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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. 

[No unsolicited guest blogs accepted, thank you]

Book Review – Savor Every Bite

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Savor Ever Bite: Mindful Ways to Eat, Love Your Body and Live with Joy by Lynn Rossy, PhD takes you by the hand and teaches you how to eat mindfully. More than that, it shows you how to be more mindful in all of life because you can’t simply choose one area to be mindful in and expect an improved relationship with food. Regarding eating, Rossy lays out five steps for becoming more mindful: Step 1: Slow down and explore your senses Step 2: Soothe (instead of eat) your emotions Step 3: Surrender limiting thoughts Step 4: Smile and create your own happiness Step 5: Savor every moment Think about these steps and how much sense they make. I’ve never met anyone who overeats or eats mindlessly who doesn’t tell me that they eat too quickly and get so absorbed in doing so that the whole world drops away. Rossy tells...
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Why We Dwell on Suffering

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During a session, a client mentioned a habit she was trying to break: conjuring up the worst possible scenarios she could imagine, in this case with romantic partners, and making herself totally miserable thinking about what dreadful things might happen. Although she recognized that she was spiraling down the rabbit hole, she said she felt as if she couldn’t stop herself from doing so and wondered why. Her words: “I’d sit on the floor and cry and feel sorry for myself 20 years ago, like in a dramatic movie, wishing someone could see me like that and feel sorry for how my boyfriends mistreated me. Now I feel like I get tough/angry/icy when I think about how my exes acted and realize that I allowed myself to be treated like that. I couldn't fathom how anyone could be so mean to me. But I’m learning that those people act the way...
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Practice Radical Acceptance

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Clients often balk at the idea of accepting their bodies or behaviors because they think that acceptance means being okay with things as they are. I’ve blogged about how we can embrace both acceptance and accountability. A movement called Radical Acceptance takes the concept a step further and is worth learning about. “Radical acceptance means recognizing your emotional or physical distress . . . and wholeheartedly practicing acceptance.” (“5 ways to become more accepting,” Sarasota Herald Tribune, 5/18/21, 6E) Why throw yourself all in? Because radical acceptance actually makes you feel better. It helps you recognize that humans are complicated, fragile creatures who have complex feelings and thoughts. When you’re 100% with and for yourself, you’re being your most human no matter what’s going on with you. When you radically accept your thoughts and feelings, you don’t deny or minimize them. They may make you uncomfortable and you may not like...
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Your Inner Voice

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As a child, when my parents wanted me to speak quietly, they’d tell me to talk with my “inside voice,” the kind you’d use in a library or a movie theatre. But there’s a voice that’s even more hushed and personal than that one and it’s called your “inner” voice. According to The Inner Voice by Philip Jaekl, “That voice isn’t the sound of anything.” He explains that this voice replaces that of our parents and other adults as we gradually engage in a dialogue with it, that is, a conversation with authentic selves. According to research, between the ages of two and eight we begin what’s called “private speech.” In fact, “Studies showed that during imaginative play, children’s self-talk helps them guide their own thoughts and behaviour and exert true self-control.” The research of Russell Hurlburt, professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, concludes that ” inner speech consumes...
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The Secret to Building a Better Life

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Many people say, “I’ll eat better to live longer,” “I’ll exercise to lose weight,” or “I’ll meditate to feel less angry.” Although it’s true that healthier eating may contribute to longevity, that exercise may help shed pounds, and meditation may reduce reactivity, those goals miss a more essential point about such practices: that while you’re doing them, you feel better and that by doing enough practices in a day that increase feelings of well-being you make yourselves happier, more hopeful and more proud. Many dysregulated eaters—many people, period—don’t string together enough behaviors in a day or a week to combat stress or keep their mood relatively elevated. Instead they think about and plan down-the-road activities which will boost their spirits: outings and vacations, purchases and external self-care activities such as massages and facials. They contemplate what they’ll drink and eat and where they’ll go to do it. There’s nothing wrong with...
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Teach Your Kids to Eat Better Than You Do

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Over the years, I’ve watched clients with troubled childhoods intentionally parent their children the opposite of how they were raised, eating and otherwise. Sadly, this strategy doesn’t fare any better than mindlessly following the parental modeling they received. Of course, there’s an obvious difference between blindly doing what your parents did to you and considering their approach and finding it lacking. The problem is that too many parents don’t make decisions rationally and, instead, do so in reaction to how they felt being raised a certain way. While retreating from a parental style may avoid one set of problems, going to the opposite extreme creates another. Here's an example. One of my clients was forced to diet and eat the food her mother was into on her various fad diets. Her mother was very strict and, not surprisingly, my client developed an eating problem, including sneak eating and overeating due to...
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It’s Okay to Be a Quitter

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Speaking with me about the wonderful changes she’s making in her life, a client mentioned that she took a job and realized after the first day that it was a poor match for her. She reasoned that she had a right to feel good about her work and immediately gave notice and apologized to her boss. After relating this story, she added, “I felt bad because I didn’t want them to think I was a quitter.” Her statement stuck in my craw. This isn’t the first time a client has taken care of themselves and felt a need to assure me (and likely themselves) they weren’t a quitter. As if being a quitter is a bad thing. Once again, this is confusing a situational trait, in this case, the ability to know when to give up on something or someone, with one’s entire personality or identity.  When people have an “I’m...
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Missteps Not Mistakes

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I recently heard someone use the word “misstep” which sounded far better to my ears than what we usually call mistakes. Or than saying: I went off the rails, messed up, fell short or bombed. All these words sound dramatic and dreadful, as if the rest of our lives have been ruined. Or, worse, as if the world will never be the same. A misstep, on the other hand, sounds so minor, so insignificant, so oops. According to the Oxford Languages dictionary, it’s a step that is “clumsy or badly judged.” It implies you meant to do better, were slightly off balance, or made an error in perception. The great thing about misstep is that it doesn’t make you sound like the most ignorant, awful, defective person in the world. You were simply a bit off the mark or misguided.  There are many instances where you could use the term misstep...
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Authentic versus Hubristic Pride

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A common discussion I get into with clients is about the nature of pride. That’s because many of them think of it as boasting and some never think about it at all. Actually, it’s a pretty versatile and topnotch emotion. Feeling proud helps decision-making and it’s a great motivator when you’re challenged by pleasure that’s not in your best interest. Clients have often argued that the pride they learned about growing up was not something to be sought after because it had a negative connotation. It involved boasting and sense of superiority over others. The pride I’m talking about is when we feel good about our achievements or the achievements of others. We’re happy with them or with ourselves and give credit where credit is due. It turns out my clients and I were both right according to Christian Jarrett, PhD, author of Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of...
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You Can Hate to Cook and Still Eat Healthfully

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I make no bones about my disinterest in cooking and not being a foodie, often commiserating with clients who don’t enjoy meal preparation. Where we differ is that I value eating nutritiously. If you don’t like cooking—and therefore don’t do it—it’s important to recognize why and make sure that, in spite of your dislike, you eat in a way that serves your body. When I can get clients past saying, “Well, I just don’t like it” or “I hate it,” their reasons for not wishing to put forth effort in the kitchen usually fall into the following categories:  I don’t know what to eat. This generally means they’ve been dieting for so long that they have no idea what foods to choose or which they enjoy, that is, they’ve been brainwashed about foods being “good” or “bad” and truly don’t know what they like.I don’t have time to cook. I might (but...
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Are You Desensitized to Abuse?

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When awful things are going on around you, do you ever feel disconnected from them, as if what’s happening has nothing to do with you? Do friends or family ever try to get you to see that you’re being grossly mistreated and you insist that everything is fine or will be? These are both cases of having become desensitized to your painful emotions.  Desensitization occurs when you suppress (consciously) or repress (unconsciously) feelings of fear, anxiety, hurt or anger which are meant to warn you that something in your life is very wrong. I often blog about the difficulties of feeling too much and being too reactive in situations. Desensitization is the opposite, when you don’t feel enough. For example, a client we’ll call Don, who’s separated from his wife, has two teenage sons who frequently act out, screaming at each other and cursing their parents. Once, son #1 threatened family...
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Let Pride Replace Pleasure to Get Things Done

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If you’re basing your life on doing only what you like and what feels good and avoiding what you don’t like and doesn’t feel good, you’re not going to be very happy or successful for very long. So when I hear clients say they don’t enjoy or like eating healthy foods, exercising or going to the doctor, I know that my job is to help them find some other motivation for engaging in these essential activities. The first thing I focus on is the belief that they must like something to do it. Where does that assumption come from? Is that a belief their parents had and modeled or taught them? If so, how well did it serve them then and how well does it serve them today?  My client Rebecca was one of six children whose parents were rarely there to guide her through her childhood. When she put up...
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Victor or Victim?

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While I’ve blogged about how to stop being a victim and how to deal with people who act like victims, I haven’t written about the competitive nature of relationships between victims. This happens when two (or more) people have been victimized in childhood by abuse or neglect and carry their victimhood into adulthood where they become locked into a struggle for the biggest loser prize. Take this couple for example. Gail comes from a large family with an alcoholic, abusive father and enabling mother. Gail never had the love and connection she yearned for from Dad and watched as her mother complained but allowed his drinking and abuse to continue. She never had enough of Mom’s attention either, even when she was sexually abused by a cousin. The children were left unfairly unprotected and poorly attended to and Gail adapted by staying under parental radar as much as possible. She had...
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Setting Up Rules for Family “Normal” Eating

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I’ve been talking with a client about moving herself and her family away from unhealthy eating to a more “normal”, healthy lifestyle. As I told her, it’s quite simple but not quick and easy. What I mean is that there are concrete actions to take, but that doesn’t mean that everyone will be on board right away. Here are my suggestions for making the transition from a way of eating that doesn’t serve your family to one that does. Be clear on your goals: If you’re generating the transition, think long and hard about your goals and how you got to the place you’re in with food. Notice that I’m not using the word “switch” which implies going from here to there quickly. It’s better to think in terms of transition over time. Write down five goals for your family, for example: Eat together as a family X number of times/week,...
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Why We’re Afraid to Hurt Other People’s Feelings

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A major problem for many dysregulated eaters is stressing themselves out to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. They try too hard or do too much, over-focus on others’ needs and under-focus on their own—and end up feeling angry and resentful. I’ve blogged before on why and when it’s okay and not okay to hurt people. This blog is to explain the reasons it’s so difficult for some of you to cause others pain. The first reason is that we recall how hurt we felt as children, forgetting that children and adults have very different nervous systems and abilities to regulate and cope with emotions. As children, our frontal lobes (used for clear thinking and problem-solving) are still developing and we cope poorly with hurt feelings because we lack the physiological components to do a better job. We can’t think rationally and put what’s happening to us into a larger, correct context. Although...
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What People Who Grew Up in (Relatively) Functional Families Know

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Have you heard the saying, “We don’t know what we don’t know.” If you grew up in a dysfunctional family, you likely don’t even realize all the life skills you lack and the viewpoints that those who were raised in more functional environments have that you don’t. So, here’s what you might not know but need to. You can trust people.       Obviously, you can’t trust everyone for everything. You can’t expect everyone to know how to fly an airplane, cut your hair, or advise you on investments. When we talk about trusting people, we usually mean that we can trust them emotionally: Are they honest, ethical, dependable and reliable; will they validate our feelings, be there for us and take care of us? Not everyone will, but many will try their darndest to do so.      If you grew up with parents who couldn’t (because of their upbringing)...
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Where Are You on the Mental Health Continuum?

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Many decades ago when I’d just started social work school in Boston, a friend became very sad after his wife left him for another man. I knew them both and their situation and assumed my friend was suffering from betrayal and grieving the loss of his marriage. When he continued to feel down and exhibited other distress symptoms, I finally realized that he was suffering from depression with which he still struggles to this day. With my clinical experience now, I would have seen that he was depressed more quickly. But, even with clinical experience, it’s not always easy to tell the difference between someone simply suffering through a difficult time and someone who has mental health issues that need to be treated. And if I’m not sure of the truth as a seasoned therapist, it’s even harder to discern for people without my experience. This dilemma is the focus of...
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Strategic Silence

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Anyone who knows me well would use the words chatty, highly verbal, or strongly interactive to describe me in a relationship—unless I’m employing a technique that therapists call strategic silence. It’s used to help clients sit with and expand feelings by helping the therapist from getting in their way of doing so. This blog is not about how strategic silence is used in therapy. It’s teaching you how to use this technique to improve your interpersonal skills dealing with difficult people. Social discourse generally involves one person saying something and another saying something in return. A back-and-forth volley of words is expected as in playing tennis. When your opponent hits the ball over the net, it’s assumed you’ll hit it back.  To learn to use strategic silence effectively, you must realize you’re breaking a social norm and feel okay about it. You also need a conscious reason for doing so which...
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How Not to Stop Emotional Eating

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Have you ever heard of “Mindful Emotional Eating”? I hadn’t until a few years ago when books and articles started popping up on the subject. I even wrote a blurb for a colleagues’ book about it based on the belief that if someone is going to regularly engage in emotional eating, why not make it more mindful. But the more I read about it, the more the concept simply doesn’t make sense to me.  Assuming that someone is trying to end a pattern (key word here) of emotional eating, let’s definitely encourage them to have compassion for themselves when they seek food to deal with the blues or the blahs. Let’s help them understand that there should be no guilt, shame or judgment involved because they are not doing a bad thing; they’re actually trying to make themselves feel better! They’re doing what they know and what most of us do...
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How to Use Incompatible Response Training to Change Habits

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While reading a mystery book, I came across a child psychologist character describing his use of Incompatible Response Training, briefly explaining to his companion that it works by substituting one emotion for another. I thought the concept interesting and useful and Googled it to learn more about it. Habit Reversal Training, as it’s also called, involves substituting one habit for another. Why not use it with emotions? So I tried out this strategy with a client that afternoon. She’s very anxious, struggling to overcome perfectionism and people-pleasing, and looking for ways to dissolve her anxiety as she eagerly takes on more challenges in life. Raised by a shame-based mother and an insecure father who demanded she overperform to receive his approval, she grew up as the consummate overachiever and with sky-high anxiety. Both due to genetics and socialization, she couldn’t have turned out any other way. We talked about two large...
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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