Wednesday, November 25, 2015

3 Tips To Survive The Holidays

Ready for the holidays?  

Does it seem as if every TV family gathers at a table loaded with turkey and trimmings, looking happy and getting along wonderfully?

If that's your life, awesome.  Lucky you!

If not, you've got lots of company.

Thanksgiving (or “National Binge Day”) is a food-centric holiday.  Eat until you're in a stupor!  Taste everything!

If you struggle with food, this is tough.  Here are some survival tips:

#1 Be a social anthropologist.  

When you’re watching and observing, you’re not a participant.  
If your mom or dad criticizes your siblings or others,  notice how you learned to criticize yourself. 
When your mother apologizes for every bite she eats, that's how you learned to feel guilty for every bite you take.

#2 Access your inner Oprah or Ellen.   

Ask questions!!  Don't defend, explain or justify.

Ask your family to talk about themselves (that’s probably something they love to do).  If they’re talking about themselves, they’re not criticizing, judging, and commenting about you, your weight or choices. 

Ask yourself questions, too:
  • What is the most difficult part of the holidays?  Food?  Family?  Lack of family?
  • What do you like about the holiday season?
  • What helps during this time?
  • What doesn’t help?
  • What are the emotional triggers?
#3 Identify the emotional triggers

If you think you’re triggered by food, maybe you’re actually being triggered by an emotional need. If you find yourself thinking about filling foods such as mashed potatoes or stuffing, perhaps you are lonely and seeking to fill an internal emptiness. 

If you are drawn to pumpkin pie and sweets, maybe you need more comfort/sweetness in your life. 
If you can’t get enough chips or pretzels, could be that you’re angry.

If you find yourself turning against food, it’s possible that you are denying your needs – not just for food, but your human need for connection, love, and friendship.

Bonus Tip #4: Be grateful.

Think of one thing you appreciate; whether it’s a person or a situation, gratitude sheds light in the darkness and keep you going through the holiday season.  

Remember, you're not alone.  Together, we will make peace with food.

Friday, November 20, 2015

How To Know What You're Feeling

Several years ago my patient Bonnie's husband joined our session so he could better understand her binge eating.   
I explained that her binges were a "symptom" of an underlying problem, not "the" problem.  

Bonnie was coping with her emotions by turning to food .  Our job was to focus on what was eating "at" her rather than what she was eating.

Her husband said that in his opinion, Bonnie lacked willpower. 

Bonnie broke down sobbing. Her husband made no move to comfort her.

I was struck by his indifference.  I asked, "What does it feel like to see your wife crying?" 

He sighed. "I feel like she just needs to go on a diet and lose weight. Then she'll feel better about herself."

That couple is now divorced (no surprise, right?).

Bonnie's husband thought he was expressing a feeling but in fact was expressing his thoughts and opinion.  In fact, many people say they "feel" something when in fact they are "thinking" a thought.

Many people have difficulty identifying their emotions.  Or, if they know what they're feeling, they are not sure how to express themselves. 

Recently I discovered a way to answer those questions - and it's fun! Feeling Magnets is a tool to help you identify and understand your emotions.  

Intrigued?  Here's the creator of Feeling Magnets to tell you more!  

"Growing up we learn an array of life skills. We learn to count, calculate and measure.  We discover how to write, spell and write poetry.  We focus on getting through school, having a career and perhaps starting a family. 

Yet we don’t really learn to “feel”. 

We don’t learn about emotions or how to navigate them in a healthy way.

We often struggle to know what we are feeling and to distinguish between feelings and thoughts. The result: we become disconnected from our emotions.

We suppress them with food, shopping, drinking or other distractions  - and all the consequences that come from that (being overweight, having credit debts, staying insanely busy until we reach burnout, and so on).

The founders of Feeling Magnets set out to change that. 

The first step?  Recognizing and naming feelings.  

Sounds so easy right? Well… not so much. 

We created Feeling Magnets to help us along this journey.  Now, we can help you!

Feeling Magnets supports you on your journey to reconnecting with your emotions.  They help you recognize what you feel, accept those feelings and navigate them.

They help you build a healthy relationship with your emotions instead of suppressing them with food.  This is how they work their magic:

1. Naming emotions. There is a remarkable power in finding the right words for what you feel.   Feeling Magnets support you in recognizing and naming your emotions.

2. Crisis management.  When you’re triggered, checking in with your feelings before opening the fridge, is powerful. 

Identifying emotions changes the focus of your mind away from the food. Sifting through the feelings allows the urge to.

3. Breaking patterns.  Recently one woman shared how Feeling Magnets helped her realize she felt guilt and shame when she telephoned her mother-in-law.  For years she had a “snack” right afterwards. As soon as she connected the dots, she was able to change this pattern.

4. Playful discovery. Some of the most insightful discoveries can happen in the least expected times and places. We made Feeling Magnets portable, so that they can go wherever you go!

As founders of Feeling Magnets, we realize how many aspects of our lives are impacted by our ability to process our emotions. 

We believe that if you don’t deprive yourself of feeling your emotions, you don’t need to deprive ourselves of anything that you love (including food) and that you will also achieve balance."

Feeling Magnets give you everything you need to process your emotions.   Check it out now:

 *     *     *     *     *

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Is weight a "real" problem?

The other day someone told me, "With what's going on in Paris, I have no right to complain about my thighs."

A Facebook group member recently celebrated her freedom from food obsession, adding, "it's hard to make posts like this with all going on in Paris. It feels like such a 'stupid problem' to be dealing with in comparison."

Another woman said she feels bad about focusing on her weight because other people have "real" problems.


These are examples of a type of analogy called "moral equivalency" in which two separate situations are compared as equal - when they are not.  

You probably feel saddened and horrified by the recent events in Paris.  And, you probably also feel upset about your weight or your relationship to food.  One is not actually connected to the other.
I doubt you'd tell a friend who got the flu, "What are you complaining about?  I know someone who died of pneumonia."

(probably not)

Your needs, wants, thoughts and emotions deserve attention.  If you struggle with weight, food, and body image, that deserves your attention, not your condemnation. 

Don't compare your situation to that of others.  As Theodore Roosevelt once noted, "Comparison is the thief of joy."

Be grateful for what you have.  Hug the people you love.  Allow your heart to go out to those in the world who are suffering because of terrorism, war, famine, or disaster.


Take care of yourself.  Identify and process all your needs, wants and emotions, instead of dismissing them as unimportant.  

Be good to yourself.  You deserve it.

Monday, November 2, 2015

3 Tips To Cope (Without Food)

Coping with the challenges of life can be really tough.  But you know what makes it even harder?  Our society equates coping with being dismissive of feelings.  Part of what makes us human is our ability to feel emotions, but our culture tells us there’s something wrong with our emotions: 
  • Angry?  You have an anger management problem.
  • Sad?  You must be depressed.  Take an anti-depressant. 
  • Anxious?  There’s a pill for that, too.
  • Scared?  Be strong!  Fight!  Don’t give in to fear!

No wonder so many of us often have difficulty recognizing that emotions, needs, desires and reactions are part of being human, not a defect.  Keep in mind:

A feeling is a reaction to a situation, not a reflection of your character. 

When you have a tough time processing uncomfortable or intolerable feelings, because the mere existence of those feelings is viewed as weak, bad or wrong, you might turn to (or from) food as a way of dealing with those feelings.  

As counterintuitive as it may sound, the only way to get rid of feelings is to actually feel them.  First, you have to identify what you’re feeling.  Here are three feelings that can be problematic:

#1 ANGER: Annoyance, frustration, rage and fury are all derivatives of anger.  It helps to make a gauge of what you’re feeling.  On a scale of 1-10, what’s a 10?  Rage?  Fury? What’s a 2?  Frustration?  Annoyance? 

If you don’t gauge feelings, every emotion seems like a 10.  Everything feels like too much.  And if your feelings are overwhelming, you’re more vulnerable to turning to food for relief.

Here are some questions to help you pinpoint why you avoid anger.

I don’t like getting angry because:
I’m afraid to feel angry because it reminds me of:

#2 SADNESS:  Gloomy, unhappy, glum, hurt, dejected, depressed, grieving, are forms of sadness.  

I don’t like feeling sad because:
I’m afraid to feel sad because it reminds me of:

#3 HAPPINESS:  You may be thinking, "What’s difficult about being happy?  Happiness is a good thing.  All I want is to be happy!"  People are often nervous to be happy, afraid the rug is going to be pulled out from under them. They don’t let themselves get too happy because they’re afraid they’ll lose that good feeling, so they sabotage themselves. 

Also, food is associated with celebration and reward.  We commemorate birthdays, achievements and transitions food and allow ourselves a “treat” for a job well done.  If food is associated with special celebrations, it’s difficult not to eat or overeat on those occasions.

I’ll know when I’m happy when:
If I let myself be happy, then:

When you can identify, gauge, and process a range of emotions, won’t need food to escape, numb or distract yourself from those feelings.  

And that's how you make peace with food!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Scared of Halloween Candy?

This post was originally published on Entertain Me By Michael Shinafelt.  Check out Michael's Entertain Me site for weekly entertainment and information 

Dr. Nina's Tips On How To Treat Yourself On Halloween 

"Dr. Nina has made a house call to Entertain Me a couple of times before.

Dr. Nina specializes in eating disorders by digging to the root of where the problem lies. She encourages people to Win The Diet War by finding the real issue at hand. Last year I had her dole out her wisdom about how to navigate what I like to call "The Eating Season," you know that time between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve.

This year I got to thinking that no one ever really addresses Halloween. So I paged Dr. Nina and asked her if she would be willing to take on my favorite day of the year with her usual flair in the spirit of the season.

I promise this is not a trick, Dr. Nina is here with some awesome tips on how to treat yourself for Halloween!"

1.  Afraid of the dark?  The scariest thoughts are the dark ideas you have about yourself.  Keep out thoughts like, "I suck" or "I'm too fat/stupid/ugly" or "Who would love me?"    Those thoughts just make you feel terrible about yourself.  And that's truly frightening.

2.  Got ghosts?  If the ghosts of the past are haunting you, it's time to deal with them.  If you had a critical parent, teacher or sibling, and you find yourself being equally critical to yourself, that critical voice belongs to others, not to you.  Find your authentic voice, and view yourself as you are, not as others treated you.

3.  Give yourself a treat.  If you find yourself saying, "I'm going to be good this Halloween and not eat a single piece of candy," or "I was so bad because I ate that pumpkin cheesecake," then you're connecting your character to what you eat.  Allow yourself to eat candy on Halloween without feeling guilty.  Deprivation or anticipation of deprivation leads to overeating.   If you give yourself permission to have candy you may actually eat less! 

"Just Say No"
4.  Living a zombie life?  Do you feel as if you're the walking dead, doing the same thing day after day, not truly enjoying your life to the fullest?  If so, bring yourself back to life.  Think about one thing that you've been waiting to do "one day" and make today the day you start working towards doing that thing.  If you want to run a marathon, go for a walk or a short run.  If you want to start dating, go online and check out some dating sites.

5.  Be playful.  Remember the fun of going out with your friends on Halloween?  This occasion is about being with other people, dressing up, and having fun.  So, have a great time.  Happy Halloween!!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

How To Soothe Yourself (without food)

Not long ago, I took my daughter to the park and while she was with friends, I noticed two toddlers playing in the nearby sandbox. They scooped sand into a pail, digging happily.  One of them got up and suddenly ran off with the shovel. The other, a little girl, burst into tears.

Her anxious mother ran up, saying, “Don’t cry, don’t cry, it’s okay.”

The little girl continued to bawl.

Her mother hurriedly reached into her bag and pulled out a box of animal crackers. “Here,” she said, shoving the cookie towards her daughter, “Have a cookie.”

I wanted to say:


Instead, I restrained myself (which took a considerable amount of self-control).  Here's why I was upset:

When the mother handed out a cookie as a way to stop the crying, that little girl tacitly learned her feelings are upsetting to other people.  She got the message that either she shouldn’t have upset feelings or show them, but if she absolutely could not stop those feelings, a cookie would resolve the problem.

Then I realized this exchange between mother and child replicated the internal process of binge eating. When you start to feel something - anger, sadness, hurt, resentment, and so forth - a part of you might resist the feeling, as if saying, "Don't feel that! It's too uncomfortable! I can't deal!"
That's when you might turn to food to cope or distract, or start attacking yourself or your body in some other way.

Other possible responses to this situation:

dismissive parent might not notice that the girl was crying or might glance over and say, “You’re okay. It’s not the end of the world.” The girl learns her feelings are of no interest to others.
An angry parent might snap, “Stop crying, already!” The girl learns her feelings upset and irritate others.

supportive parent would say, “Of course you’re upset, it’s okay to cry it out. Your feelings are hurt.”  The girl learns that her feelings are worthy of her attention and that it's okay to express them.

Food for thought:
  • How do you soothe yourself when you’re upset?
  • Where did you learn to relate to yourself this way?
  • What would you say to a friend or loved one who is upset?

How do you soothe yourself without food?
Speak to yourself in a supportive way.   Do this:

  • Acknowledge the feeling:  "I feel upset."
  • Validate the feeling:  "Of course I feel this way.  How else could I feel?"
  • Remind yourself it's temporary:  "I feel this way right now, but this feeling will subside."

When you soothe yourself with words and support yourself through challenging, difficult and upsetting situations, you WILL feel better and stop using food for comfort!!

A note on mothers (and fathers): Parents usually do their best, given their circumstances and their upbringing, but sometimes their "best" can be harmful to their children. It's not helpful to blame parents, because that can keep people in a victim stance (ie, "It's their fault I'm this way!"). Explaining why you feel or react in certain ways can be healing, as it helps you understand why you react to yourself the way you do.  Considering a different response leads to empowerment (ie, "I understand that my upbringing impacted me in a particular way, but now that I get it, I can work to change it.")

Remember, you're not alone in this battle.  Together, we will make peace with food!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

How To Stop Eating When You're Bored

Do you eat when you're bored?  If so, maybe you can relate to Kaitlin.

"I eat perfectly all day," she said.  "But when I'm home alone at night  it's a different story.  I can't stop eating out of boredom."

Are you really bored?

Boredom is related to the wish to do something.  The way to alleviate boredom is to do an activity, to be active and productive.  If you don't know what to do or what to do with yourself, or if nothing you do seems to work, maybe something else is going on.  

What could it be?

Lots of people think they're bored when they're really lonely or empty. 
Loneliness is about wanting to be with someone.  The solution to loneliness is to be in the presence of another person or people and feel connected.  The experience of connection is important - there's no worse loneliness than when you're feeling alone in the company of others.

People can be unreliable, unpredictable or unavailable, which means that food may become a substitute for relationships.  After all, food is reliable, predictable and available.  If you’re lonely, maybe you're filling up on food as a way of filling a symbolic emptiness. 

Maybe you restrict as a way of expressing that deprivation.

Emptiness has to do with feeling disconnected from yourself and your needs.  When you are not attuned with your thoughts, emotions and wishes, you may sense that something is missing, that you want "more" of something.  This can even manifest as physical hunger.  

Food For Thought:
  • ·      Do you turn to food instead of to people?
  • ·      What experiences have made you afraid to seek out or trust people?
  • ·      Does thinking about food give you something to “do” and distract you from your internal world?
  • ·      What would be most fulfilling to you right now?
  • ·      When you’re alone, what feelings are most uncomfortable?
  • ·      How did you deal with these feelings as a child?
  • ·      How did your family manage being busy or being alone or being reflective?

What's the key to stop eating when you're bored?

Take two minutes and ask yourself if you're really bored - of if you're lonely or empty.  If you're craving companionship, connect with people - in person, on the phone, or online.
If you're empty, think about what would be fulfilling in the moment, an hour from now, and a week from now. What do you need more of in your life?

When you fill up your life, you won't use food (one way or another) for that purpose!!     

And that's how you make peace with food!