Laura Delle Donne, LMHC, NBCCH Blog

Freedom From Emotional Eating

Woman and pizza

Are you an emotional eater? For instance, do you get triggered to eat when under stress? Do you eat for comfort, escape or to feel good? Do you eat to anesthetize bad feelings about yourself? Or do you reward yourself with food for working hard, eat when bored, or because it’s just plain fun? Are you eating when not actually hungry? Does the word diet make you cringe?

If you said yes to any or all of these questions, don’t worry you are not alone. Moreover, it is not your fault!

You are not a bad or worthless person because you struggle with food. At a young age, many of us grew up learning from our parents and caretakers to use food as a reward and as a result “attached” a good feeling or positive outcome to certain foods. For instance, our parents gave us a cookie or piece of candy to illicit a specific behavior-all with good intentions, but we sometimes learned to use food to feel good when feeling badly. We were also taught to clean our plates and not be wasteful so we stopped listening to our body’s natural response to stop when full and satisfied. This coupled with cultural pressure to adhere to a specific body type or image has created not a sense of empowerment but confusion and perhaps feelings of self-loathing and unworthiness for not “measuring up”!

So, right now is the time to begin to make the shift from what your mind desires to actualizing that vision of a healthy, fit self to the body!  And in the words of Wayne Dyer, a beloved self-help guru- “EXCUSES BEGONE”!

Rule #1: Decide what eating and exercise plan is best for you.

Rule #2: Visualize what you want and will look like as healthy and fit, give this image detail-what is future you wearing, eating and doing? Try her/him on like new clothes: jump inside and look out through his/her eyes and see what it feels like to be fit, healthy and happy. Another way to design the future you is to make a vision board. To complete a vision board use pictures, images from magazines etc regarding things like healthy foods, exercise, rewards and positive words and phrases, then put on a wall where you’ll see it daily. This will help with motivation and to reorganize and propel the mind toward goal.

Rule #3: Stop beating yourself up and get ready to make a change!

Next, take the time to identify your thoughts and beliefs about yourself that make you stay stuck in a negative pattern and then turn it around or flip it!

Some common negatives and useful flips are:

  • Empowerment vs Loss. Get rid of the word “diet” which equates lacking something and can’t have to “I choose to eat this instead of that”.
  • Think “I now am making intelligent food choices for my body and health vs “I can’t have that because I am on a diet because I was bad!”
  • ”It’s too hard and will take too long” vs. “right now, today I’m doing it and it feels good to be on track today”….remember everyone wants to lose 20lbs 7 months ago when they look in the mirror. It took time to gain it so isn’t it worth your time now to lose it?
  • Think of food as fuel for energy and ask when reaching for something to eat “Will this fuel my body and feed my brain”.
  •  “I already cheated with 3 cookies today so why stop I blew it and I might as well finish the box vs. “Stop-Right now I am again taking control and putting the cookie box down”
  • “My goal is to be healthy, fit and happy”  vs “skinny,  thin or a particular size or number”
  • I’m feeling stressed, badly now” vs “this too will pass”, take a drink of water and redirect mind with new behavior(take a walk, meditate, listen to music, etc to create the calm your wanting)
  • For cravings, take the urge of eating badly thru your mind to the known end result of weight gain, and unhealthy. Next, immediately take a deep breath and visualize your future you model , and recall the positive feeling. This will help to re-motivate and dispel the craving.
  • Keeping essential oils like orange or lavender to breathe in when feeling badly or stressed will help to calm and relax and to retrain your brain by pairing the old response of eating or binging with a new one.

It is important to take the time to take care of yourself. There are many good programs out there, find the one that best suits your metabolic and physical needs. Seek a physician for the green light and have any tests that you were putting off to “get a good bill of health” before getting started. However, beyond exercise and a healthful nutrition plan, the most essential and often overlooked component of a weight loss program is addressing the emotional response to food when it is no longer a useful one. Find a therapist you connect with to help you with your specific issues.

Finally, the bottom line is, after clearing past and current emotional triggers to food, identifying negative self-talk  patterns and how that creates your feelings and behavior, will greatly enhance  a sense of peace, calm and balance while in the body and break the proverbial “hamster on the wheel” cycle of losing weight only to regain it. After all, when feeling empowered, energy and motivation increase.

Why not give yourself permission today to stop the old cycle and be the change you desire, make the shift and become “SELF-ACTUALIZED”!!!


More Than Just Hope for PTSD, MSD, and Trauma!

I once had a phone conversation with a gentleman who initially called to speak to me regarding issues with a family member. During that phone call he mentioned he was a Vietnam War Veteran and this is what he had to say about PTSD though he never used that term… “I will have that fuse buried deep in my brain for the rest of my life and I’m already 65”. It was clear he had been dealing with the trauma and memory of all that Vietnam was to him all these years.

Recently there have been headlines popping up in the media across the U.S. of our returning vets who are struggling with life after Iraq and Afghanistan. Reports differ from an increase in suicide rates to odd behaviors and an overall inability to readjust. In a recent study it was estimated as high as 20% are affected (Healthline News). Moreover, now that women are in combat it is reported that they suffer the same rate of PTSD and Clinical Depression as men.

Often in many cases one of the explanations for this has been attributed to PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and MSD (Military Stress Disorder). This is all very confusing to the general population. Some people find it odd behavior once a soldier is actually home and has returned to a “normal” life. Others may view PTSD as a popular diagnosis used as legal jargon in hopes to acquit the “unusual and sometimes aggressive” behaviors exhibited by some trauma sufferers. This in itself raises a host of other questions. For example, is PTSD real and how does it happen to one and not another person? Are there tell tale signs or symptoms that someone may be suffering and is there anything that can be done to enable that the survivor of a trauma, combat or violent event is also a “thriver ” ?

Fortunately, Yes! Any one suffering from the effects of a traumatic event can resume a happy, peaceful and fulfilled life. Furthermore, there is more than just hope. Over the last few decades with the advent and strides in Neuro and the Behavioral Sciences there are powerful therapies and treatments in addition to traditional methods of talk therapy, psychotropic medications and support. With the newer trauma therapies we are finding that a person’s symptoms can abate completely. In other words, we are gaining a better understanding of how the brain encodes, stores, retrieves and utilizes information. How the brain perceives time, how an individual views an event and why a traumatic event “gets stuck” and replays. Hence, the term “spontaneous recall” is sometimes used for PTSD. Also, whether the event was Iraq, Vietnam, Korea or WWII; a traumatic event can clear regardless of how many years ago it was experienced.

So, how might PTSD symptoms manifest? The best illustration came from a story my husband recently told me of a co-worker he had worked with 20 years ago. They were on an environmental site in a small town in Florida when 2 or 3 F-16 fighter jets from MacDill Air Force Base “buzzed over head quite low to the ground”. My husband thought it was “cool” to see the jets fly by but he soon realized that his buddy “had dove to the dirt and covered his head”. Jim then explained he was a Vet and ever since Vietnam was still reactive. For instance, he explained to the crew not to wake him or startle him in anyway and don’t sneak up on him or he goes into fight or flight mode. He also couldn’t sleep at night without a piece of wood clasped tightly in his hand and held against his chest, though he “preferred it was a gun but didn’t want to harm his wife accidentally” as they slept. Finally, he admitted that he knew it didn’t make logical sense but part of his mind still had to do these things to make him feel safe. It wasn’t all a conscious decision. Whether Jim knew it or not he was referring to a “subconscious drive that compelled his behavior” all designed to respond to a “future” perceived threat.

The formal definition of the symptoms and causes of PTSD as described in the DSM-IV or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders are as follows:

  • A type of anxiety disorder where witnessing or exposure to a traumatic event such as; natural disasters, war, abuse, rape, hostage, imprisonment, terrorism ,neglect resulted in a response of fear, helplessness and or horror
  • Recurring symptoms and behaviors are; flashbacks, distressing dreams, inability to sleep, concentrate, generalization to similar sensations triggers a fear response ,avoidance, depression, anger, panic, hyper vigilance, emotional numbing, disconnection, addictions
  • Prolonged duration of disturbance causes clinically significant distress and impairment to overall function and disturbances to the nervous system,
  • A person’s normal flight or fight response can be heightened and exaggerated

Anyone can suffer from PTSD and not all suffer from symptoms after a traumatic event. This is due to genetic, physical, social and environmental factors of an individual. Not everyone with PTSD exhibits severe symptoms either. Sometimes symptoms will simply abate on their own over time. People who have strong support systems tend to fare better than those who do not. It is important to find a Doctor and a Therapist who is well versed and experienced with Trauma Therapy and the brain in particular.

Some common therapies for PTSD are Prolonged Exposure (PE), Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Clinical Hypnosis, Biofeedback, Neuro-Linguistic Processing (NLP) and Rapid Resolution and Trauma Therapies (RRT&RTR). These various methods can involve a physical and emotional reliving of the experience, a cathartic retelling thru writing, a systematic desensitization, focusing on a faulty belief system and changing to a more rational one, and a reprocessing of brain thru specific eye movements. I utilize Rapid Resolution Therapy and Rapid Trauma Resolution (RRT). Together these methods engage all facets of the mind through the use of sensory-specific language and a particular sequence process. A unique feature of RRT&RTR is that it does so without re-traumatizing the individual. The mind is cleared and remains fully present with the memory intact. The result is emotional freedom from the past.

Life can be difficult after a traumatic event for anyone. But, if you are currently suffering from any of these symptoms, especially if they have persisted over time it is important to seek effective treatment. There are now more options available and a trauma survivor can overcome the aftermath of a tragedy and live a productive and healthy life! Especially for our returning Veterans, it is important for them to have timely care and right now is the time!
Helpful website: (The National Center for PTSD)


Increase You Happiness Quotient with Positive Affirmations…They Really Do Work!

Good News! Finally, there is scientific research to back up what psychologists and therapists have been saying for years; acting on what makes people happy has a powerful effect on their lives. In other words, the pursuit of happiness doesn’t happen to people because they are just lucky, on the contrary; bliss occurs by actively changing your current thoughts and practicing new ones. One way to accomplish this is by affirming daily positive thinking. The practice of positive affirmations was hilariously satirized by the SNL T.V. skit known as “Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley”. Smalley was played by actor/comedian Al Franken who sat in front of a mirror reciting phrases like “I’m Good Enough, and Smart Enough and Doggone it People Like Me”! Along with Franken and the SNL gang of writers, the practices of Positive Psychology recently gained a boost from Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky. Lyubomirsky, a research psychologist at the University of California at Riverside, published the results of her study on the brain and happiness in her book entitled, The How of Happiness. She essentially came up with the brain-pie diagram that illustrates how 5% of our happiness relates to genetics, 10% to environment, leaving 40% to what we do and how we think. This 40% is not only a significant chunk but also reinforcement for those currently practicing their positive daily affirmations!

Here’s a helpful list developed by noted Psychologist Albert Ellis, PhD. that may help you identify what negative thought processes are that can create/cause emotional upset; or as he called it your “stinking thinking”! Ellis felt this list was universal and that these common beliefs were the result of rigid thinking or demandingness of thought vs preferential thinking.

  1. It is a need or dire necessity to be liked or loved by all
  2. I must be perfect, not fallible at all times and can’t make mistakes
  3. Life should/must be fair
  4. Things should go my way or that would be awful
  5. I can’t stand what happens, occurs in my life
  6. My childhood must continue to control or determine my emotions/behavior (it’s their fault I’m a mess)
  7. Unhappiness is externally caused and I can’t control it
  8. They made me angry or I did it because of them
  9. Others must agree, or do as I say/think/believe

So, for those of you who want to get on board and up your happiness quotient, you can take a cue from Stuart .Write down some phrases that resonate with how you would like to feel or act, check for rigid or inflexible thinking, rephrase as a desire then repeat, repeat, repeat ! Because as Stuart always says “practice makes me perfect and doggone it I’m worthy”! Finally, this is one of my favorite positive affirmations by Marianne Williamson (paraphrased):

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure…we ask ourselves who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are younot to be..there is nothing enlightened about shrinking so others won’t feel insecure around you…as we let our own light shine liberated from fear, we unconsciously give permission to others to do the same…we are all meant to shine and make manifest the glory of god that is within us”



Playing Memory Games Can Enhance Your Child’s Learning Capacity


Almost everyone can remember a time when watching a tv commercial or listening to a radio jingle and thinking “what were they thinking, this is silly or it just doesn’t make any sense”. But at a later time and much to your surprise, you found yourself humming that silly jingle or repeating the TV slogan automatically, without consciously realizing it.

Actually, the advertising industry really does know what they’re doing and is utilizing a basic principle for memory enhancement. They are masters at making nonsensical associations and pairing other sensory specific detail so you can easily remember their product. Not only do you remember the product but you remember many things they want you to remember or identify with their product vs their competitor.

For example, if I would mention “the little green looking lizard”, you know it’s not really an insurance company but the association is immediate. Moreover, there are many layers that are associated like he’s small, cute, approachable, easy to listen to with that accent and he’s a nice jovial fellow!  After a few repetitions of the visual and auditory stimuli, and the overall good feeling the little guy gives off, who wouldn’t want to give them a call and try them out.

Basically, our minds are multi faceted and conduct many functions simultaneously. Also, our brains are capable of storing infinite amounts of info and data. Like in the above example with the gecko, this is easier to accomplish when you give the “thing” you want to remember more sensory specific detail or info that the mind can essentially grab onto. It was also why learning the alphabet was easier as a musical rhyme as a kid.

The beautiful part is that kids can do this instinctively and do so especially when they are at play. It’s how they learn. Kids are creative and use their imaginations in ways that adults have forgotten. They are used to engaging their senses through play and creativity to navigate and make sense of their world.

So as a parent, you can help your child to adapt this instinct while in school or at home doing homework. This will make learning more fun and an opportunity to positively engage with your child.

Step one: have them think about what it represents to them-association

Step two: have them picture or visualize in their mind’s eye-sensory

Step 3: have them note something about it that stands out: detail

Step 4: repeat 3x in a row.

For instance, both my neighbors are teachers and recently told me that their son was having difficulty remembering all the elements of the periodic chart for chemistry class.  So, he and his friends came up with a clever way to remember that made sense to them. They came up with a Rap song! It went something like this:  My element is “K”, and everywhere you look K is all around you, Yo  you got it in potatoes and bananas as potassium you know, so K is potassium as an element don’t ya know!  Ok, albeit it sounded much better and cooler when he was singing it!  Nonetheless, they made it fun and now remember all the elements. Moreover, the students used an association they identified with-they remembered bananas have potassium in them.

By giving sensory specific and even non-sensical associations and detail to the “thing” they are trying to learn will make remembering easier vs rote memorization which can be boring and tedious. If kids aren’t experiencing success as they learn they’re not going to want to continue.

Giving kids tools to do better, will help them to gain confidence with their abilities, experience success and hopefully be more motivated to learn.



A Relaxed Mind Can Be a Healthier Body!

Woody Allen is a famous director, writer and screen actor who in the late 1960’s and early 70’s became famous for the “stressed and neurotic personality type” who’s movie character always sought therapy to try to enhance their quality of life. Thankfully for me, as I am in the field, he made seeing a “shrink” as popular as being seen at Studio 54; “the en vogue” thing to do for people in the know!” What Mr. Allen may or may not have been aware of then is that de-stressing the mind can have a direct effect on your health and wellbeing!

By now it is widely known that stress in the body can cause disease. There were numerous studies that corroborated these facts. So mainstream is this view you can actually watch a documentary currently being aired on Netflix entitled Stress and the Brain. Robert Sapolsky (a neuroendocrinologist at Stanford University, Ca.) monitored stress levels utilizing the hierarchical structure in the African baboon population and found that when mammals are stressed it directly correlates to an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, secretion of stress hormones and that these factors directly related to their overall health. Furthermore, Sir Michael Marmot (University College Medical School, London) expanded on these studies and followed 28,000 people over 40 yrs regarding social structure and stress in the British Civil Services known as the Whitehall studies. He also concluded through such variables as rank and job stress that stress directly effected length of life and undermines health.

Pretty amazing findings considering stress is Subjective; meaning how the mind views events in one’s life is individual. But, stressors are universal as well. People can experience similarities with in their perceptions of reality as well as vast differences. This is why some people will get sick and others do not after being exposed to common variables. The amount of stress perceived or currently being experienced can effect how the immune system works. Hence, the mind- body genre that includes names like Deepak Chopra, coined the phrase: “Dis-Ease causes disease”.

Interestingly, writing this article actually jarred a memory of mine regarding a behavioral experiment that I had witnessed at my Al Mater being conducted on rats by the psyche department over 30 yrs ago. They gave intermittent shocks to rats to see the effects of stress on their system; they grew tumors on their bodies. I remember feeling sorry for them as I watched them shake uncontrollably in their boxes with anticipatory anxiety and now having been conditioned to expect but not know when the next inevitable shock wave would happen. Oddly, it was difficult to find studies to prove that de-stressing the mind utilizing psychotherapy techniques was a direct causal factor regarding the enhancement to a person’s immune system and increased to their overall health. But, there were many studies suggesting great benefits. My guess is too many variables, especially since the view of what causes someone stress is unique to the individual. So, I decided to go directly to the source and spoke to 2 women who are survivors of breast cancer to see how some people under extraordinary circumstances had dealt with their recovery process and if or why someone should seek counseling to enhance their healing.

First I spoke to Peggy Sherry who is the founder and director of the Faces of Courage Foundation (FOC) that “provides day and overnight camps for women and children dealing with any cancer type” and who is a 2x survivor of breast cancer herself. Peggy talked about the low incidence of survivors seeking psychotherapy because they are forced to immediately “go into survivor mode to get through the fear that goes along with being diagnosed then dealing with the treatments and their side effects”. For many this can be a long and grueling process. Afterwards, they understandably “just want to forget, go forward and get back to their lives”. However, everyone deals differently with their lives as we know but the ones who do get support, change their outlook on their life in general, begin to process things differently than before and are willing to do so for their own self growth find they are “healthier” afterwards. For instance, she reports “we see a lot of change in survivors after they have a brush with death, they may take a look at their life, relationships and stressors and then those who made changes view a significant survivor benefit and enhancement to their quality of life as a whole.

The experience at camp is one spoke on the healing wheel, it gives survivors a break from dealing with their disease and provides a community with similar life experiences, an opportunity to share information and have some fun. Peggie’s camp motto is “Cancer is Serious and Camp is Serious Fun!”

Another avenue for healing was experienced by Miriam Zimm. Miriam is a breast cancer “Champion” of a rare type called Triple Negative and who’s mother also had been diagnosed but did not survive. She designed for herself an adjunct healing protocol in addition to her medical protocols; she felt she had to “amp up her care”. This entailed sessions of individual psychotherapy, yoga, swimming, pilates, took herbal supplements, attended the women’s FOC camp, and is writing a book of her experience in hopes to help others. Miriam said that she decided to step up her program and “took charge of what was going to happen with her body”.

Of great benefit was her individual therapy sessions that allowed her to focus on self and help her manage her life and create a feeling of “taking back control of your life during a time when you feel out of control”. She further states that “ you still have to take care of not only the crisis of being diagnosed but still have to manage relationships, your family and professional life. These things still happen regardless and it helps to set time aside for you so can manage your whole life”. After clearing stressors past and present, and dealing with core issues in my life, “therapy then kept me present of what was going on today.” Today Miriam is healthy and is excited about trying to have a baby.

It is clear that taking time for you and doing those things to escape the “rat race” has great benefit to your overall health. Do it for yourself, do it for your immune system! Make that appointment for a massage, enroll in a meditation class, exercise, start a new hobby and seek a trained /licensed therapist to help you achieve a greater sense of peace and balance to your world!