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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. 

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What Makes for Mentally Healthy Friends?

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It’s easy to understand why we’d have problems with parents whom we didn’t pick and bosses or colleagues about whom we had limited choice, as they usually come with the job. But ongoing problems with friends, people we freely elect to have in our lives? It’s not even one-offs that clients complain about. Rather they vent about the same one or two “buddies” who drive them crazy or why they can’t seem to find the kinds of friends they want. Here are some patterns I’ve observed from my caseload over the decades. Picking friends who are victims and complain constantly about being treated unfairly, taken advantage of and how they’re put upon. Clients tending toward victim-think feel right at home. Surrounded by a Woe Is Me Club that does little actual problem solving and are poor role models for empowerment, clients avoid being accountable. They only ditch this mentality when they realize...
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Weight, Eating and Microaggressions

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Ever have someone say to you, “You’re not really going to eat that, are you, when you said you were trying to slim down?,” “You’re so handsome/pretty and you’d look even better if you lost some weight,” or “Whatever happened to that diet you were on a few weeks ago?” These are hardly unusual comments for higher weight people to hear. Many come into therapy sessions depressed or incensed about remarks that friends, family, co-workers or complete strangers have made about their eating or their weight.  Rather than being obvious attacks, these microaggressions can be just as hurtful and damaging to you. They’re sneaky devils that sound as if they’re not meaning to twist the knife and the people who utter them can be equally adept in feigning innocence and blaming others for their unkind utterances. Some great advice comes from an enlightening article about racism and microaggressions that explains the...
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Relapse and Resume

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Want to guess my most common client complaint? It’s “How come I was doing so well for a while and then I just went back to eating like I used to?” Unfortunately, there’s no short and breezy explanation to that crucial question except to say that changing unhealthy habits generally involves a repetition of the pattern of relapse and resume. I usually feel resistance to using the word relapse and for many years I wouldn’t use it at all. But it feels right when we associate it with a lapse of better judgment or a lapse of doing what you know is best for yourself—like eating three pieces of leftover pizza when you come home from a dinner out or finishing off the pint of ice cream you’re saving for another night. Relapse means to lapse again, but implies the state isn’t permanent. The good news is that relapse is usually...
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What Self Are You Trying to Curate?

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I’ve been hearing the word curate a lot lately and, though I got the gist of it, I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant until I looked it up. It’s close enough to say it means to collect or arrange things to project a certain image. While essays lament how people are “curating” their images on social media to look a certain way or to create an online identity that has a particular luminous aura, the curation I worry most about is when we create a specific idealization of who we want to be and believe we’re nothing without it.  Rather than let ourselves evolve into who we might be, we grab onto an image and fashion ourselves around it. The process, of course, begins in childhood when the shaping is primarily done by our parents, relatives, teachers and culture taking a smidgen off here and adding a lot more on...
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Is It Okay to Engage in Emotional Eating During the Pandemic?

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While I strongly agree that no one should shame themselves or others for emotional eating during the pandemic (or any time), I disagree with some eating disorders clinicians who seem to be saying that under lockdown, it’s okay to eat emotionally on a regular basis. (“Don’t Be Ashamed of Those Extra Pounds” by Courtney Robin, 8/8/20, accessed 8/9/20). I think the problem in the article is that these two ideas have been lumped together when they are entirely separate. On the whole, turning to food for comfort is a behavior that eating disorders therapists discourage. If food were true emotional comfort with no downside, we would likely be out of business. But it isn’t. It’s only comforting while we’re thinking about what we’re going to eat and when we’re chewing. After swallowing, it’s all downhill. Aside from consequent guilt, shame and remorse which are a useless waste of energy, there are...
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How Being a Parentified Child Sets You Up for Eating Problems

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If you did a great deal of care-taking of siblings or parents in childhood, the patterns you developed may have set you up for having an eating disorder today. This type of child is called parentified, that is, you were the parent figure to younger brothers or sisters and maybe even to parents who had mental health or addiction issues. How being parentified makes you seek food for comfort is fairly easy to understand. First, if you were charged with taking care of a parent who could not care for themselves, a role reversal identity was being forged in you, that is, you began to see yourself as needing to care for others in order to get your needs met. This is not about blaming your parent but about understanding how early dynamics set the stage for later ones. Maybe you had to make sure your alcoholic dad got up and...
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From Chaos to Rigidity and Back Again

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For a long time I’ve been writing about how dysregulated eaters relentlessly ricochet between structure and freedom, mostly through dieting and bingeing, but in other ways as well. Too much freedom and we feel uncertain, uneasy, and out of control. We long for ritual, grounding, sameness, a scaffolding around which to build our lives, and containment to make us feel more secure. Too much structure and we itch for change, variety, diversity, adventure, and the rush of something out of the ordinary. Another way to view this tug of war is via rigidity versus chaos (Daniel J. Siegel, PhD, clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine and executive director of the Mindsight Institute (https://www.crowdcast.io/e/PEPPTalk/6?hls=true).  being on a diet—1/3 cup, 6 ounces, 5 grams, and 2 servings of whatever—and self-doling out little pinches of portion-controlled pleasure? Or the scale staring up at us in judgment of whether we’ve been good...
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Two Tasks to Do When You’re Overwrought

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When we’re emotionally overwrought, we have two tasks facing us. The first is to manage our feelings and the second is to solve a problem that our emotions have called to our attention. For effective mental health, we must do both tasks well.  Here are examples of what we do wrong: Your 8-year-old daughter won’t do her homework. This has been happening a lot lately since her father moved out. You yell at her to get it done and tell her you’re taking away her TV privileges for a week if she doesn’t.Your mother keeps nagging you on the phone to see her beyond your weekly visit. Overwhelmed from having begun a new job, you coldly remind her how busy you are, that you have no time to visit her this week, then hang up.Your boss criticizes nearly everything you do. In response, you slack off whenever she criticizes you, which...
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Why People Hate and Buck Authority

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Observing public reactions to rules and policies during the COVID-19 pandemic got me thinking about exactly why people would ignore and defy safeguards instituted to prevent them from getting sick and dying. This rebellion is similar to dysregulated eaters insisting that they don’t like people telling them what to do even when they know it’s in their best interest. Here are some of the reasons this happens in both situations.  Low frustration tolerance. Through temperament, upbringing or both, some people get frustrated more easily than others. Not everyone has learned how to ease frustration by practicing optimism, pacing themselves and self-soothing when life gets tough. To their detriment, many people lack skills to manage frustration.Confusing care and control. Children raised by controlling, critical, demanding, and domineering parents often cannot tell the very real difference between being cared for and being controlled. As adults they’re convinced that others want to wrest power and autonomy from them,...
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You Can Be Competent and Cared For

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Many clients are under the false impression that they cannot be both competent and get taken care of by others in a relationship. Not true. If this is one of your conflicts, it's time to resolve it so it won’t continue to be a barrier to “normal” eating, self-care and healthy relationships. Clients with this unilateral view often grew up as parentified children. Maybe they took care of parents who had mental health or addiction problems or had to mind siblings rather than heed their own needs. Doing a job well and especially doing it without asking for help was a way they not only received praise or gratitude but was the strategy they used (consciously or unconsciously) to feel good about themselves. In their world, competence and doing a job well or perfectly was their path to self-esteem. No matter how overwhelmed and inept they felt, they couldn’t afford to...
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Does Your Family Focus on Problems?

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I often come across clients whose family focus is squarely on their problems. Everyone has to have some or there’s nothing to talk about. This is an example of the victim mentality, with each family member trying to outdo the others in calamities, debacles and bad karma. If this describes your family, it’s time to look at how you’ve been socialized and the negative impact it has on your life, as adults, even now. In families that overfocus on what’s going wrong in their lives, suffering is king (or queen). If your a/c went out, there’s a sister who’ll do you one better and describe not only how her a/c stopped working, but how the pool has some bacterial contamination that makes it impossible to take a dip. Then your mother will try to go you all one better and up the ante by describing how she had to be abulanced...
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How to Evaluate Thoughts

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Because humans do a good deal of thinking, we’re wise to spend substantial time considering our thoughts. Are they worthwhile? Are they helpful? What’s their purpose? How do we decide which ones are keepers and which ones to dump into the trash?  You might even wonder what thoughts are for in the first place. Many dysregulated eaters view thoughts as truth, believing they’re one and the same which they’re not. They are random impressions from the external world as well as reactions to our inner world and emotions. Thoughts come and go and circle around again.  Jon Connelly, PhD, LCSW, creator of Rapid Resolution Therapy (http://www.rapidresolutiontherapy.com), a treatment approach not only for trauma but for whatever ails you, reinforces the idea that we must be careful how we assess our thoughts. To our detriment, he insists that we overfocus on whether things are true or not to the exclusion of evaluating...
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Keeping Favorite Foods in the House without Overeating

Keeping-Favorite-Foods-in-the-House-without-Overeating
Why would anyone buy a whole bunch of their favorite foods and then eat them all at once? The answer is not that they were famished or afraid the food would go bad. It’s because they either feared that the food wouldn’t be available when they did want it or figured that they’d eventually eat it all anyway, so why not do it in one fell swoop. I truly hope that none of these reasons sound rational to you because they’re not. Dysregulated eaters are faced with a conundrum. On the one hand, intuitive eating therapists encourage them to keep favorite foods in the house to learn how to manage their urge to eat them simply because they’re there. On the other hand, every fiber of their bodies is screaming, “No, no, you have no idea what having them all within reach will do to me. Don’t you understand I’ll eat...
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Outgrowing Caring What Your Parents Think

Outgrowing-Caring-What-Your-Parents-Think
I was (finally) cleaning out my files and found an article and a quote I’d saved that weren’t meant to go together, but do, beautifully. They’re for those of you in adult bodies who still think and act like children vis a vis your parents—dwelling in the land of childish wishes, hopes and resentments when you are as old as your parents were when they were raising you—and who would be immensely happier and healthier if you took your rightful place alongside your parents as independent-thinking adults. Unfortunately, the first excerpts are from a book I can’t identify, from chapter 8: Why Can’t You Get Your Parents’ Approval. Here’s what the unknown author says: “In particular, when parents use love as a conditional reward, they set the stage for their children to become approval addicts and, consequently, people-pleasers. This is called conditional parental love and it can be devastating to children...
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Moving from the Diet Mentality to Attuned Eating

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So many dysregulated eaters have dieted and obsessed about food for so long that it’s hard for them to imagine how they need to think, feel and act to have a healthy and sane relationship with food. Thanks to Judith Matz, LCSW (http://www.judithmatz.com) for laying out the path in this terrific chart which shows where you’ve been and where you’re going on the journey to become a “normal” eater. (“Body and Mind” by Alison Laurio, Social Work Advocates, Apr-May 2020, p. 24). DIET MENTALITY ATTUNED EATING External rules →→→→→→Internal cues Rigid→→→→→→→→→→Flexible Deprived →→→→→→→→Satisfied Guilt →→→→→→→→→→Pleasure Fear →→→→→→→→→→Trust Preoccupied→→→→→→→Empowered Weight loss →→→→→→→Nourishment Shame →→→→→→→→→Compassion Judgment→→→→→→→→Acceptance Oppressed  →→→→→→→Freedom In Control →→→→→→→→In charge Look over the chart and consider how much you want the qualities listed in the Attuned Eating column. How much do you wish to feel free, that you trust yourself, that you’re empowered and in charge? Are you willing to give...
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Do Your Tone and Body Language Match Your Words and Intent?

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Most of us have run into people who say they’re fine but their facial expression or other body language belies it. We sense that they’re actually unhappy or upset because it’s written all over their faces in spite of their protests to the contrary. My job is to help clients notice when they are out of sync with their emotions and their affect and help them be more congruent with what they feel and the emotion they’re showing. Especially if you grew up with family dysfunction that involved substance abuse, mental illness, or other kinds of emotional problems, you may wear a mask much of the time: you know how you feel, but you want to hide those emotions from others. Alternately, you may be fairly clueless about what you’re feeling, but express it through your tone and body language. To be authentic with yourself and others, it’s vital that your...
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Measure Progress by How and What You Eat

Measure-Progress-by-How-and-What-You-Eat
No matter how hard I try to shift clients away from a weight focus, they often come back to it as a way to measure progress. Although I’ve blogged on other ways to assess forward movement (https://www.karenrkoenig.com/blog/measuring-progress-in-recovery) and (https://www.karenrkoenig.com/blog/ways-to-measure-progress-without-weighing-yourself), clients are so used to the ultimate culturally-approved standard, that they keep drifting back to it. The goal is to evaluate what and how you’re doing, from thoughts and urges for food when you’re not hungry to how compassionate you are with yourself when you overeat. Rather than write down or chart what you weigh or eat, instead, each day answer these questions about your eating and related issues. Urges: How often did I… feel the urge to eat when I wasn’t hungry? _____refrain from eating when I wasn’t hungry? _____eat when I wasn’t hungry? _____ Hunger: When I was hungry, how often did I . . . wait until I was...
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It Isn’t Real Recovery without Major Learning

It-Isnt-Real-Recovery-without-Major-Learning
I read a novel peripherally involving AA and came across a passage which explains the importance of learning what is necessary in any kind of recovery. Here’s the excerpt talking about someone’s struggles with the Twelve-Step Program.  “I’m not sure she’d actually reached Step Nine. I don’t think she’d done all the steps leading up to it.” “Does it matter? Do you have to do them in order?” “You don’t have to do anything, but it sure helps. What would happen if you took first year university then skipped to the final year?” “You’d probably fail.” “Exactly.” You see where this is going, don’t you? Recovery just doesn’t happen. It evolves by learning one thing after another in order. Have you accepted this truth yet or are you still trying to claw your way to a healthy relationship with food without bothering to be emotionally healthier along the way? That’s what...
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How We Become Who We Become

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It will help your emotional and social development to recognize the stages you’ve gone through to get to be who you are emotionally today. More importantly, it will help you understand that you can, within obvious limits, pretty much be whoever you want to be now and in the future. The point is that you can change, so why continue to struggle and suffer. Why not invent the self and life you want? Stage 1: Your thoughts and actions are determined by your parents and other adults—by what they say and don’t say and do and don’t do      When we are children, our parents and other adults seed our minds and the seeds simply, naturally grow into something we accept as us. They believe that people aren’t to be trusted and we believe it too. They act as if their needs are more important than ours and we accept...
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Why You Get Stuck with the Wrong People

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Clients often ask why they have so many emotionally unhealthy people in their lives. “I’m like a magnet to jerks,” one client insisted. Another asked, “How do all the ass-wipes in the world find me? What’s wrong with me?” If you think this way, you can heave a sigh of relief: There’s nothing wrong with you. But there is definitely something wrong with the way you select people to be in your life.  Here's what’s going on. There are a multitude of unhappy, mentally unhealthy people in the world. Are there more of them than of their opposites? I doubt it, but sometimes it seems like that. My own estimation, with no scientific basis whatsoever, is that about one-quarter of people are absolutely terrific, about one-half are okay, and one-quarter are those we need to watch out for. Mind you, I’m not judging people in this quarter. They turned out how...
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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