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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How Did Your Parents Take Care of You?

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When I listen to clients with poor self-care describe their childhoods, it’s pretty obvious why it’s poor today. How in the world could an infant grow into adult who values themselves when they’ve never been well taken care of? What is most painful to hear is how self-critical clients are for drinking too much, smoking, binge-eating, or other self-harming behaviors.  Take Florene, the child of parents with alcoholism who sought help from me for food and alcohol problems. When her father stopped drinking long enough to get a job, he was happy and loving to Florene and her younger sister and when he was on a bender, he disappeared for days at a time. Her mother’s drinking, more constant and even, led to her lack of attention to her daughters. Typically, she’d come home from her waitress job exhausted, tell the girls to do their homework, then head into her bedroom...
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Choose the Best Self-talk to Support “Normal” Eating

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I don’t know about you, but I heard enough commands, demands, and admonishments as a child to last me a lifetime. We all did because that’s pretty much how adults talk to children and, age appropriately, how things should be. You don’t ask a five-year-old if she wishes to hold your hand crossing a busy street, but tell her, “Take my hand.” You don’t ask a 10-year-old if he wants to be playing with matches and, instead, say, “Please stop doing that.”  However, if that’s all you ever hear as a child and adolescent, that is, what you should or shouldn’t do, you’re going to start resenting not being able to use your developing mind to make decisions yourself. And the more you’re subject to demands and commands, the stronger your resentment will grow until you feel like you can’t stand and won’t tolerate anyone bossing you around.  The problem is...
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Why It’s So Hard to Give Up Wanting Parental Love

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If you’re hoping to win your parents love and attention or change them in any way, you are not alone. One week not so long ago, I had intense conversations with five (adult) clients on this subject when they were upset by feeling rejected, abandoned, shamed, invalidated, or simply dismissed by a parent. The best news I could give them was that all 7.9 billion people on the planet, along with all our human predecessors, have struggled, to greater or lesser extent, with this very same issue, including yours truly. Although we may seek love and approval from others, yearning for it from parents is in a class by itself. We will frequently turn ourselves inside out to get a scrap of praise or avoid a tongue-lashing, far more so than we do with folks who aren’t our parents. This is true whether we live next door to them or across...
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How to Become Guilt-trip Proof

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If there are people in your life who often try to guilt trip you, it’s time to polish up your defensive moves to protect yourself. Let me be clear that guilt tripping is nothing but a passive-aggressive maneuver, be it conscious or unconscious. The good news is that you don’t have to buy into it. The even better news is that it’s not hard to learn how. An example: Cory, age 36, lives at home with his mother, stepfather and grandfather. Cory says he’s used food ever since he can remember to comfort himself around his family when they try to guilt trip him. “It’s how my family functions or, more accurately, dysfunctions”: everyone blames everyone else. My mother tries to make my father feel bad for his drinking, he tries to make my mother feel sorry for driving him to drink, and my grandpa insists that if I’d just move...
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The Art of Enjoying a Well-paced Life

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When I speak of improving the pacing of your life, I’m not saying that you can tinker with it once and that it will regulate itself. Life simply doesn’t work that way. But I do believe that we can engineer our lives to give us a balance of what we need in terms of up and down and self and other time to bring us maximum satisfaction. My hunch is that when your life is paced to better suit your needs—and adjusted as necessary—that this shift will lead to a decrease in mindless eating.  Step back from your life and, without judgment, consider the amount of time you’re busy and energized versus relaxed and wanting to chill out. To repeat, don’t make any judgments about not being productive enough or feel angry that you don’t have enough time to relax. Just note, in the average day or week, how the times...
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The Difference Between Wanting and Deciding

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Clients come to see me wanting to change their eating habits and I often have a hunch about which ones will fail and which will succeed. There’s a hesitancy in those who tend to fail (rather than a full steam ahead attitude) causing them to formally drop out of therapy or stop coming to sessions. I feel badly that I can’t help them enough, but also recognize that people often change a bit at a time, not in one fell swoop. At any rate, I was thinking about what makes for success or failure in altering habits when a column on transforming eating habits caught my eye. Its author, Bryant Stamford, PhD, is a professor of kinesiology and integrative physiology at Hanover College. His theory is that most people fail at reaching their health goals because they’re still in the stage of “wanting” something but haven’t “decided” to go for it....
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One Important Sign of Mental Health

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I think it was in social work school that I learned about one crucial aspect of mental health: the ability to hold two opposing thoughts or feelings at one time. Clients are often surprised when I bring up this dynamic and why it might be important. Why do you think it has merit? Consider how hard it is to hold conflicting feelings or thoughts, how we’d much rather they line up single file and visit us one at a time than come charging at us en masse. I know that’s how I feel about emotions and thoughts.  Here are some client examples:  Caitlin wants to leave her emotionally abusive husband and is scared about losing their two-income status. She desperately wants out and also desperately fears not being able to live in her current lifestyle. Anne is plugging along in therapy to become a “normal” eater and also wants to lose weight...
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Food as Obsession

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A client was describing to me what it was like for her when she used to be obsessed with food, said now from a vantage point of being a far more “normal” eater. She joked about how she used to be, but I could hear the pain in her voice as she remembered. Her description also brought me back to my binge-eating days which could not be more different than my life now.  My client described her “abnormal” eating days as follows: “I thought about food all day long. I agonized over what to eat, was consumed by the eating process and, post-eating, spent endless time ruminating about what or how much I’d eaten 24/7/365.” This description reminded me of how I was always mentally in two places as a dysregulated eater. I was in reality—at work, with friends or family, skiing, dancing, watching TV or going to the movies, or...
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Yes, You’re Allowed to Disappoint Other People

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Many people have the odd belief that they should never disappoint others. The belief runs rampant in the eating disorders community. While it’s clear to me how this irrational belief came about, the concept of it being okay to disappoint others often comes as a surprise to clients. If you’re an adult walking around the planet trying not to disappoint people, finding out that you no longer need to think this way may shock you too. Where else did you learn that disappointment is a no no but in childhood. Here’s an example. Say, you’re an amazing artist and an outstanding soccer player but not so great in math which disappoints your dad who hoped you’d grow up to become an accountant like him. He lets you know frequently that he’s sad/upset/disappointed and, as a child, this makes you feel terrible because you love Dad and feel like the cause of...
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Facing Fear to Conquer It

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You can only talk about something you’re afraid to do for so long in therapy before talk becomes superfluous and the only way to move past the fear is to push yourself into taking action. It’s one thing to discuss barriers to change and how to overcome them; it’s another to say you’re going to do something but do nothing to make that happen. Here are some examples of positive movement forward. You think you want to leave your partner and read up on your state’s divorce laws. You want to change jobs and use therapy to explore what work you might and might not be suited for. You’d like to become a “normal” eater and read books on how to eat mindfully. In each case, you still have the fear—of not knowing whether you want to be single again, will find a better job, or will ever learn to have...
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