Category Archives: Psychology

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy techniques are a vital part of successful nutritional counseling. There are numerous techniques divided into three main categories: behavioral techniques, cognitive restructuring techniques, and psychoeducational techniques. Imagery and role-playing are forms of behavioral techniques. Both of these techniques are used to help clients imagine the possible outcomes of a difficult situation and their reactions to it while in the safe environment of the counselors office. Decatastrophizing is a cognitive restructuring technique counselors employ to reduce the anxiety a client experiences when confronted by their fears. Psychoeducational techniques include distraction, delay, and parroting which give the client the knowledge and skills to control their behavior.
A nutrition counselor may utilize imagery during a counseling session to help a client determine and understand their problematic eating habits at social gatherings. The counselor asks the client to close their eyes, relax, and picture themselves at a party. The counselor and client build the scene together and the client is allowed to explore their thoughts and feelings regarding this hypothetical situation. Role-playing takes imagery a step further by having the client act out the potential scenario with the counselor to explore their reactions and prepare for real-life performance based practice and situations.
Decatastrophizing can be used to help clients recognize their irrational thoughts and change the way they think about a specific situation. The counselor addresses the client’s misguided thought processes and gently questions the client in regards to these thoughts and emotions, helping the client become aware of their problem and make the necessary changes in behavior.
The psychoeducational techniques, distraction, delay, and parroting, work together to empower the client to be in control of their emotions and behaviors. These techniques are taught to clients in the counselor’s office and then used at home, making the client take control of their changes. Physical activities like going for a walk or bike ride as well as cognitive activities like reading or doing a crossword puzzle are all methods of distraction. These distraction techniques also help clients delay their response to a stimulus, allowing them to reassess their feelings before reacting. Parroting is often used in conjunction with distraction and delay techniques to help the client maintain control of their thoughts and behaviors. The nutrition counselor helps the client create statements that they can repeat to themselves when feeling overwhelmed by impulses and stimuli.

King, K., & Klawitter, B. (2007). Nutrition therapy: Advanced counseling skills. (3rd ed.). Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins

Psychodynamic Theory

The psychodynamic approach to psychology is rooted in the work of Sigmund Freud and emphasizes the importance of one’s past experiences on the present self-concept and idea of the future self.  Sigmund Freud’s psychodynamic theory was based largely on sexual dysfunction and the effects of suppressed childhood trauma on adult sexuality.  Although much of Freud’s work has been disputed and rejected by modern psychology, many of Freud’s students went on to expand his work and developed the basis for modern psychoanalysis.

Erik Erikson studied with both Sigmund and Anna Freud and used their work in subconscious analysis and observations of children to develop the most comprehensive theory of human development.  Erikson’s psychodynamic theory of development covers the entire human lifespan and divides development into eight distinct stages, each with its own unique crisis.  Whereas Freud’s work focused on unconscious, possibly suppressed, memories and their effect on the adult personality, Erikson’s theory emphasizes the importance of the unique conflict of each developmental stage and how success and failure to overcome these conflicts affects future development.


Erickson’s 8 Stages of Human Development:


Infancy Birth-1 year Trust vs. Mistrust An infant whose needs are consistently met will develop a sense of trust in the world
Toddler 1-3 Autonomy vs Shame and Doubt Toddlers learn they are independent beings and can make their own decisions
Preschool 3-6 Initiative vs Guilt Preschoolers learn to try new things, handle accomplishments and accept failures
Childhood 6-13 Industry vs Inferiority Children develop self-confidence through learning and encouragement
Adolescence 13-21 Identity vs Role Confusion Teenagers develop a sense of self and become comfortable with who they are
Young Adult 21-39 Intimacy vs Isolation Young adults seek commitment in relationships with others
Middle Adult 40-65 Generativity vs Stagnation Adults try to contribute to society by helping younger generations
Late Life 65+ Integrity vs Despair A healthy older adult views their life with a sense of satisfaction and worth



Kail, R. V. & Cavanaugh, J. C. (2010). Human development: a life-span view (5th ed.). Mason, Oh: Wadsworth Cengage Learning

Stangor, C. (2010). Introduction to psychology. Irvington, NY: Flat World. Knowledge, Inc.

Operant Conditioning

Behaviorist learning theory focuses on human behavior without consideration of any internal mental processes.  Behaviorists like John Watson and B.F. Skinner expanded the work of Ivan Pavlov and classical conditioning to apply conditioning to active learning principles.  Operant conditioning is defined as learning through the consequences of one’s own actions and behaviors and uses the principles of positive and negative reinforcement and punishment to influence learning and future behaviors (Stangor, 2010).  Operant conditioning is used by teachers, employers, and parents on a daily basis in modifying the behavior of students, employees, and children.  DolphinOperant conditioning is also the main method used in training animals, from pet dogs and cats to dolphins, sea lions, and orcas at aquariums and theme parks.

The foundation of operant conditioning is the system of reward and punishment used to teach new behaviors or correct maladaptive behavior.  Rewards, or reinforcements, are used to encourage and strengthen desired behavior; whereas punishment is used to discourage and weaken undesired behavior (Burgemeester, 2011, Stangor, 2010).  A positive reward or punishment adds a stimulus; while a negative reward or punishment removes a stimulus (Stangor, 2010).  The timing and frequency of the given reinforcement or punishment plays a large role in the rate at which a behavior is absorbed and extinguished (Stangor, 2010).

Positive punishment weakens undesired behavior by attaching an unpleasant stimulus to the behavior.  The goal of positive punishment is to extinguish poor behavior by associating the behavior with the unpleasant stimulus, lessening the likelihood of the behavior being repeated (Stangor, 2010).  Detention is given to students who act up in class and tickets are given to careless drivers to deter them from repeating this behavior in the future (Stangor, 2010).  Snapping a rubber band on one’s wrist in response to an undesired thought or behavior is another form of positive punishment.  Negative punishment is also used to weaken undesirable behavior; however, negative punishment involves the removal of a pleasant stimulus after the undesired behavior has emerged (Stangor, 2010).  Suspending a drunk driver’s license, taking a child’s video game away, or a spouse withholding affection after an argument are all forms of negative punishment.

Reinforcement is used to strengthen and teach desirable behavior and extinguish undesired behaviors.  A positive reinforcement attaches a pleasant stimulus to the desired response to encourage the development of the selected behavior (Stangor, 2010).  Awarding a child with money for earning good grades, giving an employee a raise for superior job performance, and giving a discount on one’s car insurance for being a good driver are all methods of providing positive reinforcement.  Negative reinforcement encourages behavior by removing or avoiding an unpleasant stimulus (Stangor, 2010).  Taking medication to reduce pain or treat an illness, using anti-aging creams and makeup to prevent wrinkles, or a husband putting his dirty clothes in the hamper to avoid his wife’s nagging all seek to avoid an unpleasant situation: pain, illness, wrinkles, or an angry spouse.  If the preventative behavior eliminates the unpleasant outcome, the behavior is more likely to be repeated in the future.

Ethical concerns must be taken into account when using any form of conditioning with humans and animals.  Punishment should never do physical or mental harm and reinforcement should be healthy and non-addictive.  Spanking a child as a form of positive punishment is ethically questionable due to the mental, as well as physical, harm that can occur in response. Likewise, medication taken to relieve pain as a form of negative reinforcement should be used selectively to prevent addiction.  When teaching or correcting behavior great care must be taken to ensure positive results and avoid negative consequences.


Burgemeester, A.  (2011).  Operant Conditioning Examples in Everyday Life.  Retrieved from

Stangor, C. (2010). Introduction to psychology. Irvington, NY: Flat World. Knowledge, Inc.

Vitamin C and Bipolar Disorder

Oxidative stress to the cells of the human body has the potential for numerous, potentially deadly, consequences including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, renal disease, irritable bowel disease, and bipolar disorder (NIST, 2013). Antioxidants, such as copper, zinc, selenium, amino acids and vitamins A, C, and E, act to negate the harmful effects of free radical damage caused by oxidative stress. Recent research into the pathophysiology of bipolar disorder has discovered a connection between oxidative damage to the central nervous system and the severity of symptoms experienced in those diagnosed with bipolar disorder (Steckert et al, 2010). This new research suggests antioxidants could play a role in delaying the onset of bipolar disorder and reducing the frequency and severity of symptoms.
Oxidation is the process by which atoms lose electrons during metabolism and energy production (Thompson & Manore, 2009). This loss of electrons can cause the atoms to become unstable and form free radicals, which can damage tissues, cells, and DNA. Free radicals are volatile atoms with an uneven number of electrons orbiting the nucleus. In order to stabilize themselves, these atoms filch electrons from other atoms, creating more free radicals and starting a chain reaction of free radical formation (Thompson & Manore, 2009). The damage to other cells of the body through the formation of free radicals is known as oxidative damage or oxidative stress (Medeiros, 2012). The location of the free radical formation determines the effects oxidative stress can have on the body; bipolar disorder is believed to be caused by oxidative damage to the brain, particularly the areas involved in attention, emotion, and cognitive functions, as well as damage to the spinal cord and central nervous system (Wang et al, 2009).
Antioxidants work to reduce oxidative damage by donating electrons to free radicals and ending the chain reaction of free radical formation (Thompson & Manore, 2009). Antioxidant compounds include amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. Antioxidant action is just one of hundreds of possible functions of amino acids such as lutein and lycopene. Beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E all function as both vitamins and antioxidants within the body and selenium, copper, iron, and zinc all function as both minerals and antioxidants.

English: Sagittal MRI slice with highlighting ...

Bipolar disorder is a chronic and debilitating mental illness characterized by severe mood swings and alternating episodes of mania and depression (NIMH, 2013, Russo, 2010). Scientists are still researching the causes of bipolar disorder, but abnormal neural activity in the brain and spinal cord is believed to be responsible for the changes in cognition and behavior (Wang et al, 2009, NIMH, 2013). Recent research utilizing brain-imaging and post-mortem brain tissue samples suggests oxidative damage to cells of the brain and spinal cord plays a strong role in the development and progression of bipolar disorder (Wang et al, 2009). Brain-imaging is used to study the brain’s structure and neural activity in patients with bipolar disorder. These studies have indicated changes in size, shape, and function of several areas of the brain including the anterior cingulate cortex and the prefrontal cortex (NIMH, 2013). Wang et al (2009), went on to test post-mortem tissue samples from the anterior cingulate cortex to determine the level of oxidative stress experienced in this region in patients with bipolar disorder. The results of this study showed a significant increase in oxidative damage in this region of the brain in patients with bipolar disorder, as well as patients with schizophrenia (Wang et al, 2009). Oxidative damage is believed to cause damage to cell membranes and DNA in the brain and neurotropic pathways, disrupting energy metabolism and neural signal transduction (Steckert et al, 2010, Wang et al, 2009).

The structure of the antioxidant vitamin ascor...

Vitamin C serves numerous functions in the body, including antioxidant activity. Vitamin C scavenges for free radicals and donates electrons to stabilize these molecules and prevent further damage to tissues and cellular organelles (Thompson & Manore, 2009). Vitamin C works within the extracellular fluid to stabilize cellular membranes and regenerates vitamin E, another antioxidant, in the process. Vitamin C also works to synthesize DNA and neurotransmitters that may have been damaged by oxidation, further helping the bipolar patient (Thompson & Manore, 2009).
The RDA for vitamin C is 75mg for adult women and 90mg for adult men. Deficiency is uncommon in developed nations, but only a month-long deficiency of vitamin C can result in scurvy. Scurvy causes bleeding, swelling, and bone and joint pain. Untreated cases of scurvy lead to death due to infection and hemorrhaging (Medeiros, 2012). Because water-soluble vitamins are not stored in the body, toxicity from vitamin C is rare and is not considered fatal. However, megadoses of vitamin C can actually function as prooxidants, promoting oxidative damage rather than stabilizing the free radicals (Thompson & Manore, 2009). Therefore, it is important to consider all sources of vitamin C in the diet before deciding if supplementation is appropriate for an individual, with or without bipolar disorder.
Researchers agree that there is no one cause of bipolar disorder, but the new research into the role of oxidative damage offers patients new treatment options and the potential for an improved quality of life (NIMH, 2013).


Medeiros, D.M. & Wildman, R.E.C.. (2012). Advanced Human Nutrition. Jones & Bartlett Publishers. ISBN: 9780763780395.
National Institute of Mental Health. (2013). What is Bipolar Disorder?. Retrieved from
National Institute of Standards and Technology. (2013). Online Resources for Disorders Caused by Oxidative Stress. Retrieved from
Russo, A. J. (2010). Decreased Serum Hepatocyte Growth Factor (HGF) in Individuals with Bipolar Disorder Normalizes after Zinc and Anti-oxidant Therapy. Nutrition & Metabolic Insights, (3), 49-55. doi:10.4137/NMI.S5528
Steckert, A., Valvassori, S., Moretti, M., Dal-Pizzol, F., & Quevedo, J. (2010). Role of oxidative stress in the pathophysiology of bipolar disorder. Neurochemical Research, 35(9), 1295-1301. doi:10.1007/s11064-010-0195-2
Thompson, J. and Manore, M. (2009). Nutrition: An Applied Approach 2nd Edition. NY, New York: Pearson Education Inc.
Wang, JF., Shao, Li., Sun, X., and Young, L.T.. (2009). Increased oxidative stress in the anterior cingulate cortex of subjects with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Bipolar Disorders, 11(5), 523-529. doi:10.1111/j.1399-5618.2009.00717.x

What’s eating you?

Eating disorders are overwhelmingly misunderstood by the general population, and even many medical professionals.  The American Psychiatric Association has established criteria for three separate eating disorders as of the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) (DSM-IV-TR, 2000).  Each disease is characterized by specific behaviors, but they all include an intense desire for thinness and a fear of becoming fat (Hinton & Chapman, 2009).  The media is often blamed for the recent rise in patients diagnosed with eating disorders; however, media influence only plays a very small role in the development of most eating disorders (MacDonald, 2001).  There are numerous factors behind complicated mental illnesses like eating disorders, and underweight, emaciated females certainly are not the only victims.

Many people are quick to dismiss these deadly diseases as sheer vanity, and blame superficial sources like celebrities and advertising campaigns for behaviors and thoughts that are actually rooted in very deep issues of self-concept and identity (Hinton & Chapman, 2009).  Although the media may play a role in some patients’ eating disorders and advertisers have capitalized on society’s obsession with body image, they cannot be blamed as the cause of eating disorders (MacDonald, 2001).  Melanie Katzman, a consultant psychologist from New York, argued that the media was to blame for eating disorders and stated, “You don’t get eating disorders without dissatisfaction” (as cited in MacDonald, 2001, p. 1002).  Although she was not entirely incorrect in that statement, dissatisfaction can come from several external factors, as well as from within, without any influence from the media.  Family environment, social circle and peers, and negative life events are just a few of the external factors that can influence eating behaviors.  Genetic factors, personality traits, and unsuccessful resolution of developmental milestones are often triggers for disordered eating, and comorbid psychiatric conditions significantly quantify the severity, development, and course of eating disorders (Hinton & Chapman, 2009).

It has been theorized that personality traits such as perfectionism, compliance, and self-sacrifice and an inability to achieve autonomy may predispose an individual to developing an eating disorder (Wechselblatt, Gurnick, & Simon, 2000).  Feelings of powerlessness and lack of control in one’s life are also correlated to disordered eating (Hinton & Chapman, 2009); patients often measure their feelings of self-worth and esteem by their ability to control their eating behaviors, not by the actual amount of weight lost, although weight loss may be used as a measure of this ability.  Control over one’s thoughts and behaviors related to food become central to the patient’s self-concept and loss of this control results in feelings of shame, disgust, and guilt (Hinton & Chapman, 2009).

Although the APA only recognizes eating disorders that lead to or endeavor for abnormally low body weight, many overweight and obese individuals also suffer from disordered eating.  Binge eating and chronic overeating leading to above average BMI are both disordered eating behaviors that are currently being researched for possible inclusion as eating disorders in future revisions of the DSM (DSM-IV-TR, 2000, Hinton & Chapman, 2009).  The current criteria for eating disorders elude to a stark contrast between obesity and eating disorders, however the concomitant rise at both ends of the BMI scale suggest that these diseases may not be as different as is currently believed.

Statistics show that 90% of patients with Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified are female, however the incidence of eating disorders in young males has been increasing over the past few decades.  This statistical increase may be partially due to more males now seeking treatment than in previous generations; however, males are just as susceptible to societal demands as females and may develop disordered eating or exercise behaviors in response to society’s current focus on the benefits of nutrition and fitness.  Males are also at risk for the same feelings of powerlessness and lack of control as females and may use disordered behaviors to compensate for feelings of inadequacy in the same manner as females.

Eating disorders are highly complex illnesses that are vastly misunderstood by the majority of society.  The numerous and various contributing factors, and resulting thoughts and behaviors, complicate not only the treatment and recovery of individuals afflicted, but also the education of the general public, and medical community alike, about these life-threatening illnesses.  As further research is conducted on the incidence and causes of currently recognized eating disorders, new information is likely to clarify some of what is already known about these disorders while simultaneously raising many new questions such as, should there be a classification within the eating disorders for overweight and obese individuals?


American Psychiatric Association.  (2000).  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR).  Retrieved from

Hinton, P.S., & Chapman-Novakofski, K.. (2009).  Special topics in preadolescence and adolescent nutrition: dietary guidelines for athletes, pediatric diabetes, and disordered eating. In S. Edelstein & J. Sharlin (Eds.), Life cycle nutrition: An evidence-based approach (83-102). Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

MacDonald, R.. (2001).  To Diet For.  British Medical Journal, 322(21 April), 1002.

Wechselblatt, T., Gurnick, G., & Simon, R. (2000). Autonomy and relatedness in the development of anorexia nervosa: a clinical case series using grounded theory. Bulletin Of The Menninger Clinic, 64(1), 91-123.