Binge What?

tango_weather_snow_115981It snowed again yesterday. After a morning of menial tasks, I found myself watching the first season of “The West Wing”. I mean the whole first season. I loved it the first time and loved it the second time.

When asked what I had done, I confessed to binge-watching television. I guess the term fits the activity, but it got me thinking. How has the word binge become an everyday part of our vocabulary?

Bingeing gets its most common definition from overeating. In fact the dictionary defines bingeing as to “indulge in an activity, especially eating, to excess”. In recent years we have attached the word to drinking, watching, shopping, even exercising. Why do we need to ‘binge’ to excess? What emptiness are we trying to fill?

As a weight loss counselor, I spent a lot of time with clients talking about bingeing. While many could identify the triggers, most could not stop the process without help.

Michelle Joy Schulman of  “Raw Pure Joy” sites several types of binges:

The Hunger Binge- triggered by physical deprivation

The Deprivation Binge -triggered by emotional deprivation

The Stress Binge- triggered by (you guessed it) stress

The Opportunity Binge- occurs when time and opportunity and privacy are available, often triggered by boredom

The Vengeful Binge-triggered by anger

The Pleasure Binge-triggered by the desire to enhance pleasure

I think the last binge, the Pleasure Binge, is worth noting. Bingeing is a way to feel better in reaction to any number of issues or triggers. How do we feel better? We seek pleasure. The downside here is the temporary nature of the pleasure. Just as the pleasure of overeating registers, the guilt and shame take over. (Note: For this discussion we are focusing only on the emotional damage)

Why does the behavior repeat itself if the feelings of pleasure are so brief and the negative feelings so long lasting? Like many behaviors, this is learned and reinforced over many years. Your inner voice craves chocolate because it’s been a lousy day, your boss yelled at you, your car is making a funny noise and the school called to say one of the kids is running a fever. You take care of everything else (the car, the boss, the child) and run for the pantry. Just one minute of pleasure, of indulgence. Before you have even swallowed the first handful of semi-sweet morsels, you feel awful. ‘Why am I doing this?’ ‘ My skirt is already tight.’ ‘ I have no self control!’ ‘ I cannot trust myself.’ The litany of negative and damaging thoughts mentally beats you. You are familiar with the lecture, you know what you’ve done, but you are going to hear it anyway.

Many experts have ‘weighed in’ (sorry, couldn’t resist) on the process for ‘curing’ the binge. I have read most of Geneen Roth’s books on overeating. The steps outlined in her program, and other’s who have written on the subject are clear, reasonable and simple. Simple is the last thing this is!

I believe that the first step to changing any behavior is to be aware of it. In order to be aware, we have to listen closely to the messages we send ourselves. For instance, if the boss is nasty to you do you (a) tell yourself he/she must have had a tough night or, (b) take it personally and question yourself for the rest of the day?

When we begin to hear what we say to ourselves, we can begin to select alternative messages. Make no mistake; this is not a quick or magical process. I’ve taken to carrying a small notepad with me. When I am struggling with my inner voice, I write down the things I ‘hear’ and then ask myself how much of what I’ve written is true. (Thanks to author and speaker Byron Katie, for giving me the question to ask.) Most often the answer is ‘Of course it’s not true’. So what is the truth? This is where it gets fun. I write down one truth for every negative thought and read it to myself three times immediately. I reread my notes throughout the day, closing with the positive statements I created.


I find this process very helpful and have seen clients respond positively as well. I feel the need to state, however, that your bingeing, whether it be food, alcohol, drugs, shopping, TV watching or exercise, is yours. In listening to yourself and really looking at what triggers you and how the binge makes you feel before, during and after, you can gain great insight and be your best advocate. This information may inspire you to seek professional help from a therapist or coach, or you may find that just by listening you can begin to self soothe and heal.

Until next time!



Step By Step

I recently met a client who, for the sake of this post, I’ll call Beth. Beth was referred to me through a mutual friend. She was feeling unwell, had seen her doctor. No problems or potential problems were uncovered.

I should preface this by saying that before I meet someone new, I ask for information. By the time that Beth and I met, I knew that she had a fairly normal health history. She is middle aged and has had one child. She has struggled with intestinal disturbances most of her life, but never received treatment. In addition, I knew that Beth was newly separated.

During our first meeting, I learned that Beth is in a pretty tough place. As I mentioned she is newly separated. Her husband recently moved out. Her 6-year-old daughter is struggling to understand the new family situation. Beth has few friends and her family live out of state.

In Health and Wellness Coaching, we start where the client is. She presented with exhaustion, weakness, stomach and lower intestinal discomfort and significant weight gain. All these symptoms combined to worry and distract Beth daily.

In Counseling, we ask ‘why, but in Coaching we ask ‘what’. What would the client like to work on first? Beth chose her recent weight gain.

With no history of weight problems, Beth was shocked when the scale registered 20 lbs. above her natural weight. What had changed? Well, Beth offered that she was drinking wine regularly to help her sleep, when she had previously been a social drinker. She acknowledged that her passion for cooking had fizzled and that she and her daughter often did the ‘easy thing’ and pick up fast food. Finally, Beth’s ex had cancelled her health club membership.

Beth needed no prodding to see the correlation between her weight gain and the lifestyle changes described above. In fact, she quickly added her exhaustion to the list and declared herself deeply depressed by the failure of her marriage.

In an effort to reclaim her life, Beth’s next step was to decide what she wished to focus on for the next week. She decided to focus on her weight. Overwhelmed already, it was important that Beth choose small, manageable tasks that would eventually lead her to better control of her weight. Her first decision was to sit with her daughter and make a grocery list of healthy, enjoyable meals that they could prepare together. This was met with enthusiasm due to her continuing concerns about her daughter’s wellbeing. Beth also decided to walk to the bus stop each morning rather than drive the block and a half.

We began our next session with a recap of Beth’s week. She had successfully made her grocery list and cooked four nights out of seven! Walking to the bus stop, however, was still a struggle; especially when waking up was still a struggle. She shared that her stomach was not as troublesome when she stayed away from fast food and made a pledge to herself that the food was not worth the discomfort.

At the conclusion of our second session, Beth chose to work on four more preplanned healthy meals during the week. She decided to set her alarm and her daughter’s alarm ten minutes earlier, so that they could make the walk to the bus stop. I asked her how many days she wanted to commit to walking to the bus stop. Beth chose two.

I share all of this, with Beth’s approval, because I want to illustrate two points. First, life changes can be devastating and can affect many areas of one’s life. Beth didn’t expect stomach distress or weight gain, but in hindsight saw clearly the correlation between the symptoms and her emotional distress. Second, the steps that Beth outlined for herself were/are small ones. It’s great when a client sees the big picture, but rushing ahead to fix the whole package often results in disappointment and feelings of failure. Our goal is to help the client rebuild their lives one small successful step at a time.

As of this writing, I am happy to report that Beth and her daughter are doing well. I am proud of the work that she has done and honored that she chose to allow me to help.

Until next time!



I Hate To Exercise!

I hate to break a sweat! But, as my previous post suggests, I do it (sweat) spontaneously on a daily basis. As I write this I am dripping from blow-drying my hair. So why in the world would I intentionally work myself into a lather?

I know, I know, it’s good for me. But, for some reason, I just resent the intrusion into my life. I have, for intermittent periods, embraced exercise and the accompanying sweats. But I am not self motivated. My brother runs or swims daily. He’s moved up and down the east coast and he always seeks out a YMCA or club to meet his needs. My sister goes to a personal trainer. I tried hiring a personal trainer. When I interviewed her, I told her that I was paying her not only to get me in shape, but also to listen to me complain– LOUDLY!

I have sporadically played tennis, worked out at a gym, done aerobic dance classes. I even tried Zumba because I love music; I was totally intimidated, especially when I realized that it was ‘black light night’, everyone was in neon but me. I was in white. I stuck out like a marshmallow.

With a history of orthopedic problems, I should be embracing weight-bearing and aerobic exercise to prolong the quality of my life. I am a Wellness Coach. I know this! What’s up? For years I blamed myself; I am lazy, a couch potato, unmotivated. I mean let’s be honest, I’d rather watch a DVD than exercise to one.

About five years ago, a friend suggested I read a book called ‘The 8 Colors of Fitness’ by Shelley Brue. I took a quick look and was intrigued. Through a brief personality assessment you are matched with a color. That color indicate the type of exercise and setting that best suits your personality.

color-wheel-dodecagon-mdThe most important thing I learned was that I am social (surprise) and therefore, will exercise more successfully with a partner or in a group. That explains why tennis was always fun.

Armed with this information, I began to explore. Do I invest in a club membership, try Zumba, personal training? What I came back to was yoga. I have practiced yoga on and off for about ten years. When I participate, my incredibly tight hip and hamstrings noticeably loosen, my sciatica is less bothersome and I tend to sleep better.

There are a wide variety of schools of yoga. and each teacher approaches the practice differently. In the end I chose to go back to the woman who has guided me for years. Olga( believes that the practice of yoga is individual. There are a variety of body types and abilities in our tiny class. Once a week we set a personal intention for ourselves and spend 90 minutes working our bodies. She reminds us that we go only as far as our bodies PERMIT; that yoga is not about what other people do, it’s about what you can do.

Because I know that exercise for exercise’s sake is usually abhorrent to me and because an ulterior motive can often motivate me further (i.e. winning at tennis, enjoying music, socializing), I am continually drawn back to the practice of yoga. The quiet and concentration take me out of my mind and force me to concentrate on working with my body. I am probably the only one in class who breaks a sweat even though the temperature outside is below freezing, but I have given up on the idea that I can exercise without the ‘glow’.  The positive feedback I get for my efforts reinforces my motivation and there is a relaxed camaraderie amongst us (and there’s not a lithe, Lycra-clad twenty something or a wall of mirrors in sight!).

What color are you? What does your experience with exercise or health tell you about what you do for yourself? Take a look at your own life pattern. If the current drive toward better health isn’t working for you, find a new one.

I’m here for you!triangle pose

News Flash…Hot Flash

I am lying in bed, almost asleep. It starts; the heat creeps up my body from the tips of my toes to the top of my head. This isn’t a flash this is a tsunami! In minutes I am drenched or dripping, uncomfortable and irritable.

hot flashI am at a party. I’ve just been introduced to someone new. Polite conversations begins, I sip my wine and suddenly, I am wiping my brow, the back of my neck is dripping and I find myself fanning myself with a cocktail napkin and apologizing embarrassedly.

I am at the store. As I check out, I am convinced that the salesman thinks I am stealing because, out of nowhere, I turn bright pink and start to drip.

Menopause, the gift that keeps on giving! I don’t know when it will end, no one does. The cures are often riskier than the symptoms. And if the hot flashes aren’t enough, there are all of the other “changes” that come with the end of Menses.

I look in the mirror and notice I have my mother’s knees. The skin sags. I recently noticed jowl-like droops on my face. Out of nowhere, the eight (yes) pounds I gained over the holidays settles in my belly, when it used to distribute all over. My skin is suddenly dry where it used to be supple!

Honestly are these the badges of honor bestowed on me for being a woman? This is not some fun secret club or sorority; this is awful!  When we run into folks that we haven’t seen a while, I constantly hear how distinguished my husband looks with grey hair. On the other hand, I try to hide my roots until my next color. I had to buy a dress recently. Designers are deliberately shortening the lengths to remind me I no longer have the legs of a 30 or even 40 year old.

I am not disturbed that I am aging. I look at my daughters and feel pride that that we (have to give the husband credit) have raised such smart, self-sufficient, wonderful women. It took work to have them and raise them. The stretch marks from their pregnancies (not the ones from weight gain-how do you tell?) are sort of like proof that long ago, I incubated and nurtured these beings to life. But, let’s face it, we finally reach the pinnacle of female success. We have raised kids, nurtured careers, saved for that retirement (one, all or none, you pick) and this is when my body starts to shortchange me?

I remember the horror/excitement of getting my period. I was thirteen. The only ‘drag’ was ‘equipment (Remember pads and belts?). To be honest, I was looking forward to Menopause. No more periods, no more birth control, no more elasticity in my skin!

Enough, I say! I can no longer stand to look in the mirror and see only what has changed with age. I must find a better way. I need to start to see the ‘wisdom’ in my jowls, the knowledge in my under eye circles, and the miles tread on my thighs and knees.

I will embrace my body and it’s changes, rather than it’s flaws. At least, that’s what I’ll do today!

One day at a time!

I’m Sorry

Today I heard that a close family friend passed away after a decade long battle with cancer. In  addition,two other family friends are seriously ill! I start emails and letters but as I start to write I am frozen. Words of comfort? What do you say when ‘I’m sorry’ sounds so trite?

Comforting friends in crisis is something I think I’m pretty good at. Whether it’s marital struggles, divorce, death, illness or depression, I am a good listener and I constantly try to help my friends on their terms (not everyone wants to be fixed).But there are only so many ways to say ‘I’m sorry for your trouble.’ Is that enough?

I had a similar discussion with a young cancer patient this summer. Diagnosed at 31 with stage 3 Breast Cancer, this woman was inundated with support and love, blankets and hats. She has been amazing throughout the worst of her treatments (17 chemo treatments ended this week). She wrote thoughtful thank you notes and posts on Caring Bridge. She never forgot to thank people for their support. I spent time helping her with her two young children last summer and we talked about how ‘meaningless’ words become when they are often repeated. I mean, how many ways can you think of to say ‘thank you’?

We agreed that each time we say ‘thank you’ or ‘I’m sorry’ the recipient is different, so that for them it is a first time.

Nevertheless, I struggle with words of comfort. I don’t want to sound like a Hallmark card. I’ve taken to using inspirational quotes as I close emails and letters. So as I struggle to say, ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ or ‘I am so sorry you’ve been ill’ I try to close with something that gives  peace and a smile.

Recently, I’ve used :

“Happiness is no more than good health and a bad memory.”

– Albert Schweitzer

“Find a place inside where there is joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.”

-Joseph Campbell

“Believe you can and you are half-way there.”

-Theodore Roosevelt

and because I love Erma Bombeck,

“If you can’t make it better, you can laugh at it.”

Until next time!

In Memory of Janet Jacobson; friend, cousin, hero.


An Organized Purse, A Clear Mind?

Isn’t it interesting that the frenzy of the winter holidays is followed by a push to clean out and organize? Actually, the timing couldn’t be better. The clutter of the holidays the gifts, the tree, the trimming, the food has to be dealt with in the New Year. Why not clean out a closet at the same time?

I love to organize, to clean out and giveaway things that are just collecting dust.  It’s hard (I still have the shoes I got married in and I’ll never wear them again), but so satisfying. My philosophy is simple; I can’t bring something in to my house without getting rid of something. I have one room in my house that serves as the collection site for the things we no longer need or use. When the pile begins to grow too large, I contact one of the charities in our area for a pickup Easy!

Cleaning out and organizing feels cathartic to me. When I look at a pristine well- organized closet I’m reminded that I control my life, not the reverse. I have many friends who disagree. They debate the “ifs” and “I might need it” of every item. The task takes twice as long and before you know it, they’ve given up. Their homes don’t provide them with the calm and ‘sanctuary’ they crave. For that matter their homes are often a mirror of the chaos within them.

Peter Walsh (of Oprah fame) says, ‘Your home should be the antidote to stress, not the cause.’ I agree. If you walk into a home that is a mess or room with a table crammed with paperwork, do you want to stay? Does it relax you? Quite the opposite, it can be debilitating. If you’ve ever seen any of the hoarding shows on television, you know it can even affect your health.

My point is this, if you spent 10 minutes each day on a small part of your home — a closet, the pantry, the fridge — and clear out the clutter, you will feel so much better. Imagine being able to find that other glove, or the potato masher?

My cousin is a professional organizer in New York City. She has successfully moved, organized and created beautifully organized spaces for her clients.  Although she works on her own, she often has the client work with her. Long-term success organizing a space is often a result of the client’s participation.

I work on this with clients all the time. If you control your environment, you control your life. One of my clients has struggled with binge eating for years. When I asked her what it feels like while she’s binging, she says things like, ‘frenetic’, ‘crazy’, ‘out of control’. During one session, I asked her to try something different. When the urge to binge begins, I suggested she find an unorganized drawer, her purse or a shelf and organize it! I told her this should take no more than ten minutes. When the task is done, she should come up with three words to describe the space.  After a week, she reported that her first attempt failed, because, in her words ‘I took on too much’. A day later the urge to binge reared its ugly head again. This time she dumped out her purse on the living room floor and cleaned it out. She described it as ‘clean’, ‘clear’, and ‘light’. Once done, the urge to binge was diminished.

Notice, I said ‘diminished’ not ‘cured’. Like everything else in life, this takes practice.

Is there a space that you need to tackle? How will purging in small, manageable pieces help you?

Until next time!