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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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Do You Need to care for Others to Be Loved?

  Many dysregulated eaters believe they must take care of others to be loved, along with its corollary that they won’t be lovable unless they take care of others. This puts them in caretaking overdrive and living in a world of daily maxi-stress. Moreover, it deprives them of the joy and comfort of being taken care of by others so that they feel protected and cherished. For mental health, the flow of emotional energy should look like this: dysregulated eater ↔ others. It should not look like this: dysregulated eater → others. Think of words like interdependence and mutuality to describe the dynamics. Notice that I use the term emotional energy. It’s not enough that someone does tasks for you to show their love, although this is an excellent way of expressing caring. For emotional health, there must be an easy exchange of empathy, active listening, compassion and support to and...
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Betrayal and Feeling Unsafe

  Many clients who have difficulty trusting and depending on people had childhoods in which they experienced big T or little t trauma. It’s one thing to have your brother sexually abuse you (big T), another to have an alcoholic parent constantly berate and belittle you for not living up to his or her expectations, and another to have both parents leave you hungry and cold night after night, neglecting your needs because they’re out partying. All three examples illustrate not only traumatic experiences but betrayal. In “Trauma and Betrayal: Complex Combination” ( Social Work Today , May/June 2019, pp-23), Scott Janssen, MSW, LCSW argues that “Betrayal originates in action, or a failure of action, by individuals, groups, or institutions that causes harm to those who have given their trust.” In most childhood cases, we’re talking about parents or relatives who care for us. Scott goes on to say that, “The...
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Trauma Can Make You Freeze Up Emotionally

  Common reactions to trauma include flight or flight. But many trauma victims and survivors also react with a freeze response. According to Stephen Porges, professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, what we call the freeze response is immobolisation, “…the critical point of the experience of life-threat trauma events.” (“Stephen Porges: ‘Survivors are blamed because they don’t fight,’” by Andrew Anthony, The Guardian/The Observer Psychiatry , 6/2/2019, accessed 6/6/19). He describes it as “… this inability to move, the numbness of the body and functionally disappearing.” When you ask trauma survivors what they felt going through an initial trauma or reliving it through later threatening experiences, they’ll often say they felt paralyzed or dumbstruck. For example, a client whose childhood and marriage had been filled with emotional abuse underwent psych-testing with a large, rather boisterous psychologist who kept firing questions at her without giving her time to think...
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How Has Your Eating Disorder Helped You Cope?

  I have a client who binges and purges whenever she’s stressed. If this describes you, consider this: What if it’s the best way you know of to cope with the vicissitudes of life? What if you’re trying to save yourself from worse pain by these actions? I don’t know if you know the story of Aron Ralston who cut off the lower half of his arm to free himself from being pinned by a boulder in the Utah desert. I remember hearing his story and thinking that he believed amputation to be his last resort or he wouldn’t have done such a painful thing. Most people, I assume, probably agreed. Ralston’s heroics drifted into my consciousness when I was talking to my client about her stress-induced binges and purges. I asked what words came to mind when she thought about them and she blurted out, “Disgusting, repulsive, shameful, foolish, disheartening,...
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To Understand Yourself, Understand Your Legacy

  Most of us receive some sort of legacies from family members—a ring from Mom, Dad’s fishing pole, or Grandma or Grandpa’s car which is old but still running. These are obvious inheritances. The ones I’m talking about aren’t tangible or material. They’re the experiential legacies of the people who raised us. One of my clients was reading an old classic I’d loaned her, Dr. Patricia Love’s The Emotional Incest Syndrome , and started thinking about her mother’s mixed bag of a life growing up. Another client brought her father into therapy to improve their relationship and sessions often consisted of her hearing for the first time about the horror of Dad’s early years in foster care. Another client discovered that her aunt was actually her sister because her grandmother didn’t want anyone to know that Mom had an “out of wedlock” child when she was only 15 years old (a...
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You Don’t Need to Know Your Whole Future Today

  One of the best ways to drive up anxiety is to try to plan for your whole future today. It’s fine to have general goals like wanting to be a surgeon, travel the world, or be able to send your kids to college, but it’s absolutely unnecessary to think you need to know every bend and turn in the road for your future right now. If you lean in this direction of trying to control everything that’s going to happen to you in your many tomorrows, you’re setting yourself up for heightened anxiety and turning to food to reduce it. Here’s why. If you’re still under 30, you may not realize that life has a way of doing what it wants regardless of your desires. Maybe your life has gone swimmingly so far. You’ve been fortunate enough to have a great family, no major losses, enjoyed friends and getting your...
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The Child’s versus the Adult’s View of Events-Part 2

  In order to stop being triggered by painful memories, we need to recognize that our stories about events change as we age and learn. Fortunately, our brains mature and add new features that make us see things in a different light. When we’re 4, we may believe in Santa Clause, but this is unlikely at 14 because we understand and know more about life. If you’re older than 25 and still buy into an interpretation of harsh events you formed as a child, it’s time to update your story to better sync with reality. Our interpretation of events at any age drives our actions adaptively to survive. Childhood interpretations are simplistic, naïve, and lack complex, critical thinking. Because our frame of reference is narrow due to circumscribed life exposure, especially before we enter school, we often know little more of the world than our family’s dynamics—we generalize and conclude that...
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The Child’s versus the Adult’s View of Events-Part 1

  If painful memories trigger you turning to food for comfort, recognize that your memory of an event is a recording of how you perceived it at whatever age it occurred —4, 11, 15. The memory is your immature brain’s interpretation or story of and feelings about the event at the time. The mature brain, which develops in the late 20s, provides a more realistic and valid explanation of human nature and mental health and reinterprets painful events more rationally and accurately. Here are examples of childhood events and their “immature child” and “mature adult” interpretations, meanings and emotions. You’re 7 years old and Dad has promised to take you to the circus—again. You’ve rarely seen him since your parents’ divorce, begged him for weeks to get circus tickets, and are excited about the outing even though Dad didn’t want to go and yelled at you to stop nagging him it....
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What Is Your Dysregulated Eating Saying to the World?

  Most people think that dysregulated eating and body size is all about choosing the “wrong” foods and eating them in excess. But eating disorders therapists recognize that behaviors often speak louder than words and convey our innermost thoughts, even ones that are hidden away from ourselves. Here are some messages that dysregulated eaters may struggle to express to someone or to the world. Starvation: I don’t need you or anyone. I have such supreme powers that I don’t even need nourishment. I’m special and can live on air. My will power is exceptional. Don’t look at me. I don’t want you to see or notice me except for what I want to be noticed for which is my ability to control my world. Help me, feed me, and take care of me because I can’t take care of myself. Look at me. I can do what you can’t. I’m better...
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The Bad and the Ugly about Ultra-processed Foods

  If you eat ultra-processed food (UPF), here’s another excellent reason to give it up. Although my expertise is in the why and how of eating, it’s important to understand how harmful UPFs are for you—especially in a way that might surprise you. According to “It’s Not Just Salt, Sugar Fat: Study Finds Ultra-Processed Foods Drive Weight Gain” (NPR, “The Salt, 5/16/19, accessed 5/17/19) UPFs can cause weight gain, exactly what most of you are fighting against. “Ultra-processed foods include more than just the obvious suspects, like chips, candy, packaged desserts, and ready-to-eat meals. The category also includes foods that some consumers might find surprising, including Honey Nut Cheerios and other breakfast cereals, packaged white bread, jarred sauces, yogurt with added fruit, and frozen sausages and other reconstituted meat products. Popkin says ultra-processed foods usually contain a long list of ingredients, many of them made in labs. So, for example, instead...
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