts could come in from cold weather and was “later arrest on federal drug charges, including conspiracy to manufacture and distribute heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl.” (“Man who went viral for buying $540 of Girl Scout cookies arrested in DEA...
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What Constitutes an Adult?

This blog came about thanks to (another) lively and enlightening discussion I had with a client about what qualities make us feel like adults. Even when we’re chronological adults, we may not know how to act maturely or may have only a hazy idea of how adults ought to conduct themselves. After all, our concept of adulthood is rooted in a template of how our parents and other important grownups acted when we were children. Many dysregulated eaters may not have bothered to update this view, even long after they have become adults themselves. The discussion with my client on adulthood grew out of the conversation we’ve had on more than one occasion about her feelings when we touch on whether or not she acts childishly. This time, rather than focus on what behaviors or reactions might be childish or childlike, I headed in another direction: How did she feel about...
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There Is Life Between and Beyond a Food or Weight Focus

One of my clients made an amazing discovery I want to share with you. Her worries about food began as a child when her mother insisted that the family eat totally clean and she was forbidden to eat sweets and treats. When she wasn’t thinking about food—what she should and shouldn’t eat—she was thinking about weight—how much she’d gained or lost. Eventually, she began to rebel against her mother’s rigid food rules while thoughts about food and weight consumed most of her mental energy. Fast forward to today when she’s evolving into a “normal” eater. One day in therapy she shared an ah-ha moment: She’d spent most of her life obsessed with either eating or weight. During non-diet times, she fantasized constantly about cravings and what foods she wanted to binge on and berated herself after emotional eating. When dieting, she rarely thought about food because she knew exactly what and...
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We’re All Doing the Best We Can

One of my most challenging discussions in therapy is convincing clients that people are doing the best they can at any given point. I’ve always thought of this idea, along with its counterpart which I’ll describe in a moment, as a given psychological principle or truth. Yet I understand how difficult it is to wrap your mind around. The concept goes like this: people are doing the best they can, though it may not be good enough. Said another way, If people could do better, they would. Most clients and others hear me say that their parent/child/boss/etc. is doing the best he or she can and start telling me how untrue that is. For example, if your supervisor is constantly critical of your work and tells you so in a blunt and hurtful manner, that is the best she can do right now. Here’s the key point, however. Her best may...
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