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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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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-beingKara 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 a functional...
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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 the scale”...
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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 without a...
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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 You...
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Gaslighting

Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People--and Break FreeImage of Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People--and Break FreeReviewed 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 manipulation, is often associated with...
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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 you, as...
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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 pitiful...
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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 that...
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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 like...
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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. If...
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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 them a negative...
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What Is Secondary Gain and How It Can Hurt You

I’m often struck by the fact that psychological concepts that I recognize like the back of my hand are unknown to many clients. I don’t know why I’m surprised, considering that the education of a therapist is based on possessing a thorough knowledge of psychology. One of these concepts that people don’t readily see and often need a therapist to point out to them is called secondary gain.To put it simply, a primary gain is one we’re conscious of and a secondary gain is one that is generally unconscious. The term is often applied in relation to poor health. The primary gain from going to the doctor would include getting proper diagnosis and treatment. The primary gain from telling people about your sickness might include informing friends about why you’ve been isolating or even finding out if they’ve gone through what you’re experiencing. With primary gain, we have an intentional, conscious...
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Time to Raise the Bar on Deservedness

I feel sad for my clients who settle for so little in relationships and in other aspects of life. You may do the same thing if you compare what you have now to what you had growing up and think this is the best you can do—with friends, romance or work.In childhood, you may have been neglected or physically or sexually abused. Now you put up with emotional abuse or indifference thinking, “At least I’m not being hurt physically.” You may have suffered emotional abuse at the hands of your parents and now accept romantic or friend relationships with people who are sometimes nice to you but mistreat you at other times. You stay because this is the best you’ve been treated to date and are grateful that at least someone isn’t awful to you all the time. You stay because life has improved. But you’re still not getting the love...
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Fake News—In Your Head

What happens when we believe fake news and what happens when we take as truth the random irrational thoughts floating through our minds day in and day out is pretty much the same thing. When we stop even trying to distinguish fact from fiction—within or without— and go with how we “feel,” we surrender rationality and suffer grave consequences. When our eating behaviors are the product of mental flotsam—denial, fantasy, pretzel logic, and irrational fears—we can forget about growing healthier or wiser. The fake news being generated by our brains (aka eating disordered thinking) will keep us chained to the merry-go-round of emotional and mindless eating forever.The only way off this very unmerry go-round is to take charge of our minds and start separating fact from fiction, fake news from real news. Here are the top 10 hits being broadcast 24/7 on the fake news channel of dysregulated eaters:I can’t stop...
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How Approval-seeking Distorts Relationships

I have too many clients who worry about what others think of them and, therefore, get themselves into trouble in various situations. There are several ways that approval-seeking can harm you and shape your decision-making in self-destructive ways. Here are the key problem areas.Undermining self-trust. Clients often ask how they can develop self-trust. Every time you overvalue what someone else thinks, you automatically devalue what you think. One of the major ways to develop self-trust is to know what you’re thinking and why you’re thinking it, recognize that you know yourself better than others do, and act on your own healthy and irrational thoughts and feelings. This doesn’t mean eschewing others’ opinions. It does mean making up your own mind to acting deliberately in your self-interest and others be damned.Becoming dependent on others’ approval. Sometimes I’ll ask a client what she thinks, and she’ll say something like this, “Well, I’m not...
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Why Food Planning Goes Awry

A reader of my books and blogs wrote with a question that many of you might have: “Why,” he asked, “do I buy foods I think I’ll enjoy and bring them with me to eat, then find I don’t want them and crave something ‘quick and easy’ and eat that instead?” Here are my ideas on why this might happen and how to change the pattern.Remember that intuitive eating isn’t a science. Sometimes we’ll nail a craving and sometimes we won’t. This occurs in other realms of life as well, but we probably don’t think much of it. We get excited about going to a movie because of all wonderful things we’ve heard about it but, when the time comes to go and see it, we’re more in the mood to stay home and read a book. Or we go to the movie and end up not caring for it. My...
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What Is Instead of What If

One of my clients said that she’s practicing staying focused on “what is” rather than on “what if,” and I thought that was a great phrase and way to live. Living according to this creed, she’s making changes in her current life rather than agonizing about the future. What if you stopped obsessing about “what if” and made “what is” your primary focus?There is, of course, nothing wrong with considering what might happen in the future in order to try to make better decisions in the present. In fact, this is the best way to problem solve. But, there’s a big difference between intentionally thinking about consequences and putting your life on hold or not experiencing it to the fullest.Here are some examples of how these major differences play out:Some people have little direction in life and only the broadest of goals such as wanting to be happy. They fantasize a...
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Book Review: Meditation Is Not What You Think

How many minutes—or hours—do you miss in a day wishing that you were home when you’re out at work, yearning to do nothing when you’re busy doing something, feeling pressured to do something when you’re doing nothing, worrying about what you didn’t do yesterday or need to do tomorrow, wishing to sleep when you’re awake and staying frustratingly awake when you want to be sleeping. Your life doesn’t need to be this way.Since reading Jon Kabat-Zinn’s classic, Wherever You Go, There You Are, in the late 1990s, I’ve attended a few meditation workshops and use deep-breathing to relax, mostly to fall asleep (an easy process that works like a charm). I picked up his newest book, Meditation Is Not What You Think: Mindfulness and Why It Is So Important, to see what more he had to say on the subject. The evidence is in: meditation has great value.Meditation is about not...
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Have a Love Affair with Yourself

If you read my blogs regularly, you know how adamantly I warn against using directives like should, need to, must, ought, have to and am supposed to. Unfortunately, you’ve probably been using them for years thinking that they’re going to get you to change your eating, exercises or other behaviors. And yet, here you are reading my blogs. These words are external motivators that get you exactly nowhere. There is another way.It’s called self-love. Think about what it would be like to have a love affair with yourself. Here’s how it would change your thoughts, feelings, and behavior.When you love someone, you care about and want to take care of them. No one hasto urge you to do so. You do it automatically straight from the heart. You notice and value all the wonderful things they say and do. You can’t help it because you think they’re special. You minimize their...
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It’s a Lifestyle, Not a Diet

Here’s a newspaper headline that’s a prime example of why people have difficulty becoming “normal” eaters: “A party menu that won’t ruin your diet!” This makes it sound like a diet is something you’re on temporarily as if you might give up a diet someday, like an escalator on which you step on and off. Instead, lifestyle is a moving sidewalk you stay on to move forward and keep moving forward.The idea is not to think of eating a particular way as temporary, but as permanent. Let’s just get rid of the word diet or dieting, period, and talk about what we’re really looking at: a lifestyle change, a new habit. It’s ongoing, not on and off. It’s forever, not for the moment. This is an example of how diet (versus) lifestyle thinking goes:Say, your friends all order dessert after a restaurant dinner. Diet-think would go something like this: You consider...
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