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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. 

Accepting What You Can and Cannot Change part 1

It’s curious that sometimes I think my clients who are dysregulated eaters view what they can and cannot change exactly backward. For example, I think it can be hard to budge weight, but easier to shift what and how much we eat. They think it’s easier to change others than themselves and I believe in the opposite. Here’s a list of things I see as changeable. In part 2 of this blog, I’ll review the things I see as relatively fixed and not possible to change. We can change our: · friends because we chose them, or we allow ourselves to be chosen by them. Somewhere, maybe way back when, we formed a bond and have agreed to keep it and call it friendship. But that doesn’t mean we must keep it if it isn’t serving us well. As we change, we may need to cast off old friendships and seek...
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Humans are a Mass(Mess) of Contradictions

Our brains developed to quickly assess “good” from “bad” people, that is, those that we expect will be friendly to and not harm us from those we fear will be hostile and hurt us. Back when the first humans came on the scene, this was a useful brain feature to help us assess and monitor our relationships with others. But now it oversimplifies relationships and encourages all/nothing thinking which actually works to deter healthy relationships and causes unnecessary stress and reactive unwanted eating. An example of how wildly complicated humans are can be seen in a February news story of a man who bought $540 worth of cookies so that two Girl Scouts could come in from cold weather and was “later arrest on federal drug charges, including conspiracy to manufacture and distribute heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl.” (“Man who went viral for buying $540 of Girl Scout cookies arrested in DEA...
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What Constitutes an Adult?

This blog came about thanks to (another) lively and enlightening discussion I had with a client about what qualities make us feel like adults. Even when we’re chronological adults, we may not know how to act maturely or may have only a hazy idea of how adults ought to conduct themselves. After all, our concept of adulthood is rooted in a template of how our parents and other important grownups acted when we were children. Many dysregulated eaters may not have bothered to update this view, even long after they have become adults themselves. The discussion with my client on adulthood grew out of the conversation we’ve had on more than one occasion about her feelings when we touch on whether or not she acts childishly. This time, rather than focus on what behaviors or reactions might be childish or childlike, I headed in another direction: How did she feel about...
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There Is Life Between and Beyond a Food or Weight Focus

One of my clients made an amazing discovery I want to share with you. Her worries about food began as a child when her mother insisted that the family eat totally clean and she was forbidden to eat sweets and treats. When she wasn’t thinking about food—what she should and shouldn’t eat—she was thinking about weight—how much she’d gained or lost. Eventually, she began to rebel against her mother’s rigid food rules while thoughts about food and weight consumed most of her mental energy. Fast forward to today when she’s evolving into a “normal” eater. One day in therapy she shared an ah-ha moment: She’d spent most of her life obsessed with either eating or weight. During non-diet times, she fantasized constantly about cravings and what foods she wanted to binge on and berated herself after emotional eating. When dieting, she rarely thought about food because she knew exactly what and...
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We’re All Doing the Best We Can

One of my most challenging discussions in therapy is convincing clients that people are doing the best they can at any given point. I’ve always thought of this idea, along with its counterpart which I’ll describe in a moment, as a given psychological principle or truth. Yet I understand how difficult it is to wrap your mind around. The concept goes like this: people are doing the best they can, though it may not be good enough. Said another way, If people could do better, they would. Most clients and others hear me say that their parent/child/boss/etc. is doing the best he or she can and start telling me how untrue that is. For example, if your supervisor is constantly critical of your work and tells you so in a blunt and hurtful manner, that is the best she can do right now. Here’s the key point, however. Her best may...
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Parental Blame versus Self-responsibility

A major blunder in all-or-nothing thinking is that your dysregulated eating or other unhealthy behaviors are either the fault of your parents or because you aren’t doing enough to clean up your own act. Neither position is the true one. The explanation for why any of us do what we do is far more complicated, and you’ll have a better shot at changing your thinking or behaving if you understand why. Part of the problem is confusing cause with blame. Cause is a neutral term, while blame is a negative one, implying fault or wrongdoing. Although seeking to identify the roots of behavior is useful, it works against us when we hold onto feelings of hurt or anger that come with assigning blame. Moreover, though there may be a correlation between, say, our eating and how we were raised, it’s too simplistic to point a finger and say with 100% certainty...
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Widen Your Perspective

One reason that many clients don’t resolve their eating or other problems or progress as quickly as they’d like to is due to having a narrow perspective. They think they’re defective or unlovable, that a diet will keep weight off them if only they tried harder, that they are the problem in their marriage or romantic relationship, or that it’s better to rely only on yourself than on other people. Although I understand how they acquired these irrational, incorrect views, I can’t keep nagging them to change. My job is to lay the groundwork for helping them develop intellectual curiosity so that they can find new solutions to old problems themselves. For instance, when clients are giving me a history of their lives, I automatically do a mental check off of experiences which could derail them from living happy, healthy lives—parents with addictions, mental health problems or personality disorders; having been...
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Making the Unspeakable Speakable

It’s not unusual, if you follow my blogs, to learn that I sometimes write about themes which emerge in my practice. One such theme is adult clients expressing the wish that their parents were dead. This is not an uncommon reaction toward parents who’ve been abusive and neglectful. Clients who acknowledge this wish shamefully believe that they are alone in feeling this desire. Far from it. There are several reasons that we’re not (culturally) supposed to express this wish: ·One is the childhood belief that our thoughts are so powerful we can make things happen. This occurs when a child wishes harm to a parent and something bad befalls him or her—a car accident, a fall, or the like. The child’s undeveloped brain immediately thinks cause and effect, as in “my thoughts made this happen.” Science tells us that this is utter nonsense. But if you were a child who wished your...
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The Result of Evolution Are We

As a staunch believer in evolution, I’m forever reminding clients that we’re frail, fragile beings and far from the wunderkind we think we are or would love to be, especially emotionally. Speaking to these points, here’s what psychiatrist and trauma specialist Dr. Arash Javankakht has to say in “To live your best life, live the life you evolved for” (The Conversation, https://www.cnn.com/2019/02/04/health/life-you-evolved-for-partner/index.html , accessed 2/5/19). “I often tell my patients and students that to understand how fear works in us, we have to see it in the context where it evolved. Ten thousand years ago, if another human frowned at us, chances were high one of us would be dead in a couple of minutes. In the tribal life of our ancestors, if other tribe members did not like you, you would be dead, or exiled and dead…Biological evolution is very slow, but civilization, culture, society, and technology evolve relatively fast....
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Book Review – The Weight of Being

Reviewed by: Karen R. Koenig (Originally published at New York Journal of Books) https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/weight-being Kara Richardson Whitely’s double-entendre of a title, The Weight of Being, wonderfully captures her physical and emotional life as a person of higher weight. In spite of successfully having climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro at 300 pounds and survived a dysfunctional childhood that involved PTSD from sexual abuse, her father’s heartbreaking abandonment of the family, suffering as the target of fat stigma, near disabling self-doubt, body hatred, depression, and low self-esteem—all of which she writes about in lively prose with touches of self-deprecating humor—the one thing that she’s unable to do is to have a consistently sane, sensible relationship with food. Having begun dieting in middle school, she knows how to starve herself and lose weight, but the pounds always pile back on. The book describes the discomfort of moving around in a large body well enough to live...
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Is WW Really Different from Weight Watchers?

I heard that Weight Watchers has had a makeover. Disclaimer: I’ve never been to a meeting but am blogging about them anyway. What I have to say isn’t based on firsthand knowledge, but on what I’ve read about the new “WW” and heard from numerous clients over the decades. The company started in 1963 and has touted itself as a weight-loss program ever since. Many of you probably are familiar with their philosophy and practices because you’ve gone to meetings, used their online services or know Weight Watchers’ members. The group is known for its eating plan which assigns points to all foods and drinks to help members make “healthier” choices and eat smaller portions—to lose weight. According to “Before and After” (The Economist, 10/20/18, page 61-2), Weight Watchers officially became “WW” as part of rebranding itself after a steady decline in memberships and profit for years. Claiming to encourage “beyond...
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Yes, You Can Retrain Your Taste Buds

Dysregulated eaters too often rule out the possibility that they might over time enjoy nutritious, tasty fare more than the high fat/sugar/carb foods they now eat. They won’t even consider that their taste buds can be radically altered. In fact, they can. I was reminded of this amazing fact one night watching a TV commercial for pizza, a food I used to adore and eat to excess decades ago. I took one look at the image on the screen and said aloud, “Yuck!” My revulsion to pizza surprised me. What happened to the college coed who could eat leftover cold pizza for breakfast and think she’d won the lottery? Or to the ecstasy, I used to feel in an Italian restaurant when a waitress plonked down my order and, asked: “You the extra cheese?” I certainly could eat and maybe even mildly enjoy a slice of pizza now, but I know...
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Do You Have Emotional Granularity?

Having high emotional granularity is a vital tool for reducing emotional eating. The term was coined by Northeastern University Psychology Professor Lisa Feldman Barrett shortly after the turn of the century and refers to the ability to recognize, identify and express a full range of emotions. People with high emotional granularity have “finely tuned feelings.” They value emotions and are in touch with them most of the time. Moreover, they don’t lump all emotions together but feel and can describe their nuances. Upset might be parsed as frightened, dismayed or exasperated. Angry might be viewed as frustrated, helpless or fearful. Says Barrett, “Emotional granularity isn’t just about having a rich vocabulary; it’s about experiencing the world, and yourself, more precisely. This can make a difference in your life. In fact, there is growing scientific evidence that precisely tailored emotional experiences are good for you, even if those experiences are negative.” (“Are...
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Gaslighting

Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People--and Break Free Image of Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People--and Break Free Reviewed by: Karen R. Koenig (Originally published at New York Journal of Books) https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/gaslighting “Although this book might be painful to read for gaslighting victims and survivors, it will bring them out of the darkness and into the light, helping them heal . . .” With or without our knowledge, most of us have met a gaslighter or two at some point in our lives or know someone who has been deceived by one. The scary truth is that these master manipulators are often our neighbors, friends, spouses, children, siblings, parents, co-workers, bosses, or political leaders. We may call them difficult, challenging, crazy-making, morally corrupt, narcissistic, power-hungry, or abusive because we don’t know enough psychology to give them the more precise label they warrant. The term gaslighting, a type of psychological...
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What Do You Mean by Parts of Yourself?

Here’s a phrase I hear often: “part of myself.” And here’s how it’s used, “There’s a part of me that wants to stop eating so much” or, “Part of me thinks I’d benefit from exercising and the other part thinks I’d be better off going back to sleep.” I’m sure you get my drift on how the term is used. But do you understand what you mean by using the word? Can you point to where this “part of you” is? If you’re talking about two parts, are they in different places? I’m not trying to be silly here but to make a point. The truth is that there is no “part” of you that feels one way or thinks another. What you mean is that you have conflicting/contradictory/mixed/opposing thoughts and feelings. We all do. When you use the word “part,” it sounds as if there’s a permanent installation somewhere within...
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It’s Time to Grow Up

There’s an I-won’t-grow-up quality to dysregulated eating. Denial of consequences or the childish hope of avoiding them. A rush from rebelling against authority, rules and being told what is right or what to do. Glee in getting away with something. The sly triumph of getting something for nothing. The magical belief of reaching goals without putting in a commensurate effort. Manipulation of others into setting your food boundaries, then resenting the hell out of them for doing just that. Yearning for what other people have without doing the work. Being ruled by irrational fears. Avoiding discomfort and pain. Giving in easily. Doing only what feels good and still expecting to have a great life. If you recognize yourself in these descriptions, sit a moment with your awareness. If you feel a ping of shame, that’s okay. A ping is just right. No need to do a number on yourself about how...
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What’s Behind Eating in Secret?

You might be surprised, or maybe not, how many people eat in secret: in their cars, in the bathroom with the door locked, or sneaking treats up to their rooms. I used to do it myself—tiptoeing down the stairs to the kitchen in the house I grew up in to swipe something I was forbidden to eat from the fridge, popping a leftover into my mouth in the kitchen of friends the moment they turned their backs, or barely nibbling at food during a party or dinner I hosted, only to gorge on remains after my guests had left. When clients bring up secretive or sneak eating, I make sure to tell them about my own experience to let them know a few things. First, they’re not alone. Many dysregulated eaters—high and low weight and in between—choose to eat without prying (aka feared judgmental) gazes. Second, it’s vital that they understand...
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Ditch Cheat Days and Diets

I have several friends whose eating style involves “cheat” days. In fact, I’ve heard that there are diets that promote food restriction during the week and cheating on the weekends. As an eating disorders therapist, the idea of cheat-eating has always seemed like an unproductive idea and encouraging it as a way to pull us farther away from, rather than closer to, “normal,” regulated, appetite-cued eating. The main reason is that the word cheating makes us feel as if we’re bad and doing something wrong. That perspective assumes that eating a slice of chocolate cake, enjoying a few potato chips or enjoying a buffet dinner is akin to sinful. What does that tell our poor brains? One thing it does is confuse them. It makes us think that some foods are bad and others are good and that we are bad or good for eating them. Mainly, it makes eating feel...
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Are You Too Porous?

While listening to a friend and retired psychologist, share her experiences about a trip to India many decades before, she mentioned how disturbed she was to see dead babies floating in the Ganges River. This led to discussing how some people are what she calls more “porous” than others. I find myself returning to this concept often in my practice, especially working with dysregulated eaters who generally are highly porous. Porosity, also called permeability, like most things, exists on a continuum. There are people who nothing seems to affect as if they have an emotional wall around them that prevents them from taking in the pain or suffering of others. No matter what’s happening to people, they appear to remain untouched by it. At the other end of the spectrum are people who are extremely sensitive to the feelings of others. They intensely experience the suffering of people, friends or strangers....
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Is It a Chore or a Challenge?

Twice in one day, I had clients complain about exercise and eating healthily being chores. They had nothing but negative things to say about how they felt about engaging in these activities. Obviously, the intense feelings they had about these activities are only made worse by filing them in the category of “chore” in their brains. Would it, I wondered with them, make a difference to categorize them as “challenge”? According to the English Oxford Living Dictionaries, a chore is either a “routine task, especially a household one,” or “a tedious but necessary task.” (accessed 1/21/19, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/chore ). Even here we have leeway. Thinking of exercise as a routine will get the job done. It’s something you do frequently and regularly, so much so that you have no need to even think about it. The second meaning is more like how my clients view chores: as one big “Ugh!” They give...
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