Eating Disorders and Black and White thinking

black and white thinking binge eatingLast month, my husband, kids and I went to the beach to get our last days of summer in. When we got there, I realized that I packed my sons’ suits and my husband’s suits but failed to pack my own. I was super disappointed-to say the least,  there’s nothing better than swimming in Tomales Bay on a hot day. But I made the best of it and rolled up my cutoffs and waded in the water with my two year old. At one point, I squatted down to show him a tide pool and the back of my shorts got a little wet- I thought to myself, “Oh well, I’m already wet, I might as well jump into the water.” I took a deep breath and paused. I didn’t jump into the water, but I noticed, “wow, there is my black and white thinking just popping up again.” I have recovered from multiple disordered eating issues- but my thinking instincts still  remain. My brain is still organized in that way. I didn’t react to the compulsion- I didn’t jump into the bay just because my shorts were a little wet because rationally I knew that they’d be dry in a half hour or so, but that if I jumped into the water- despite the fact that it would be super fun and satisfying for a few moments- I’d be uncomfortable in wet denim, I’d have sand stuck to me, and I’d have a long car ride  home in dirty wet clothes.  But I was extremely interested in the fact that so many years deep into my recovery- my thinking patterns remain the same. I was still vulnerable to polarized thinking. This is what black and white thinking (polarized thinking) is. It’s all or nothing.


Overeating is a super common binge triggerit’s part of the cognitive distortion known as polarized thinking.

For instance- I ate two cookies with my coffee for breakfast, I might as well spend the rest of the day eating cake and cookies- I can’t eat something like a salad for lunch because I already “ruined” the dayOr I ate all my ww points for the day but then I went over a few points- I might as well binge or I don’t eat white flour or sugar, but I had a small bite of my boyfriend’s croissant. The day is ruined- Now I have to spend the day, the week, the month bingeing… or I ate two mini halloween candies, I have to spend the rest of the night testing every single candy and goodie that’s hereOr however your polarized thinking manifests for you. Bingeing because you overate is like seeing that you have one flat tire, getting out of your car and slashing  the other three. It is not rational or logical.

Polarized thinking it is a process where you feel like you don’t have any choices.  Had I not been able to recognize my thought patterns in that moment, I would have felt like I had to jump in the water. That I had no other choice since my shorts were already wet. This is a thinking process organized around perfection. “I have to be perfect or I’m nothing-I’m ruined.” There is no middle ground or allowance to be a normal human being who gets their shorts wet, spills coffee on themselves, or eats a bagel for breakfast. You believe that your choices are not your own. You might even feel paralyzed a lot of the time because you believe that if you cannot do it perfectly- you are afraid of doing it at all.  

Now here is the thing about polarized thinking- you don’t have to let it affect your behaviors. Just because your mind becomes organized in that way doesn’t mean you have to follow your impulses down the rabbit hole. Part of mindfulness practice is slowing yourself down enough to notice your thoughts and then have the ability to change your action or reaction to your thought. Remember that thoughts are just electronic impulses, and we have 50,000- 70,000 thoughts each day. You can notice those thoughts before you react to them. You can choose the thoughts that you’re going to react to. For instance the thought, “I went out with friends tonight and I overate tortilla chips at this restaurant, I am full,” can often precede the behavior of going home by yourself and bingeing on lots of other foods. You are angry at yourself because you feel that you ate too much- but rather than sit with the fullness until it passes (like letting my shorts dry for a half hour rather than jumping into the bay with all my clothes on) you might believe that you have no other choice than to binge. But you actually do have a choice. Let yourself slow down and notice your thinking without reacting to it. If you eat a roll at dinner even though you didn’t intend to, remind yourself that eating the rest of the basket of rolls or going home and bingeing would be a lot like jumping into the bay with all your clothes on. No human being is perfect- and when you hold yourself up to that standard, you can often feel very limited by your choices and your ability to enjoy being in the world.  

To deal with polarized thinking: 

1. Slow down and notice your thoughts

2. Notice how your instincts want to react to those thoughts

3. Think about whether or not there is a different choice- a choice that’s more like allowing your shorts to dry and feeling comfortable again. 

4. Try to implement that choice. 

5. Notice how you feel the next day. 

When you have black and white thinking, you believe that you have no choice and you have to take the extreme path. Recovery doesn’t mean that you will never have black and white thinking again- but it means that you will notice it more for what it is- a thought and a suggestion rather than a hardline on what you have to do. 

What do you think? How are some ways that you’ve dealt with your polarized thinking? 

Overeaters Anonymous- The Good, The Bad & The Crazy

Does OA work?

“I don’t eat no matter what… “


IDENMW as they say in certain OA circles.  

I have an extremely complicated history and relationship with Overeaters Anonymous, both as a clinician who treats eating disorders and as a past member. A lot of people ask me “Does Overeaters Anonymous work?” It’s definitely not black and white. It “works” for some but not for others- but you have to define what “works” means.  I want to share with you some of my personal history with it. 


My First Experience with OA

Back in the 1990’s,  when we were flannel clad teenagers, my friend Melissa and I sat in a field discussing when we would be able to go off our diets. We’d been drinking Diet Coke since our Bat Mitzvahs and trying to lose weight for longer than that. “Will we ever get there?” we wondered. Our mothers, both in their early 40’s at the time were still dieting. Thin, but dieting. Always dieting. When will it be done?  Doesn’t it seem like dieting should have some defined end? Like that you go on a diet for 6 months, lose your 10 pounds and then you’re not on a diet anymore? But no, we were always dieting, and our mothers- always dieting, and our mothers friends- always dieting and our Aunts and cousins and friends’ mothers – always dieting. It didn’t end.  And so when Melissa ended up dieting herself into a nasty bingeing and purging habit that lasted years, her therapist insisted that she join Overeaters Anonymous to cure her. “It worked.” I say it that way because it worked in the sense that she stopped bingeing and purging. She also finally lost the 10 pounds. Plus more. In fact, at 5’7″ she wound up weighing less than 100 pounds, losing her period and growing a nice coat of *lanugo all over her arms and legs.

I asked her if she was eating and she said, “Oh my god, I eat a ton! Lots of fat and oil and vegetables, and meat. It’s great.”

And then one day, after exactly 478 days of “abstinence”  she binged.

And it wasn’t just a binge- it was a binge that brought down the skies and the heavens and the thunders- one of biblical proportions where hours ran into days ran into weeks ran into months. She stopped answering her phone, she stopped leaving her house except at night to go to the 24 hour grocery store to buy binge foods, she stopped going to work and to school…  It was a binge that cost thousands of dollars,  that clogged her toilet with vomit and it was a binge that hit her with a force that felt unbeatable. She was crushing under the weight of it. She couldn’t stop bingeing, she couldn’t stop purging, she couldn’t stop running to the store to buy more binge foods. She put on 70 pounds in 6 weeks.  “Fuck,” she told me, *”I need help.”

That’s where her relationship with OA ended. Her friends and sponsor dropped her, she couldn’t get back to where she was and she hated herself. She wound up back in treatment but this time without OA. 

My next was sometime right after college.  Although I was no longer dieting, no longer restricting, no longer controlling my food, I still felt trapped in thinking too much about weight, body image and calories. It was making me crazy and I wanted it to stop. I longed to feel peaceful around food and embrace my body. A friend of mine who I respected enormously told me that she had found deep recovery in OA, that she no longer had any desire to count calories, hadn’t binged or purged in over a decade and really felt comfortable in her body. She said she just didn’t worry about anything food related. I wanted what she had. So, together, we went to her home meeting where she  introduced me to  my new sponsor, Kate. When Kate first met me, she looked me up and down, sneered and said, “you’re not fat, why are you here?” I explained to her that I wanted peace around food and my body image. I didn’t want to worry about calories and I was sick of unintentionally doing math in my head all day long- that it was stressful and I just wanted to be free. She gave me a food plan and she assured me that it would cure me but said that  I had to buy an electronic food scale, an electronic human scale, weigh and measure every morsel that I ate and call her at 6am each morning and report my weight and my food into her. I explained to her that I didn’t want to be on a foodplan and I didn’t like to weigh myself. She told me that this was the way that I could have the recovery that I wanted without being willful or being stuck in my disease. She said that the foodplan was the way out- but that I had to follow it perfectly otherwise it wouldn’t work. She told me that there was a line of people waiting to be her sponsee so if I didn’t want help and I didn’t want to recover and if I wanted to spend the rest of my life a compulsive overeater that it was fine, that I should leave.  I felt ashamed and embarrassed. Rather than finding a different sponsor (now I know) I  decided to work with Kate, because after all, it was the only way and she had lines of people behind me begging her to be their sponsor. She must be right. 

The first day on my meal plan,  I was so hungry that I ate an extra apple between breakfast and lunch. Kate scolded me and told me that it showed a defect of character. If I was hungry I needed to drink black coffee, black tea, diet coke or chew sugar free gum.  Each night I went to bed feeling starved, with my hands on my belly feeling my ribs for inspiration and saying “I don’t eat no matter what- I don’t eat no matter what…” as I tried desperately to go to sleep. My eating disorder hands and eyes were reactivated as I felt the outlines of my bones and stepped on the scale every morning. The obsession was familiar and it was easy. It was easy to get pulled back into that vortex. Only this time, my Eating Disorder wasn’t inside my head- it was Kate. I’d allowed her to be the voice of Ed- dictating my behaviors for me and shaming me if I went off program by taking a bite of a carrot while I was prepping my lunch – and sending me back to day 1. I felt like Sisyphus.

I drank gallons of diet coke each day and chewed packs of sugar free gum. My stomach swelled up from the aspartame and carbonation- I wasn’t able to run or swim or exercise at all- I found myself breathless,  my thought process was often slowed down and to be frank, I hated my sponsor.  It was this one day that I was sitting there and more than anything I wanted to put some milk into my tea. My stomach was so bloated and I was so hungry. I called my sponsor to tell her how stressed out I was- how I wanted to go for a run but I had no energy, that I wanted to hang out with my friends but they were going out to a cafe and I couldn’t sit around all that latte’s without wanting one,  that I was depressed, that I hated the way I felt. She told me that I should be grateful for being abstinent, that I shouldn’t think about running or socializing or exercise, that it was the time to figure out my food shit, to go to a meeting, that my complaining was showing a defect of character. I just wanted to put some goddamned milk in my tea. And that’s when I realized it, this group was insane and it was driving me crazy as well. I knew that putting milk in my tea wasn’t worse than drinking liters and liters of diet coke a day. Yet in this sect of OA- putting milk in my tea meant I had a character defect, but drinking liters of diet coke every day was okay- chewing gobs of gum was okay.  Honestly – there wasn’t much payoff for me- Besides an initial couple of pounds, I wasn’t losing much weight at all- which in retrospect, I understand was a good thing- my body was at a healthy weight and my metabolism had slowed way down to compensate for the restriction of calories- the numbers in my mind had only gotten worse. I called Kate and told her that was leaving the program that moment.

Being an OA drop out was a no-brainer for me. But it’s not like that for everybody. 

I have seen people go in and lose 100’s of pounds for the first time in their lives- and then feel like they owed that organization their life. But when they decided to go off plan or put weight back on (which lots of folks do) all the people who supported them, the most important people in their lives turned their back on them, shamed them. Made them feel like they were bad people. Because they ate cake or because they wanted something different. I’ve seen women who haven’t had periods for years- and have that be supported by the group, with many women telling them, “yeah, that’s normal, nobody here gets their period…”  In some cases of OA- eating disorders are supported and it just becomes a huge support for ED under the cloak of recovery. 

And that’s part of what makes OA so confusing. 

My next experience with OA was when I was a graduate student in Psychology learning how to treat Eating Disorders. I interned at an Intensive Outpatient Treatment Center for women with Eating Disorders. The protocol was that every client needed to go to 3 OA meetings a week- no arguments – or they were out of treatment. It was rough. Although many clients were  getting amazing recovery, finding lots of support and fellowship in the rooms,  some were feeling traumatized, pained and so wounded by the program, but they couldn’t leave otherwise they’d be kicked out of treatment and then where would they go? It was definitely extremely difficult to watch and be a part of. I knew how wounding OA could be and I saw that their choices were being taken away from them. Sometimes in recovery, taking away choices is liberating- that way the patient has nothing to focus on except themselves, but other times it is extremely harmful. No two people or recovery stories looks the same so you have to find what works for you – for your mind, body and spirit wholly. 

My own personal experience with OA had really skewed my feelings about the fellowship. The problem is that Overeaters Anonymous tells people how to eat and teaches them not to trust their instincts. And that’s really the concept that they are coming from, “you are a compulsive eater and so you can’t trust your instincts because your instincts will always be to overeat.” This is a cognitive distortion known as emotional reasoning.  You believe something to be true and so it is.

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”
Henry Ford

You believe that you cannot stop after one bite of chocolate – or that if you eat flour or sugar- it will lead you to binge eat and you’ll never be able to stop, so the best thing to do is not eat it at all. This belief triggers black and white thinking for most.

In OA- where people count days of “abstinence” from their drug of choice (food), they have to start their day count all over again if they eat even a cracker or a slice of white bread. So, let’s say you were in OA and you had 100 days off of sugar and flour. Then one day you had a small bite of birthday cake. You would have to start on day one the next day- so you ruined your abstinence already- why wouldn’t you go to the store and buy a gallon of ice cream and cake- you’ve ruined your abstinence and have to start on day one tomorrow anyway. OA is a huge setup for binge eating. They will tell you that you cannot eat birthday cake because it will trigger a binge for you. You then believe that one bite of sugar will trigger a binge for you and so it does. And it should because your belief is that your day count is ruined and after today you won’t be able to have any cake again, so you might as well binge on all the cake you can. See what I’m getting at? Certain sects of OA keeps people in huge diet mentality and shames them (it’s a defect of character) if they eat off program. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. You think that one bite of white bread or a bite of birthday cake will lead to a gigantic binge and so it does- and all the parameters for that to happen are set up in the OA infrastructure.  And then, a binge eating habit or disorder gets activated.

I’ve had hundreds of clients over the years come in both damaged and traumatized by groups like OA, Greysheets, HOW, and Food Addicts Anonymous. They are in a place where they can’t stop bingeing and they are feeling shamed and angry at themselves. They just want to get their abstinence back- but they can’t. They can do 10 days or 2 weeks – but they seem to just not be able to get to that multi-year abstinence that “everyone else” has. Oh yeah, that’s the other thing- they somehow believe that they are alone in their struggles with OA.  They believe that they are the only ones and that they are bad. The feel ashamed. OA then becomes their own inner critic and often takes the place of their own over-critical parent.  It’s retraumatizing. They’ve given their own inner critic an office and a team. And the worst part is feeling totally alone, without your tribe, your village.  If you are someone who feels  this way, you are not alone. I see multiple OA/FA drop outs each year who have scars and trauma from the fellowship, who have been rejected by this “family” because they cannot get their abstinence back. You are not alone. If you are not comfortable with the group and you have an instinct that something is wrong, their probably is. 

But is there any good to OA? 

YES! Definitely. OA is a fellowship where you can find other folks struggling with the same issues that  you are. One of the best things that you can do for recovery is get support and OA definitely has support. There are some amazing OA groups out there- where you will find smart, kind people who want to help you recover spiritually and not make it all about the food.   There are some people who have life long amazing recovery in the rooms.  Though I’ve seen people find pain in OA, I’ve also seen people find amazing recovery. There are some really amazing fellowships out there that don’t rely on food plans, or rigid rules. You have to find what works for you. As they say, take what you need and leave the rest.

If you want to find some recovery in OA here are my suggestions- this is what I’ve seen that really helps people recover in OA.  

1. Don’t define your abstinence as abstinence from a food. Define it as abstinence from a process. For example: Abstinent from obsessing about food and calories. Abstinent from dieting. Abstinent from bingeing. But never abstinent from flour or sugar or anything like that. That puts you right back into diet mode. 

2. Find a sponsor who will work on you with your steps – but not with a food plan- don’t call your food into anyone. If you need a food plan for recovery- please see a registered dietician who specializes in treating eating disorders. Find one here or here.

3. Find like minded people who report a recovery of self love, kindness and  a mind body and spirit connection. Try to stay away from the weight loss and dieting parts of OA. 

4. Go to several different meetings until you find one that really resonates with you. 

5. Consider eating disorders anonymous as well. Their principals are more aligned with eating disorders as a process and dieting as part of that process.

6. Understand that everyone is doing the best that they can– have compassion for everyone around you and honor their process. Don’t judge people’s choices in OA nor their relapses, it’s always important to have oodles and oodles of compassion for yourself and for those around you. Honoring your own process might mean that your needs change at different times.  

The situation is not black and white. There are many people who have found complete peace with food and their body image in OA- however there are as many who have not. If it feels right and good and your are happy- stay. But if it feels bad – listen to your instincts. You have everything you need inside of you to know what you need. 

Articles about OA worth reading.

Why OA Doesn’t Work

Why I left Overeaters Anonymous

Inside Overeaters Anonymous

Power, Control, & Overeaters Anonymous

How Overeaters Anonymous Saved Me

Using OA after Bariatric Surgery



*Lanugo is soft light blond peach fuzz that grows on women who have anorexia

*After years of treatment, both in patient and therapy- her bulimia is in full remission, she is on the other side of recovery and she’s a successful surgeon.

How Do I Tell My Husband about My Eating Disorder?

How to tell my husband about my eating disorder

This one comes from a reader in Australia…


I’m in a bind. How do I tell my husband about my eating disorder?

I want to tell my husband about my eating disorder but I’m so stressed out because I really don’t know how to tell my husband about my eating disorder.   I know things have to change. I don’t know how to have this conversation, how to start it or where to get help. I’ve had this since I was 17 and i’m 29 now I really don’t want to go on like this.

Answer: I’m so sorry that you’re dealing with this, but I want to commend you on putting it out there and dedicating yourself to recovery. It’s extremely difficult to tell your husband about your eating disorder for so many reasons.

  1. You might feel embarrassed and ashamed and not want him to see you in a new light
  2. You might feel that if you tell him about your eating disorder that he might try to stop you
  3. Your eating disorder is so private and such a precious thing (even though we hate having them) disclosure would be exposing and difficult. 
  4. You might be afraid of his reaction since you don’t know how he’s going to react. 

Here are some ideas on how to tell your husband about your eating disorder. 

  1. Consider the worst case scenario. How will he react? What is the worst thing he will do? Will he leave you? Will he divorce you? In most situations, probably not, but really sit and think about what the worst thing can be. 
  2. After thinking about this, consider bringing your husband with you into your therapist (if you have one) or if not, check out ED referral and see if you can find an eating disorder therapist to bring your partner to. It might be easier if you have a professional there.  If you are not interesting in discussing it with a therapist, no problem at all. You can do this alone. 
  3. Set aside a day and time to tell him. Make sure that it’s not over a meal and make sure that it’s not at night. Your husband will likely have many questions and will spend a long time asking you. 
  4. Make sure that he knows that it’s not his fault and make sure that he knows that you are looking for help.
  5. Make sure that he knows that you don’t expect him to be the one to cure you. 
  6. Sit down with him or take a walk with him and gently explain that you’ve been dealing with this for a long time and you’re ready to reach out for support. You can say something like, “When I was 17 years old I started to make myself vomit after I ate. This habit sort of spun out of control.  I have spent the past 12 years dealing with this horrible secret and trying to stop on my own. I haven’t told you because I’m so embarrassed and so ashamed, but I don’t want to have secrets from you, and I don’t want to live like this anymore. I want treatment and I want to stop. And all I need from you is love and support. I know that I can beat this now that it’s out in the open and I’m asking for help.”
  7. Tell him that your eating issues have nothing to do with him. 
  8. Tell him that you don’t need him to “fix” you.
  9. Tell him not to tell you what to eat or what not to eat, that’s your responsibility, and it’s not good for your relationship. 
  10. Tell him what he can do to support you. Maybe that’s talking about feelings more often or helping you find a therapist or treatment program or driving you to treatment.
  11. Ask him not to talk about diets, calories, burning calories, losing weight, or what your body looks like.
  12. If there are some foods that you don’t want him to have in the house,  ask him to support you in that way
  13. Request that if he catches you in a binge, it’s not his responsibility to make you stop doing it, nor should he take food away from you, nor should he shame you. Instead, maybe he can say something like, “hey, is everything okay? do you want to talk? I’m here for you.”
  14. Ask him not to be your food police.
  15. Give him space to talk about his feelings and what it’s like for him to learn this about you.
  16. Give him the opportunity to ask you questions. If you feel uncomfortable with certain questions, let him know that you’re not ready to answer them yet or that you don’t know the answer right now,  but as you work through recovery, you will let him know what emerges for you.
  17. Ask him to READ THIS and to READ THIS

The vegetables are Dizzy!

Don't make the vegetables dizzyWhen I was home from college one weekend, I walked into the kitchen and lifted the cover off the pan to see what my Mom was cooking us for dinner. Squash, onions,  brown rice, tofu… the usual. I picked up the wooden spoon and began to mix the stir-fry. “Stop,” my mother told me as she gently placed her hand over my wrist, “you don’t want to make the vegetables dizzy.”

My Mom had lots of new-agey philosophies and was always reading a book or  participating in certain spiritual food fads, some which were downright obsessive or unhealthy like  the *master cleanser (lemonade diet that we’ve all come to hate), or *Fletcherism (which means chewing your food 100 times before you swallow it- even your water), or a *liver detox (where you swallow nothing but apple juice and laxatives for a few days) and some that more mainstream and had deeper philosophies like Veganism and eating a seasonal Macrobiotic Diet.  Many of them were just oblique ways of masking disordered eating into a spiritual path- but there were a few things within the many different things that she tried over the years that were valid and made sense.

That moment with Mom pops into my head a lot, where she lovingly put her hand on my wrist and warned me against making the vegetables dizzy. I remember smiling at her in an amused but adoring way. She wanted to keep the energy of the food balanced and stable so that when she fed it to me, the food would help me to remain balanced and stable. Her philosophy at this point in her life had a lot to do with the energy that you put into food and how that energy reflected back on you.  She was ill and wanted to regain health and she felt that this was a path toward that.

She had integrated this Eastern Philosophy of being aware of the Qi (life force) in everything- including her food. She believed that what you put into the world around you, that you would get out of it. So she chose love and kindness toward her food and hoped and believed that it would return to her and to me.

I’ve often felt in the years since I’ve lost my Mom that this might have been a healthy path that she came to too late. I don’t necessarily think that it would have saved her life, but I wonder if it would have saved her lots of fruitless years on senseless diets and food and weight loss fads.

I want to put out an experiment to you. What if you took a day and showed loving kindness to everything you ate? If you can’t do a whole day, what about one meal?  You don’t have to eat just brown rice and kale or green smoothies (making smoothies makes the vegetables dizzy anyway… :) But what if you were to take even a piece of pizza or a cookie and look at it before you ate it and said something like, “You are loved! Thank you for providing me with your nutrients, your yummy taste and the enjoyment I will get from eating you…” what do you think that would do? Do you think it would help you slow down? Do you think that it would alleviate some of the guilt that you might sometimes feel around eating certain foods? Do you think that it would help you to be more mindful about the food that you were eating and the intention that you had around food?  Try it, let me know how it goes.

*Links are provided for reference, but please don’t try these methods 

Q & A Friday- Why Can’t I Eat Just One…

Chasing the TasteThis most recent comes from Jodi a new reader: 

Leora, I am having a hard time with a binge that comes from “just one candy, cookie, etc.” I will be craving something sweet and then say I’ll have one piece of chocolate and then keep going back for more. I don’t know how to avoid that cycle and do something else instead of binging. Sometimes after the one sweet thing I want something salty, too, and then I’ll end up binging by going back and forth between the two foods.  Can you help me?- Jodi

Hi Jodi, I know this problem well!  This is what I call chasing the taste. You end a meal only to need the opposite taste in your mouth. Salty becomes sweet, sweet becomes crunchy and salty, crunchy and salty becomes fatty and warm… there is something that you want but… you can’t  quite find it, and you spend the better part of an hour chasing after a sensation in your mouth to satisfy that desire. Before you know it, you’ve ended up bingeing. I have some tips for this. Try them and let me know how it goes. 

Before you begin eating the desired food that can potentially start a binge, create an intention around it. Tell yourself, “I’m going to eat this piece of chocolate and I’m going to enjoy it and it’s okay for me to do that,”  and then put it on a plate. I would also choose to eat more than one piece, because one small piece of chocolate is not necessarily satisfying. Put a couple of pieces on your plate and put the bag away, close it tight and put it up on a high shelf, one that you have to climb to get to or in the freezer under something else.  

Remind yourself that there have been times when eating one piece of chocolate has led you to chasing the taste and looking for something else, but that you are choosing a different behavior now. 

Sit down with your chocolate slowly. Taste it in your mouth. Feel the sensation of the chocolate melting on your tongue. Notice what it feels like and notice what you feel like when you are eating it. When you are finished, note any sensations that you are having to run back to the kitchen and get more or something else. Ask yourself if you are chasing the taste. If you are, either drink a glass of water, or walk into the bathroom and brush your teeth, or rinse with some mouth wash… anything to change the taste in your mouth and help you to interrupt the compulsion of chasing the taste and using food to elicit different taste sensations or sensory experiences for yourself.  After you’ve changed the sensations in your mouth and tongue, sit for a moment and do some breathing- breathe into your nose to the count of ten, hold it and exhale to the count of ten. Do this 6 times to give yourself 2 minutes of breathing. This will calm your amygdala, bring more oxygen to your brain, help you to regain your senses rather than letting the food cravings hijack your brain and suck you into a binge. You now have more authority and a choice about what you want to do. The fact that you’ve put the food in a hard to reach place will also help to interrupt the compulsion to keep eating. 

I hope that helps you J! 

Take good care of you and I’ll talk to you soon. 



Do you have a question about binge eating, bulimia, anorexia, or anything associated with eating? Send an email to bingeeatingtherapy  at gmail dot com. All questions will be kept confidential. Include your first name or the name you want to be referred to as and your location. Are you interested in online therapy or coaching to deal with your eating disorder? Please contact me to discuss getting started. 

How to Raise Your Self Esteem in 10 Easy Steps

how to raise your self esteem

Last week, one of my clients said to me, “Leora, can you just teach me how to gain self-esteem? If I just had some self esteem my life would be so different…”  I knew what she meant. She tries to use her eating disorder to give her self confidence. She believes that if she were thin enough that she would be worthwhile and important, but if she is not thin enough, she is a worthless human being with no value. But she is never thin enough. And so her life has been spent waiting to feel valuable and trying to be good enough. Her focus is always on her weight and never on anything else. Her critic is always telling her that she will be better, more people will like her and she will be happier when she is thinner. She is already very, very thin.

What she thought was that she could “get self esteem,” like gain something that she’s never had before, something new.  The truth is, having self esteem isn’t about harnessing some mystical force or  acquiring something new- it’s about letting go of something old– old messages that tell you that you’re not okay, that you have to be better than you are, that there is something wrong with you. Self esteem is about being kind to yourself, accepting and loving yourself even if you’re not perfect.  Self acceptance can often become confused with settling for something that you don’t like. But that’s not what self esteem is about. It’s about accepting who you are in the moment and accepting that it’s okay to be who you are as you go toward  greatness (even more greatness!) and allowing yourself to evolve, but caring for yourself and being kind to yourself and even loving yourself in that process. It’s about holding yourself with integrity to the best of your ability, always being kind, thoughtful, compassionate and loving to the people around you and to yourself.  It’s about knowing what your values are and doing your best to uphold those values. So, when you hear the voices telling you that you’re not okay and that you won’t be okay until you… CLIMB MT. EVEREST, RUN A MARATHON, LOSE WEIGHT, FIT INTO A SIZE XX JEANS, READ WAR & PEACE, WRITE YOUR FIRST NOVEL, BECOME A BEST SELLING AUTHOR, MAKE 6 FIGURES, GET MARRIED, HAVE A BABY, QUIT DRINKING,  QUIT SMOKING, QUIT EATING CARBS, EAT NOTHING BUT KALE SMOOTHIES AND SUNFLOWER SEEDS, BECOME A VEGAN, HAVE CLEAR SKIN, GET YOUR MBA… Or whatever those voices are telling you, remember that you don’t have to engage with those thoughts. It’s not true and it’s not real. It’s okay to be okay with who you are in the moment instead of after you’ve done these things. People confuse acceptance with resignation and defeat.  Acceptance doesn’t mean resigning yourself to being stuck in your circumstances. It means accepting that you are in the place that you’re in now and you don’t have to wait to be who your are until after you’ve changed your circumstances. It means that you can be yourself now and thrive and be in the world while at the same time improving your circumstances. We all have goals to achieve, that’s part of what makes us psychologically healthy and what helps us move forward in life. But when you get into the cycle of “I won’t be okay until…” you set yourself to be unhappy and you have a very hard time finding happiness… because it’s never enough.

So, how do you do this? I’ve created 10 tangible steps to achieving self-esteem. You don’t have to do all of them right now. But just try one this week and see how it goes. When you start to feel a difference, try another one. I know that doing these exercises will be life-changing for you.  

1. Make a List of What your Values Are 

Think about what is fundamentally important to you and write it down. This could be being a kind and compassionate person, being the kind of person people turn to when they are having troubles, not judging or criticizing other people, living with integrity, having positive intentions. Knowing that you are never going to be 100% at all these things, when you are feeling badly about yourself, check in and ask yourself if you are doing your best to live in accordance with your values. If you are, then you can fall back on that foundation of strong values and strength. If you are not, give yourself a reminder of what your values are and try to live according to them. So, if someone does or says something to you that hurts your feelings or if you yourself say or do something to yourself that hurts your feelings, check in with yourself and ask, “am I living according to my values? Am I behaving and acting in a way that I can feel good about? Am I acting like the kind of person that I would want to have as a friend?”  And remember, we always forget to do these things and fail at them sometimes, and that’s normal, but having your values written down in a list form can be a great reference for you to come back to. It will help you remember what is truly important to you and when you remember and when you live according to those values, you find self-efficacy.

2. Don’t Compare Yourself To Other People

Your values and your dharma (path) are different than anyone else’s, so you just can’t compare. You can’t compare your money situation to anyone else’s, your relationships, your jean size… we were all born with our own individual paths. When you begin to look at other people’s paths and think that you should be like them or different from who you are, you fail to move along your own, or you reject your path. This inherently makes you feel bad. This keeps you from moving forward.  You also shouldn’t be comparing your backend to anyone else’s front end. Meaning, you can’t compare the knowledge that you have about your own situation to what someone else is outwardly showing you about their own. You never know what is going on with someone else. As M. Scott Peck says in The Road Less Traveled, life is hard for everyone, not just you. And once you remember that life is hard across the board, you can transcend the existential angst and pain that comes with the difficulties of life. You can understand that when things happen (you get a parking ticket, break your arm, get into a car accident, lose a parent) that it’s painful and it’s difficult- but you are not alone, that bad and difficult things happen to everyone who chooses a life of being human.

3. Do Things for other People Often

Performing acts of kindness actually makes you happier and boosts your self esteem, making you feel more valuable and more at peace. A study published in the Journal of Social Psychology showed that participants who performed directed acts of kindness every day for 10 days in a row showed an increased level of life satisfaction. Self-esteem comes from life satisfaction and feeling your value in the world. Doing things for other people can be as small as smiling at someone when you are walking down the street or as big as volunteering your time to help someone out. It can also be remembering to give loved ones around you big hugs, kisses and compliments and reminding them why you love them so much and telling them how proud you are of them.

4. Live Mindfully  – Mindful living is about being aware of your body, being aware of your choices, your environment, being mindful or your choices, your environment, your bodily sensations, your thoughts, your actions and your fears. Often, people who are suffering with eating disorders have a really rough time living mindfully. They reject their true needs to focus on the goal of weight loss or looking better and  either binge or starve themselves, they don’t honor their appetites, they hate their bodies because they believe that there is something wrong with them. They completely reject themselves. When you are living mindfully, you are working to honor the needs of your body.

If you are signed up for the newsletter, you should have received your free mindful eating meditation. If not, sign up here to get it. You might also like the loving your body and letting go of negative body image meditation.  

Do check out this article on mindful living. 

5. Learn Self Acceptance:  Part of self acceptance is knowing what your strengths are and honing in on those and not punishing yourself for things that you are still working on. Make a list of things that you are good at and that you like about yourself. Be with that list and do more of those things. Make another list of things that you are not so happy with and that you want to change. Tell yourself that it is okay that you are where you are. And that it doesn’t make you bad and you can still like yourself and care for yourself as you are working to change those things. Get love and support and help for changing the things that you want to change. Change and healing is difficult all alone and in a void. But when you find other people who are working on the same change together, you have a group of encouraging, loving folks to keep you accountable and to be kind to you when you fall down. You can also do the same for others which will help you (see #3!)

6. Take Responsibility for Yourself: This is about not blaming other people for choices you made. Understanding that you have power and that you are not stuck and that just because you made a bad choice, you are not stuck in it because you have the power to constantly be rethinking and recreating your life. If you make a mistake, don’t shift the blame. Don’t say that you did this thing or said this thing because someone made you. For example, “I’m sorry I yelled at you, but if you weren’t acting so irrational, I wouldn’t have.” You have just negated your apology and given away your power. Always take ownership for your actions. Knowing that you have it in you to make your own decisions based on your own values (see #1) is part of what gives you self efficacy and self-esteem. Saying that someone else made you yell or act mean or say something wrong basically says that you have no power to make your own decisions about how you behave. Remember that you almost always have the power to undo a decision that you made. 

7. Be an Advocate for Yourself:  When you have self-advocacy, you always treat other people with respect and you do not allow other people to talk down to you or to treat you poorly. If you have a boss, for instance who is verbally abusing you or yelling at you, it’s okay to look at them and say, “it’s not okay to talk to me that way.” You also stand up for others who might not have the ability to voice their own needs. If you are unable to stand up for your own needs and have your own voice, you find someone who can be an advocate for you. 

8. Live with Purpose: 

Consider your life’s purpose. When you begin to live with purpose, you take care of yourself, but your main purpose in life isn’t about getting thin or getting pretty or making money or trying to impress or look good to other people. It’s about having goals that long term feel important and meaningful to you and using your life to work on these goals that help the world at large. 

9. Have Lots of Integrity: 

What is it to live with integrity? In my opinion, it’s to be as honest as you can without being hurtful. Being honest doesn’t mean telling someone that they look fat in their new dress or that they’re acting like a jerk. That’s not honest, that’s your subjective opinion. Being honest is more like telling someone that your feelings were hurt when they didn’t answer your phone calls or respond to your messages. Being honest is not stealing, not lying, not purposely saying things to hurt people, not spreading hurtful rumors, and not using other people to achieve your own means. It’s about being kind, being helpful, but also not sacrificing yourself or your own needs for the sake of others. Personal integrity is about knowing what your values are trying to live up to them.  (See #1). When you identify your values and do your best to live up to them, you will always know that you are okay and you won’t have to worry about what other people think about you.

10. Challenge Your Inner Critic- 

What would it be like to gently let go of the old thought patterns that you are so intensely holding onto? As I said earlier, self-esteem isn’t about gaining or building and changing, it’s about letting go. Imagine the beliefs that you have that plague you and make you feel bad,  (ie: “I have to be thinner, I have to be smarter, I have to be cleaner, I have to be richer, I have to be prettier…) and just choosing to disengage with them. Choosing instead to engage with the above ideas that are helpful and help you to feel better about yourself than the thoughts that intrude into your mind and keep you from living your life with zest and enjoyment.  That doesn’t mean you won’t have these thoughts pop up. They are old and part of old patterns. However, what about trying to hear them like background noise (like a fire engine siren outside) but not follow them. Let them fly through your mind, notice them and rather than grasping onto them, think about doing things that align with what makes you feel good about yourself. 

For more help on improving self esteem, check out some of Nathaniel Branden’s sentence completion exercises. 

What about you? What are some things that you have done that helped you feel into your self esteem? 


How to Raise Your Self Worth

raise your self worthWhen we were in our very early 20’s, my friend Catherine and I were working together as tech journalists in Silicon Valley. It was the first tech boom, we were recently out of college and people around us had lots and lots of money. People who were 24 years old were worth many millions of dollars, but we, two grammar geeks who worked as reporters for an online dot com journal were worth much, much less. At least on paper.

One day, while we were working together on an article about the Diamond Rio Mp3 player (you could listen to 14 songs straight! No tape! No CD!)  Catherine, who had been the valedictorian at both her high school and her college just broke down crying. As I said, we were in our early 20’s and breaking down crying at work at that age is socially acceptable as it’s always okay to have an existential crisis. I asked her why she was crying and she said, “I have no idea what I’m worth.”
“What does that mean?” I asked her.
“Well, I used to know exactly what I was worth. Somewhere between 4.2 and 4.4. But now, I’m not graded on life and I only make $2,000 a month. So what am I worth? How will I know? How will I know how I’m doing in life without grades?”
“I think,” I told her, “I think we’re supposed to know how we’re doing by how happy we are, I think we’re supposed to let our happiness be a barometer of how things are going.”
“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” she said.

And I guess that’s the thing. I guess that we all start out being graded and we just keep going with it. We let numbers dictate how we feel.  Whether it’s the number on the scale, the size of our jeans, the amount of calories or carbs we ate, the size of our paychecks, the number of men or women we’ve slept with, the square footage of our house, the cost of our car, the number of carats in our engagement rings, what kinds of grades our kids our getting, how fast our most recent marathon time is…

After healing from my food and body image issues, I had really felt that I stopped allowing numbers to dictate my life. But I realized that I hadn’t. A few weeks ago, I checked my amazon stats to see how my book was selling. For whatever reason, it happened to be a bad week for book sales.  I was crushed. I started to tie up my self-worth to my book sales, thinking that not only did my book suck, but I sucked. I really let myself get down in the dumps about information totally unrelated to who I was as a person, how I lived my life and what my values were. Later that evening, I got a beautiful email from a reader telling me that my book had changed her life. And then I remembered. I remembered that I wasn’t about sales or numbers or stats, I was a person. And that I do what I do because I care about other people. But I’d forgotten and I’d tied up my self-worth to silly things like book sales and blog stats. Then I realized the irony of it. I tell people all the time that their self-worth is not tied to some arbitrary number on a machine based on nothing and yet, I allowed my own self-worth to be tied up in that. It was a huge reality check for me.  So I asked myself a few questions.

1. What are your values?
2. Are you living up to your values?
3. What more could you be doing to be more of who you want to be?

I remembered that my values were about my husband, my children, my family and helping people, and that numbers had nothing to do with any of this. I remembered that I was living up to my values and that I didn’t need to be graded on this and I remembered that I wanted to do more of this. So I chose to stop looking at my book stats unless my kids were asleep and to make sure that my time with my kids was valuable and loving. That felt good and it felt right and it helped me to get out of the slump of numbers.

Your self worth is also not tied up in numbers.

Ask yourself these questions:

1. What are your values? Name the most important values in your life.

2. Where do you find your value?

3. What do you value in others? What makes others worthy and valuable in your mind.

4. Where do you find your worth?

5. What are things that you do or can do every day to help you feel your true and authentic value?

Write them down and answer them one by one, thoughtfully. Then, each day, ask yourself, “How am I being true to myself? How am I living in alignment with my value system? How am I being who I want to be? What can I do to be more in line with my authentic self? What is the one thing I can do today to help me really be me, the one thing that it is not number based….” Then do that thing, even if it is as simple as calling your Grandma, or hugging your kids or picking up a piece of litter in the street. When you define your intrinsic values and live according to them, you begin to really feel your self worth and you also let go of jealousy and trying to measure up. Try it!

Should I throw my scale away?

destroy your scale

When I was in college, I knew a beautiful woman. She was beautiful because she was kind and thoughtful and she spent her summers in Haiti helping young pregnant women and new young single Mommies. She also spent many afternoons playing with children in a nearby shelter. She was raucously hilarious, and scary smart in a Bill Gates/Steve Jobs sort of way but with social panache and kindness. She was (is) incredibly adorable and honest and everything that you’d want in a friend, a good listener, a confidante and loyal to the end. 

But each morning, when I asked her how she was doing, she would say, “I don’t know yet…” and then she would go weigh herself. If the weight was above a certain number, she was doing crappy. She was depressed, she was quiet, she wouldn’t eat, she had a terrible day. If it was below a certain number, she was good. She could like herself and go on with her day.  

Despite the fact that she was an incredible person, beautiful inside and out and everyone knew it, she still used the scale as a meter to tell her how she should feel about herself. Then she used that number to abuse herself. 


If your scale tells you the way that you are supposed to feel about yourself, you should just throw it out. THE NUMBER ON THE SCALE IS NOT AN INDICATION OF YOUR WORTH. Some people look at the number on a scale and it tells them one thing, it tells them how much they weigh. That’s it.

However, it doesn’t work that way with lots of folks. 

Do you know what I’m talking about?  Does this describe you? If the scale is 1, 2, or 5 more pounds than you wanted it to be, do you have a terrible day? Do you hate yourself? Do you wind up crying, bingeing, purging or just feeling plain crummy?

If so, then it’s just not worth it.

Don’t let the number on the scale tell you how to feel about yourself. Some people can look at the scale and it means nothing other than what it means, that they weigh x number of pounds. If you are not one of those people, then throw out your scale. If your scale tells you whether or not you are going to have a good day, then It has too much power over you and you need to get rid of it. You need to take care of your body to the best of your ability by nurturing it with healthy food and healthy exercise and healthy thoughts and healthy habits. 

How do you think my friend’s life and her days would have been different if she had not weighed herself every day? She probably would have been able to like herself more without an arbitrary piece of machinery to dictate her feelings for her.  She probably would have had more good days. She probably wouldn’t have spent so much time beating herself up because she felt that she didn’t measure up. 

I’m happy to say that this friend has since recovered from her body image and eating issues, and she’s still a beautiful person inside and out. I asked her if she weighed herself anymore and she told me that the freedom that she feels without a scale in her life is like being out of an abusive relationship. She can really live again and feel like it’s okay for her to make her own decisions about how she is feeling. 

What do you think? Can you go a week or a month without your scale? 

Dealing with Jealousy and Comparative Thinking

jealousy and eating disordersI’ve always prided myself on being completely free of jealousy. I believed that everyone had their own path and their own dharma… she had hers and he had his and I had mine.

In fact, I spent so much time with my clients helping them not to make comparisons of their bodies and their hair and their dating lives or lack thereof to their friends and I felt completely immune to jealousy and envy. I didn’t think I had a jealous bone in my body. 

And then something snapped inside of me. 

Sometime in the last two years I’ve become a total jealous woman. And I’ve had to work on that a lot. 

You see, my Mom passed away 12 years ago, and my stepmom of 32 years passed away almost two years ago. And I live with my husband and my kids without very much extended family at all. With no one to help us unless we pay them, no one who is totally obsessed with my kids like the way a Grandma would be, no one to spoil them, no one to go to Holiday dinners with, etc. I’ve been in a really bad place about it for months. 

Jealousy broken down into its core components are anger at someone because you believe that they are stealing something from you. 

And my jealousy became rampant. When I saw my friends or my cousins kids with their grandparents on Facebook I’d have to close my computer. When I saw grandparents picking up their grandchildren from pre-school I would feel sad. I was jealous and I was angry.

I was jealous of other girls’ mothers. 

And so I’ve had to work on that quite a bit. And I’ve begun to embrace my grieving process as grieving two very difficult losses. However… the work that I’m doing made me realize that my losses don’t take away from what I have. That the more I focus on what I don’t have, the less I focus on what I do have. And what I have brings me joy. Focusing on what I don’t have and being angry about it brings me grief. 

If my mother were to come down from heaven she would say to me, “What you think you’re the first person to ever lose her mother? Get on with your life already!” Because that’s how my Mom was. And she would be right. 

And the truth is… the jealousy has been keeping me back. It has been keeping me from going forward and finding comfort, support and love in other people.  So I am going forward. I am allowing my grief to be grief and I am moving into acceptance of what my life is and finding surrogate moms in all the wonderful women around me. 

Jealousy closes you off to other people. Jealousy makes you extremely depressed.  Jealousy keeps you in a jail of your own because you are angry at the world. Jealousy doesn’t allow you to see that their are other people in your situation and in much worse situations. Jealousy doesn’t allow you to see what you truly have and what you could be grateful for. Jealousy keeps you stuck– when you could just go outside into the vast big beautiful world and see the sky and the clouds and the mountains and the ocean. 

So is there anything or anybody that you are jealous of? 

Are you jealous of someone’s money? Their body? Their girlfriend or boyfriend or husband or wife? Their house? Their car? How does that hold you back? Do you wind up trying to achieve so much of what other people have that you miss out on your own life? Do you isolate yourself because you can’t bear to see other people having what you want? 

You can change that. 


You can stop this. 

When you notice your head turned toward someone else’s haves – turn back toward your own and appreciate what you have.

Or you could also forget about what that person has and just look at them as a whole person and let yourself be their friend, learn about them separate from what they have. You will deepen and enrich your friendships and find yourself more integrated into the world. 

Jealousy doesn’t serve you and it doesn’t motivate you, it keeps you stuck. 

And here is an old post on jealousy that I wrote before the Green Eyed Monster bit me. Before I lost my Step Mom and before I had my kids. I had a great theoretically knowledge of jealousy. But now I know in my bones what it is. Working through it has been phenomenal and eye opening.

I am grateful that I am given the gift of working through my issues just when I think I’m soooooo damn perfect. 

Only Rich White Girls Get Eating Disorders

The road to recovery leads to beautyI tend to shy away from talking about what I do for a living when meeting someone in social situations like at parties or on an airplane. The phrase “I am a psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of eating disorders,” is met with either awkward silence, or uncomfortable reactions such as, “I wish I had an eating disorder, but I could never stop eating…” or someone telling me in detail about their friend/college roommate/friend’s daughter’s eating disorder… or other conversations that are potentially difficult to get into at a party. But this week, at a Holiday Party, when I told someone what I did, he responded, “Oh so you talk to selfish snotty rich white girls all day long…”  Ugh. I sat for a moment to think about whether or not I would be willing to continue my conversation and decided against it. I said to him, “that’s actually really not accurate…”  and excused myself.

But I began to think about that stereotype, that eating disorders only touched a certain demographic. And the truth is that eating disorders transcend race, age and gender.  Unfortunately though, the stereotype remains for a variety of reasons. First off, because of the stereotype, men and women who do have eating disorders who don’t fall into the category or white, young, female, or rich might have trouble identifying that they have an eating disorder. They might also feel that it’s not okay for them to go to treatment because they won’t fit in or because they are not the typical patients.

But lots and lots of people suffer with eating disorders. Because we believe that our bodies are our external manifestation of what is going on inside, that our bodies tell the world who we are. And for some dumb reason, society has decided that what makes us good is being skinny. And so when someone feels bad or insecure about him or herself, he or she tries to change their body, and usually to make it smaller, because they believe that they will then be worthy or be treated better or be allowed to go out into the world. And often this plan backfires. They diet and diet and diet and disordered eating ensues. And then they cease to be out in the world. They stop doing what they were meant to be doing. They don’t dance or sing or preach or write poetry or teach aerobics or teach literature or go to Africa or go to medical school because they feel that they are not good enough. They feel that they don’t belong. They feel that they can only participate in the world once they lose the weight that they need to lose. And then the world misses out on them. The world misses out on all those amazing men and women out there because they don’t think they are good enough. They become embroiled in a power struggle with their jeans, with their diet plan, their treadmill and with food and don’t leave that cage.  And we miss out on them. We miss all the joy and learning they could have brought. We miss the gifts that they were meant to share. We miss the fun we could have had with them. We miss the smiles on our children’s faces for being around them. We miss out on all that.

And that is why I treat eating disorders. Because the world should be a better place and you should be in the world. I want to help you get out of the cage of despair and into the world of joy, life, expansion and happiness. Who knows, you could cure cancer! You could make peace in the Middle East. You could save a child from a burning building. Or you could simply go swimming with the dolphins in Hawaii and have fun because it’s okay for you to be in a bathing suit. It’s okay for you to be out in the world.

Happy Holidays to you.

Have a Safe and Wonderful Holiday.