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June 25, 2015

Why Can’t I Change???

You may be asking yourself, “Why is it that I want so badly to change my eating behavior (or any other behavior for that matter), but I can’t seem to do it? Change is a difficult thing, and according to research it can take anywhere from 18-254 days to form a new habit.  In the psychology world, we think about change happening in 6 stages.

The first stage is Precontemplation. When we’re in this stage, we don’t even realize we have a problem; we’re not thinking about it; or we may simply be rejecting it. Others may see the problem, but we do not.

The next stage is Contemplation, in which we realize there is a problem; we’re talking about it; and we may even seek help. This is the point where many people get stuck for weeks, months, or years! The reason is because the pros to losing weight are equal to the cons of losing weight. The enjoyment and emotional comfort of food may be just as strong as the physical discomfort of being overweight, for example.

Until that balance is tipped, we aren’t ready for the third stage, which is Planning. In this stage we’re making the necessary plans in order to change. We may be restocking the frig with healthy food, having one last donut, or researching gym memberships.

Not until the next stage, stage four, is there finally Action! This is where we put our plans into motion, and actually start engaging in new behaviors.

The fifth stage, Maintenance, is where we continue to achieve and make progress, and the sixth stage, I hate to tell you, is Relapse. This is where we fall back into old patterns and perhaps regain some weight. The good news about relapse is that it always comes with new insights and fewer setbacks over time.

Given this information, some good questions to ask yourself, and possibly explore in therapy, are “What stage of change am I in? What needs to happen before I can move on to the next stage? On a scale of 1-10, how ready am I to change? How willing am I? How able am I?” Once you’ve answered these questions, you can begin to plot your course of action more effectively!

May 30, 2015

6 Tips to Stop Emotional Eating


Yes, summer is coming and so are the BBQ’s- hamburgers, hot dogs, apple pie…oh my! There will be lots of temptations to eat your feelings, so here are 6 helpful hints to stop eating emotionally:

1. Stop! Be mindful. When you find yourself having the urge to binge, wait 5 minutes. You don’t have to promise yourself you’re not going to eat, just agree to wait 5 minutes. Set a timer if you need to.

2.   While that timer is ticking, ask yourself if you are actually hungry. If the answer is no, identify the feeling that is making you want to eat. What happened just before you had the urge to eat? Are you mad? Sad? Anxious? Happy? Bored?

3.    Keep an emotional eating journal. Keeping track of when you eat will help you identify patterns. Once you know what your patterns are, you can more easily make changes.

4.   Drink a glass of water while you think and journal, or maybe a cup of black tea. Black tea has been shown to decrease the levels of an important stress hormone called cortisol.

5.   After 5 minutes have passed and you’ve identified your hunger level and/or feelings, you can choose to eat or do something different. If you’re depressed or lonely, call a friend, play with a pet, or look through old photo albums. If you’re bored, do what your mom always told you to do- go outside and play! Read a book, watch a funny TV show, or engage in any activity you enjoy. If you are angry or anxious, breathe! Take 10 slow, deep belly breaths, and then try to do something physical. Go for a short walk or run, away from the refrigerator, of course. Shred a phonebook with your bare hands (Does anyone use those things anymore anyways??). Squeeze a stress ball. Dance.

6   Get some individual therapy. You can only run from those feelings for so long. You may think you are successfully avoiding them and moving past your past, but they sneak into your negative thoughts and beliefs about yourself in very creative ways!


March 1, 2014

Hope Requires Action

You can sit around all day hoping and praying that you will finally be able to get over what happened to you in the past, but if you don’t get up and do something, you may find yourself in that dark, painful place called hopelessness. That might be obvious, but it’s still scary to face your demons, right? Many people put off dealing with upsetting memories because of fear- fear that they will never be able to get over their pain, fear that they will lose control, fear of who they will be without their pain…the list goes on and on. But finding hope involves taking action and taking a risk.

Having said that, allow me to jump on top of my soap box for a moment and sing the praises of an evidence-based treatment for trauma that has brought hope to me and so many of my friends, colleagues, and clients: EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). EMDR is a unique therapy in a few ways:

1.     It doesn’t require that you voice all the gory details of your upsetting memory to the therapist. As long as you know what you are thinking or feeling, that’s enough.

2.     It doesn’t require that you relive the painful experience over and over again to become desensitized to it, only once.

3.     It tends to be quick because it goes deep to the heart of the matter in a short period of time.

4.     It allows you to rely on your own insights and brain to heal your pain, rather than on someone else’s.

5.     It looks so “new age,” but actually it is just brain science with an abundance of scientific research and positive results.

Every experience and emotion, good or bad, has a beginning, middle, and end.  Working through your traumatic memories is no different, but if you keep stopping in the beginning or middle because it’s painful, then you miss the sweet joy that the end may hold.  As one EMDR client put it, “Something is continuing to happen as a result of EMDR. It’s like continual weight loss that allows me to do more and be more. It’s quite frankly awesome. I never realized how much I was holding on to. It’s very freeing. “

If your past “junk” keeps rearing its ugly head in the present, I’m hopeful you’ll give EMDR a try!


February 25, 2014

What does Love Feel Like to You?

I cringe to think that when I crawled out of the sandbox and got married at 20 years of age, my prefrontal cortex- the logical, thinking, planning area of the brain- was nowhere near developed! That doesn’t happen until about age 25.

I remember my mother asking me on my wedding day “Is there anything about Jay you would change?” Without hesitation, I answered a resounding, “no!” Twenty-three years later, I might be able to find a few things to change, but the truth is, we are still going strong...most days! 

Despite our enduring marriage, I would never recommend marrying at such a young age. The odds were stacked way against us, and the road has not always been easy. So why did it work for us? Might have been dumb luck. Or it might have been that we were incredibly mature (not likely!).

I know for certain that I never thought about why Jay was right for me at the time; I just felt it.  Unfortunately, many people do this and their relationships fail miserably. But I grew up in a home with two parents who taught me that married love was a partnership- it did not name-call, it did not shame, it did not smother, it did not control, it was never violent. Married love made sacrifices, was loyal, trusting, affectionate, and was just as important as the kids.

My parents did not sit me down and teach me this. They role-modeled it. This is what I knew married love to be. It was hard-wired into the neurological pathways of my brain from the time I was a tiny baby. So when I met my husband, it was easy. He felt like home.

But what does home feel like to you? What do you know about love? For many, love is associated with sexual and/or physical abuse, neglect, and emotional pain, so when you find the partner that feels like home, you’ve found more suffering.  Or you may simply decide to stop looking for love, and instead build up your walls against the possible heartache.

If this is your story, it is not to say that you can never experience a healthy, loving relationship, or that your marriage, partnership or future love life is doomed! It may just be a wonderful opportunity to seek help, so you can heal your past, re-wire some of those neurological pathways, and build a more meaningful relationship with yourself, and your current or future partner.

What do you want to teach your children about love?

February 14, 2014

My First Valentine’s Day Disaster

I remember my first married Valentine’s Day.  We had been married for only 2 months, and I was soooo excited! I spent the day in the kitchen of our humble,  singlewide mobile home in Davis, CA, making a lovely filet mignon dinner with béarnaise sauce, potatoes, and vegetables. I set the table with our wedding china, and thoughtfully signed my carefully picked-out Hallmark card.

My husband spent the day holed up in his tiny, stinky office, cramming for his next graduate school exam. I was sure he was secretly and thoughtfully signing his Valentine card for me in there as well!

I lit the candles and my husband came out of his studying stupor to enjoy my special meal. After we ate, I presented him with my Valentine card, and then excitedly waited for him to present me with mine. Looking like a deer in the headlights, he regretfully informed me that he had nothing to reciprocate.

 I was crushed! Tears immediately flowed from my eyes. I could not believe he had forgotten, or ignored, Valentine’s Day! It was the ultimate lovers’ holiday, for goodness sake! And we were newlyweds! I questioned his love for me. I cried. He cried.  I knew my perfect marriage would forever be scarred by that disastrous Valentine’s Day. (By the way- this is what happens when you get married when you’re 20!)

Many years later, this story is very funny to me. I had so many fairy-tale expectations of my marriage and my husband. Of course, he had no idea what they were, but I thought he should just know.

What I have learned since then about love is that it is shown in as many different ways as there are people. I struggled for years trying to get my husband to be “romantic” and articulate verbally why he loved me.  If he could do this, I would feel secure that I was loved.

As I became older and wiser, I learned to articulate why I loved myself, and when I was able to do this, why and how he loved me became less significant. I was able to quit worrying about his proclamations of love for me, and notice his loving actions.

I saw that my husband loves me all day long, every day- when he makes my coffee in the morning, when he does the dishes at night, when he picks out a “chick flick” for me, when he goes to work everyday so I have everything I could ever possibly want or need, when he bites his lip instead of calling me a name, when he turns on my favorite music, when he does what I want to do, when he asks my opinion, when he sends me a funny text, when he cuts me a home-grown rose, when he lets me be just who I am…the list goes on and on.

And I make the decision to love him when I don’t put any expectations on the way he shows his love for me. This frees us both up to love each other to the fullest. 

Ironically, I have gotten a card every year since that first Valentine’s Day, but it is not as important to me now because it just reminds me of how naïve I was back then.  I have assured my husband that he can quit buying them for me; however, he doesn’t quite trust me, and doesn’t want to risk hurting my feelings again.  I am so deeply, unconditionally loved, despite my flaws!

There are no fairy tales. Love is not always thrilling, romantic, and demonstrative. But real, enduring love can be expressed in every action you decide to make.  I have lovingly decided to stop expecting cards or material signs of love from my husband, and instead start looking for, and acknowledging, the countless, unique ways he chooses to love me, not only on Valentine’s Day, but everyday!













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