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Karen's Blogs

Blogs are brief, to-the-point, conversational and packed with information, strategies, and tips to turn troubled eaters into “normal” eaters and to help you enjoy a happier, healthier life.Sign up by clicking "Subscribe" below and they’ll arrive in your inbox. 

How Parents Harm Children

Whether it’s done heartlessly or from too much love, certain ways of parenting will likely ruin the parent-child relationship (and the child). It pays to know the no no’s if you’re a parent raising children, one whose progeny have left the nest, or are an adult dealing with your parents. Here are some harmful behaviors that parents engage in from “How to Get Your Kids to Hate You” by Judith Newman (AARP Magazine, Apr/May 2019, pp 58-61), along with some ideas of my own added in. The no no’s: · Don’t maintain appropriate boundaries and demand that your children share every aspect of their lives in detail. Micro-manage all their decisions and make sure to repeatedly give them your opinion when they do something you think is wrong. · Hold your children hostage to the gifts you give them. Whenever you give them one, let them know that they owe you....
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What to Do to Feel Contentment and More

I spend a good deal of therapy time talking with clients about how to self-soothe and talk themselves down from the ledge when they feel heightened anxiety. Ours is not at heart a culture that teaches or helps us do that in spite of all we hear about meditation, yoga, and cognitive-behavioral therapy. We’re not exactly a deep feeling culture. We’re externally rather than internally focused. But Norwegians seem to have found a way to do what we need to take classes to learn. The word they use to describe what they call their national pastime is “koselig.” (“Why are Norwegians so happy? In a word: ‘koselig’” by David Allan, CNN online, 5/1/19, accessed 5/1/19). Allan says, “You could roughly translate koselig (pronounced "koosh-lee"), as ‘coziness,’ but that leaves out crucial components of it, like enjoying the company of others and a connection with nature.” Neither of these pastimes should be...
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What to Do When Life Takes an Unexpected Turn

I can’t believe I’ve lived this long and never heard of the essay, “Welcome to Holland” written by Emily Kingsley in 1987 (Texas Parent to Parent, Austin, TX, accessed 4/30/19.) When you read it, you’ll see why it needs no introduction other to say the author is talking about having a child with a disability. Here it is: “When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like you’re planning a vacation to Italy. You’re all excited. You get a whole bunch of guidebooks, you learn a few phrases so you can get around, and then it comes time to pack your bags and head for the airport. Only when you land, the stewardess says, ‘WELCOME TO HOLLAND.” You look at one another in disbelief and shock, saying, “HOLLAND? WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? I SIGNED UP FOR ITALY.” But they explain that there’s been a change of plan, that you’ve landed...
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Body Acceptance Doesn’t Mean Not Wanting to Change

Whether you have pain that’s short-term, say a severe headache or a broken bone, or chronic and long-term, as can happen with fibromyalgia or neuropathy, you may be using food as a crutch to get you through the day. Being in pain can steer you toward the refrigerator in several ways, but you can learn not to let it do so—and improve your health at the same time. You may turn to unhealthy food: · For comfort from pain because you hurt badly and wish to feel better. Who could blame you for that? However, food is not meant for comfort, except occasionally. Especially if you’re suffering is ongoing, you may be telling yourself it’s okay to eat lots of sweets and treats because you feel so miserable. Or because life’s not fair. But, it’s not okay to mistreat your body when it’s already feeling awful. It’s far better to find...
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What Science Says about Anxiety

Unfortunately, many dysregulated eaters suffer from anxiety. When it muddles your thinking, your life (and those of people around you) is made harder. It can suck the pleasure out of everyday existence when it causes rumination, discomfort with uncertainty, social isolation, fears, and phobias. Patterns of anxiety begin in childhood and understanding the kind you have will help you recognize and manage it better. According to Sujata Gupta in “Young and Anxious: Seeking ways to break the link between preschool worries and adult anxiety” (Science News, 4/27/19, pp. 18-23), preschoolers may have one or more of these anxiety types: · Separation: beyond the second year of life, fear of being separated from caregivers · Social: fears of being negatively judged in social situations · Generalized: unwarranted excessive anxiety about the future · Phobias: excessive fears of specific things such as snakes, water, germs, etc. Then there’s how anxiety works in some...
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Book Review: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone will teach you about yourself. Sure, it details author Lori Gottlieb’s journey with her therapy patients and her attempts to sort out her own mental health conundrums. But, as the subtitle implies, it’s also about “Our Lives Revealed,” because under all our class, ethnic, religious, educational, political, gender, and vocational differences, we’re all just struggling to paradoxically both know ourselves and hide from this knowledge at the same time. Although this book is presented as a series of stories involving the author, it’s really a teaching tale about how we create, assign meaning to and, if we’re lucky, change our own stories. Telling hers and those of her beloved patients, Gottlieb bares her soul often enough to make us cry, while also making us laugh as she offers herself up as a prime example of someone maneuvering the mind-bending ups and downs and in and...
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The Wrong Things You Learn from Parents

We cannot afford to underestimate the effect our parents have on us when we’re growing up. Why? Because our undeveloped brains look to them to teach us how to understand the world and make it right. As adults, they seem to know everything and do whatever needs getting done. As children, we know we’re dependent on their knowledge and their actions. I was reminded of this dynamic reading an article about a teacher asking his students to take some actions in class which were morally wrong. When asked about the incident, one student replied that she thought what she did was okay because what was asked “came from an adult.” This child’s thinking tied in perfectly with the message that offending parents gave their children in this year’s college admissions scandal: it’s okay to cheat to get what you want. And also relates to a story a friend from a wealthy...
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Book Review: Loving Someone with an Eating Disorder

As an eating disorders’ therapist, I can say unequivocally that partners of dysregulated eaters need to know what to do to help their loved ones struggling with food. Although they don’t think of it as “their” problem, it deeply affects them deeply. Whether they realize it or not, what they do or don’t do has a strong impact on their partner’s eating. From working with partners of dysregulated eaters, I know they often feel either overly responsible or powerless to fix their beloved’s dysfunctional eating. Loving Someone with an Eating Disorder: Understanding, Supporting and Connecting with Your Partner by Dana Harron, PsyD provides concrete, psychology-based strategies to help partners become more helpful and feel more confident in promoting healthy and effective dynamics to help their loved one resolve his or her dysregulated eating problems. Topics include feeling alone in loving someone who has an eating disorder, learning about different kinds of...
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What Crisis Can Mean in Your Life

Many people come to therapy because they’re “in crisis.” Usually, they see the crisis as something terrible, perhaps the worst thing that ever happened to them. I get it, but my job is to try to help them see this “crisis” as something more, maybe even positive. It’s not a new idea to view “bad” things that happen to us as possibly being good in the long run. Philosophers, spiritual leaders and experts in human behavior have written about this subject for ages. Yet, when something unpleasant or unsettling happens to us, we generally go right to thinking about how awful it is and how terrible it will be for our lives. To be clear, I’m not talking about fatal health or medical problems, the loss of a loved one, fire or flood demolishing your home, or severe traumas like being raped. Here are some examples of what I mean. Your...
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What Do You Want Most in Life?

I spend my days listening to what clients want. Sadly, I rarely hear them sharing wanting to be mentally healthy above all else. That is what I want for myself and for all of you. Setting a goal to achieve as much mental health as you can means that you may need to sacrifice other, lesser goals. This doesn’t mean they’re not worthwhile pursuits. It means that their exclusive pursuit may be what’s holding you back from growing mentally healthier. In and of themselves, there’s nothing wrong with desiring them. But they’re not the whole shebang is what we want to strive for. Here are some goals that dysregulated eaters and clients say they want: To be heard and seen . To be sure, this is an admirable, very human goal. Who wishes to go through life feeling that you don’t matter and aren’t worth a whit? However, it’s important to...
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Time to Get Rid of Old Regrets

We all have regrets. Some are petty and insignificant, while some are larger and have had a major impact on our lives. Do you know the one thing they all have in common? They are actions completed and, as such, it serves no purpose to dwell on them. Thinking about things you did in the past not only serves no purpose, but it ruins the present. I’ve blogged on regrets before, but this time my focus is on a specific kind of regret: those from years or decades ago. It makes sense that we might still be thinking about a mistake we made yesterday—missing an appointment or having a tiff with your son who happened to be in the right. It makes no sense to still be thinking about whatever we did or didn’t do in the distant past, whether or not it affects our lives today. Here are some examples:...
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Stop Confusing Anger with Strength

Feeling emotionally injured and powerless is one of the worst experiences in the world. And it’s a real driver of emotional eating. The problem is that usually when we feel these particular emotions, we don’t realize exactly what’s going on inside us. Instead, we automatically react with anger which often gets us nowhere beyond enjoying a moment of fleeting satisfaction—and then straight to the cookie jar to reregulate our emotions. While reading an article about the leader of one country threatening to physically hurt the leader of another one, the article’s author made an astute observation: that it’s a mistake to confuse anger with strength. Anger makes us feel physically mighty and that’s where the confusion comes in. When we’re shamed, rejected or invalidated, anger also causes us to feel emotionally powerful, rescuing us from feeling hurt, weak and small. When anger takes over, we feel better, bigger and stronger. Many...
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Learn How to Stop Procrastinating

I read two articles on procrastination, along with overwhelm, which I wrote about in my previous blog, a word I dislike and avoid using. Both said more or less the same thing, which I’ve been saying for years. The word procrastination has gotten a bad rap and is not a permanent state of being, though it might be a habituated behavior you’ve come to rely on. If you’re ready to beat it, read on. “Why your brain loves procrastination” by Susannah Locke (Why Your Brain Loves Procrastination – Vox, https://getpocket.com/explore/item/why-your-brain-loves-procrastination , accessed 3/26/19) tells us that procrastination is nothing more than a coping mechanism to avoid doing something unpleasant and, instead, doing something we enjoy. Hardly a crime or a sin. However, that’s how we treat ourselves when we put off tasks. Instead, hoping to increase motivation, we’re hard on ourselves and the opposite happens: we feel worse. The key, says...
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Getting Over Overwhelm

I confess that I’d never heard the word “overwhelm” used as a noun until a few years ago. The verb “to overwhelm,” sure, and the adjective “overwhelming,” of course. After a cursory look online as I write this blog, it still didn’t come up. I first blogged about the “O” word in January 2011 (see archives) and I hear it more now than I did back then. Admittedly, I’m not a big fan of either the verb or the adjective. Both have way too many meanings for me and they’re all over the place. They include: bury, drown, completely defeat, trounce, vanquish, overpower, inundate, engulf, submerge, and feel intense or strong emotion. The closest definition in my mind is feeling like you have too many things to deal with, but if that’s the case, why not just say that?   Clients often tell me they’re overwhelmed or that life is overwhelming...
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Becoming Who You Want to Be

There’s a process that goes on in recovery that’s more subtle than overt and which is full of greater complexity than most dysregulated eaters can imagine. I know, as I was one of them. One barrier to this reality is a major trait of troubled eaters: all or nothing thinking. More often than not, clients come to me with the stated or unstated wish or belief that if they just try hard enough, they’ll become “normal” eaters. Nothing could be further from the truth. Another aspect of misperception is that it’s very hard to imagine being any different than we are. We can fantasize about it, but we can’t deep down have the experience of what we’re not yet. Which leads me to point out the gradual transformation that happens in healing and recovery. Initially, people try out different skills and inevitably have difficulty with them. They forget to practice them;...
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More on Self-objectification

“Self-objectification occurs when women view their bodies as objects, existing for the pleasure of others” and “… is associated with an increased risk of poor body image.” ( Dryden, C., & Anderson, J., 2019. “The dark triad, trait-based self-objectification, and body image concerns in young women.” Personality and Individual Differences, 145, 1-8. DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2019.03.015, accessed 3/23/19) Another definition is that “Self - objectification occurs when individuals treat themselves as objects to be viewed and evaluated based upon appearance. ( Chiara Rollero and Norma De Piccoli , “ Self-Objectification and Personal Values: An Exploratory Study” ( Frontiers in Psychol ogy, 2017; 8: 1055, doi:  10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01055 , accessed 3/23/19) Though self-objectification is primarily a problem for women based on society dictating that female beauty means having a certain shape and size, it’s also a problem for some men. It occurs not only due to approval-seeking and people-pleasing but to fear that others will...
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Be Brave

I sometimes wonder if I talk enough about bravery when it’s one of the most significant qualities a person can have. I know that with clients, we discuss their anxiety and worry, fears and frustrations. But the other side of the coin is just as important: to recognize the acts of bravery that we engage in and even those we consider engaging in which someday may come to fruition. Why bravery? Because so many dysregulated eaters don’t realize they need to be brave to overcome their eating disorders. Here are 20 large and small acts of bravery relating to food and your body to aspire to or pat yourself on the back for if you’ve already engaged in them: Stop dieting. Leave an abusive relationship. Quit weighing yourself. Seek therapy. Throw out food when you’ve eaten enough. End relationships in which you’re mistreated on a regular basis. Eat high-calorie/high-fat food in...
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Why Is Self-compassion So Hard for Dysregulated Eaters?

In my early years working with dysregulated eaters, I was surprised to discover what a  difficult time they have with self-compassion. It seems like an odd trait for people to struggle with—being nice, kind, and forgiving of themselves. Over the decades, however, I’ve learned a great deal about what kind of thinking prevents people from extending compassion to themselves. If this is an issue for you, read on. Part of the problem is a total misunderstanding of what the term means. So, one more time, according to Kristen Neff in her book Self-compassion , compassion means meeting suffering with kindness. That definition implies that self-compassion means meeting one’s own suffering with kindness. If I ask clients to offer compassion to others, they usually comprehend the concept because dysregulated eaters are generally very nice to others. If friends make a mistake, they reach out to assuage their guilt or shame. If a...
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What is Self Differentiation and Why Is It So Important?

Self-differentiation is a word you probably don’t hear in everyday usage. But it’s a crucial process to living (and eating) well. It’s happening when you hear people speaking their minds with thoughtful conviction even though others might disapprove. It’s lacking when someone spends her life rebelling against the views and values of her parents and clinging to their opposite. It’s missing when someone stifles his feelings and thoughts in fear of hurting others or being rejected or shamed by them. Get the picture? Murray Bowen, MD developed the self-differentiation theory which applies to human development and family dynamics. His theory has two major parts. 1) “Differentiation of self is the ability to separate feelings and thoughts. Undifferentiated people cannot separate feelings and thoughts; when asked to think, they are flooded with feelings, and have difficulty thinking logically and basing their responses on that. 2) Further, they have difficulty separating their own...
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Doctors, Health and Higher Weight People

I’m disturbed whenever I meet with a client who’s had difficulty with the medical community due to being higher weight. That’s because there’s such rampant fat bias and weight stigma among these professionals. To remedy that situation, Paige O’Mahoney, MD, and I wrote Helping Patients Outsmart Overeating: Psychological Strategies for Doctors and Health Care Providers a review of which can be found at https://www.karenrkoenig.com/blog/my-new-book-is-out-helping-patients-outsmart-overeating . Study after research study provides evidence of doctors, nurses and health providers offering inadequate treatment to higher-weight patients. Some admit to their bias about people they consider to be “fat” or “obese” and some fail to recognize their prejudice while it continues to inform their practice and harm their patients mentally and physically. Common problems include blaming the patient for being high weight and for their health problems; expressing patronizing, condescending, and contemptuous attitudes toward them; and misdiagnosing medical conditions based on the assumption that if...
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This website is owned and operated by Karen R. Koenig, M.Ed., LCSW. It contains material intended for informational and educational purposes only, and reasonable effort is made to keep its contents updated. Any material contained herein is not to be construed as the practice of clinical social work or of psychotherapy, although adherence to applicable Florida States, Rules, and Code of Ethics is observed. Material on this website is not intended as a substitute for medical or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment for mental health issues or eating disorder problems, which should be done only through individualized therapeutic consultation. Karen R. Koenig, LCSW disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the use of any information contained on this website. This website contains links to other sites. The inclusion of such links does not necessarily constitute endorsement by Karen R. Koenig, LCSW who disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the use of any information contained in this website. Further, Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, does not and cannot guarantee the accuracy or current usefulness of the material contained in the linked sites. Users of any website must be aware of the limitation to confidentiality and privacy, and website usage does not carry any guarantee or privacy of any information contained therein.  Privacy Policy