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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]

The Best Decisions Are Based on Rationality

Reading a book about how strongly human nature inclines toward irrationality and the importance of fighting to be rational made me think about illogical beliefs that clients bring into therapy. Although their lives are problem-laden or they can’t reach their eating and other goals, they are often upset when I challenge these irrational beliefs. Because my job is neither to placate nor make them feel good in the moment, but to get and keep them mentally healthy, I challenge them anyway. If you want the health, happiness, and success that other people achieve, you can’t hold these beliefs:  That will never happen to me.It’s understandable how this thought takes root. How reassuring to believe that badthings happen to other people and not to us. Or that bad things may befall us, but they only protect us from worse things happening. If we believe that unfortunate things happen only to people who...
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Tips for Dealing with Envy

I was talking with a client about envy—hers—but it also brought up the subject for me, as topics discussed in therapy often do. It’s so easy to fall into the envy trap and it can happen before we realize it. We may not even recognize that envy is what we’re feeling and, instead, experience it as anger at someone for something general or specific.Though I’ve blogged before on envy, here’s a reminder of what it is: a feeling between two people when you want something that the other person has. It’s different from a jealousy which generally involves three people and occurs when we fear that someone will take something we have. In envy, we want their boyfriend or girlfriend. In jealousy, we’re afraid they’ll take ours.Here are two approaches to banish envy, the second of which is a suggestion from a client. When you feel envious, try on these ways...
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How Are Eating “Normally” and Therapy Similar?

Many people who seek therapy to resolve their eating problems become rapidly and easily disappointed and frustrated that the process takes longer than they expected. This is the exact same problem they have with food: the quick “fix” desire for whatever ails them. Fortunately, helping them respect and value the slow pace of therapy provides equal instruction on how to manage “gotta have it now” feelings around food.  Here are two problems and ways to deal with them that arise in both eating and therapy.Urge to control: Although some clients enter therapy without the desire to control theprocess, many dysregulated eaters come in wanting to focus exclusively on eating and weight loss. They could spend an entire session telling me everything they ate—and didn’t “allow” themselves to eat—since the last time they saw me. Whenever I veer off to inquire about other issues, such as how their life is going and...
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Are You in an Abusive Relationship?

The saddest part of my job is treating people in or trying to extricate themselves from abusive romantic relationships. Many of them have been with abusive partners for decades and often question why they didn’t see the signs or get out earlier. Then they blame themselves for this oversight which often compounds the problem.In brief, we make decisions based upon what is familiar to us from childhood but generally make these decisions unconsciously. They just feel right. Suffice it to say that if we had parents (or caretakers) who were abusive to and neglectful of us, we are used to mistreatment which leads to lowered self-esteem and this dynamic becomes the template for future intimate relationships. This happens often to children whose parents are narcissistic, sociopathic, and/or have mental health or substance abuse problems. For more on how we get set up to pick abusive partners, browse my blog archives (http://www.karenrkoenig.com/blog)...
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Turning Insight into Action

Nearly all who come to therapy voluntarily are seeking enlightenment. They yearn for eureka moments, mental lightbulbs flashing, ah-ha insights that will rock their world. All well and good, as most behavioral changes begin with shifts in thinking. But insights are only the start of a process, not the end, which is purposeful, positive action.This shift from insight to action comes up frequently in therapy. One phone client shouted in exasperation, “I am so tired of asking why. I don’t care why I eat when I really don’t want food. I want to not do it.” Another lamented, “I understand my childhood, I so get why I’m like I am. Now how can I be different.” Another tearfully asked, “What am I doing wrong? Why aren’t I happy?”To use an automobile metaphor, insight is like shifting into first gear. It gets you out of your parking space or driveway. It comes...
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Why Facts Don’t Always Change Our Thinking

Those of us who aspire to be rational creatures generally believe ourselves to be whether we are or not. When asked, we insist that we base our decisions on facts and expect that others should do so as well. But, as explained in “The partisan brain” (The Economist, 12/8/18, p. 33, accessed 12/10/18), the evidence shows that facts aren’t the big persuaders that we wish them to be.This subject is highly relevant to dysregulated eaters who find it hard to believe that diets don’t work long-term or that certain foods will likely harm their health down the road. As many of you know, these truths don’t always change your thinking or behavior. Ever wonder why? Jeremy Frimer of the University of Winnipeg suggests that “people are willing to dismiss or deny facts and opinions that run counter to their beliefs.”According to the authors of The Enigma of Reason, Hugo Mercier, and...
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Book Review—The Power of Agency

Reviewed by: Karen R. Koenig  (Originally published at New York Journal of Books)https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/power-agencyThe Power of Agency: The 7 Principles to Conquer Obstacles, Make Effective Decisions, and Create a Life on Your Own Terms“If you’re looking for a read that spotlights exactly how to take control of your life, this book provides a tidy amalgamation of theory and practice that’ll get you up and running with the tools you need.”  The Power of Agency provides the essentials for managing your life by referencing and recapping the best ideas that have been written on the subject over the past few decades. The authors keep us engaged with brief, to-the-point case examples and studies, check-list suggestions at the end of each chapter, and readable language that explains theoretical concepts by getting right to the point. The book includes a handy inventory/self-assessment on the components of agency at the start of the book, as well as...
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Make Family Out of Friends

The day after my husband and I had a couple we know quite well over for dinner, she emailed her thanks, including the heartwarming sentiment that they enjoyed spending time with us because we felt like family. I was enormously touched. Growing up as an only child, this was as meaningful a compliment as she could make and it got me thinking about how important close friends are in our lives—and, often, to our eating.Too often, intimate friendships are sadly lacking in the lives of dysregulated eaters. Many complain of being lonely and so they eat to feel better. As adults halfway through life, many don’t want to stay as (overly) attached to their parents as they are, but can’t seem to break away because they have so little outside support. Some have never known how to make friends while others have been so burned by disappointments and betrayals that they’re...
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Didn’t Cause It, Can’t Fix It

If I had to generalize, I’d say that I spend a large chunk of the therapy hour trying to persuade clients that they can’t change the feelings or behaviors of other adults. Talk about continuing education. My best shot at helping clients accept this tough-to-swallow concept is to tell them, “If you didn’t cause it, you can’t fix it and if you didn’t start it, you can’t stop it.” They seem to get this idea on a theoretical level but find it hard to put into practice in specific instances. Here are some ways this theory might be applied.I treat a great many clients who have abusive (leaning toward sociopathic) partners. To a person, these abusers had awful, dysfunctional childhoods full of neglect and/or abuse. My guess is that these abusers’ parents had pretty crummy beginnings themselves. So, my clients meet someone at age 19 or 27 when their personalities are...
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One More Time—Forget Self-control and Will Power to Change Eating Habits

If I could wave my fairy godmother wand to abolish certain thoughts, I’d eradicate those having to do with self-control and will power. Science is telling us repeatedly these days that they don’t work long-term to change eating or exercise habits. Please let this concept go so that you can learn what does help to establish better ongoing self-care.One research-based article is “Why willpower is overrated” by Brian Resnick (Vox,4/25/18, https://getpocket.com/explore/item/why-willpower-is-overrated-2029766008,  accessed 11/28/18). It describes a 2011 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that says, paradoxically, that participants “who most readily agreed to survey statements like ‘I am good at resisting temptations’ reported fewer temptations throughout the study period. To put it more simply: The people who said they excelled at self-control were hardly using it at all.” A study of students in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science concluded that, “It was the students who...
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What Makes Us Angry?

I’ve been working with clients to help them identify what makes them angry in order to reduce emotional eating. I don’t mean why specifically—becoming angry when a spouse is late for dinner or getting mad because a friend blabs a secret shared in confidence. I mean recognizing that reasons for anger fall into broad categories and knowing which ones trigger you in order to avoid emotional eating. (“Parenting: helping kids manage relationships” by Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman, Sarasota Herald Tribune, 11/26/18, accessed 11/28/18).According to Stahlmann and Hagaman, we get angry for five reasons (they provide no source for them). Let’s look at how anger might be dealt with appropriately for each one.Pain: When we’re physically uncomfortable, we’re vulnerable to feeling irritated.Hence the term “hangry” (hungry plus angry). When we’re tired, we set ourselves up for life getting on our nerves and for being reactive. And, certainly if we have physical...
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Beware of Flights into Health

What is a “flight into health” and why is it the opposite of what it sounds like and a dynamic to avoid? It is: “In dynamic psychotherapy, the early but often only temporary disappearance of the symptoms that ostensibly brought the patient into therapy; a defense against the anxiety engendered by the prospect of further psychoanalytic exploration of the patient's conflicts. (Flight into Health - Medical Definition from MediLexicon, https://www.medilexicon.com/dictionary/34029, accessed 11/24/18)I see “flights into health” often in my practice. All psychotherapists do. So that you can recognize them in yourself and people you know, here are some examples.A client prone to depression who has no meaningful work and hasn’t found the rightman comes back from a vacation abroad and is jazzed and hopeful about her future because of her experience. After a while, her depression returns. She’s been in therapy for years and this vacation → happiness → depression pattern...
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The Benefits of Rupture and Repair in Therapy

You might think that the word “rupture” couldn’t possibly be included in the lexicon of therapeutic terms. “Repair,” sure, because that’s the business of therapy. But, rupture?In fact, “rupture and repair” is an often-used clinical phrase, which applies to a breach in the therapeutic relationship followed by its restoration and positive continuation. A rupture may be caused by an overt disagreement between therapist and client, a client holding onto negative feelings about something a therapist said or did or didn’t say or didn’t do, or any disturbance in their cordial equilibrium. This dynamic is not something that client and therapist need to avoid. In fact, it’s something they should both welcome as proof of the strength of their connection and bond. Moreover, the repair part of the process is not only about fixing what’s gone awry with therapist and client. It’s a way of illustrating through new, healthy experiences that no...
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How to Snap Out of Traumatic Memories

I often blog about Rapid Resolution Therapy to treat trauma memories, and encourage readers wishing to resolve old issues quickly, or simply improve their lives, to learn more about it at http://www.rapidresolutiontherapy.com. In the meantime, try this practice next time you’re upset or don’t want to feel so emotional.Some background: We often feel distress when we confuse actual events going on in the present with emotion-laden memories of events that are stored in our amygdala. Its job is to automatically warn us of incoming threats by being alert to situations and events which are similar to ones we’ve experienced as fearful and disturbing. Casting an ultra-wide net and using general criteria, it triggers a warning every time an event in the present comes close to being like a scary one from the past. The problem is that when the amygdala gets triggered, memories from previous painful situations flood through our mind...
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How (Not) to Give Advice

About a million times a week (okay, that’s a slight exaggeration), I hear clients tell themselves that they need to do something. They also share with me what they direct other people about to do—stop smoking, go back to college, see a doctor, quit playing the lottery, etc. They order people around the same way they order themselves around and it doesn’t work for others any better than it works for them.So, it was with great delight that I read a recent column by Dr. Ellen Glovsky, “Giving Advice in Motivational Interviewing” in a recent newsletter. Here’s her advice on giving unsolicited advice: “The truth is that most people will become more resistant when confronted and in this way the clinician’s behavior can cause resistance. I know it feels urgent in a situation in which the client is highly likely to harm themselves. It is very important to not push for a...
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What Makes Us (Truly) Happy?

As a therapist, I spend a lot of time talking about happiness. I’ve written blogs about it, posted numerous articles on it, and have a smattering of books on the subject sitting on my bookshelves for clients to borrow to learn more about the subject. Though information abounds about happiness, many of my dysregulated eating (and otherwise troubled) clients have problems finding and holding on to it. “Is happiness genetic?” by Jen Christensen (www.cnn.com, 7/30/13, accessed 11/13/18) helps us understand why.There are two types of happiness: hedonic and eudaimonic. The hedonic type comes pleasurable experiences or instant gratification—that jolt or a bolt of happy which washes over you. This is the buzz we get from eating high-sugar/high-fat foods, shopping, or receiving a text from a beloved. The other type of happiness, eudaimonic, derives from a sense of well-being that arises from working towards and achieving goals which give meaning to our...
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What Does Self-management Involve?

You have one primary job in the world: to manage yourself. If you take care of others, then you have a secondary job as well. If you cannot manage yourself even when you finally become an adult, don’t despair. You can learn. I have many clients who’ve made tremendous strides in self-care in a year or two of therapy. Sound like a long time? Not as long as spending the rest of your life lacking the knowledge for self-management.Self-management, according to Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman who write a syndicated parenting column, involves people learning “how to understand their emotions, contemplate their choices and then make proactive decisions rather than reactive or impulsive ones.” (“Helping kids develop self-management skills, Sarasota Herald Tribune, 11/12/18, B2) Wouldn’t being able to do that go a long way toward helping you eat better?According to Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, authors of “Emotional Intelligence 2.0,” “self-management...
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There’s a Big Difference Between Privacy and Secrecy

Several clients over the decades have insisted that they can’t share certain things about themselves because they’re “very private” people. While I understand their view, I see them as trying to protect themselves from the feeling of vulnerability that may arise from opening up. There’s a difference, you know, between privacy and secrecy.We all need privacy—to be free of observation or disturbance—both emotional and physical, in some aspects of our lives. That’s why there are enclosed spaces for trying on clothes in dressing rooms and stalls with doors and locks in bathrooms. That’s why we wince in horror at the thought of people reading our diaries or, worse, our minds. To feel emotionally secure, there must be a real or imagined space for us to retreat in which we’re free from prying eyes and ears and can just be our authentic ourselves.Privacy is a healthy, protective practice when engaged in judiciously....
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How to Sense Enoughness

A question that crops up frequently in therapy—because it’s so prevalent in life—is when something is enough. Clients usually reference the term around food, but we could apply it to any aspect of life. Although sufficiency and satisfaction are key to balanced living, many dysregulated eaters (many of us, period) have no idea how to determine what’s enough. They have what I jokingly call an “enough disorder.” To learn more about it, read chapter eight in my book, Starting Monday.Enough is a felt sense–a physical or emotional sensation that draws attention to itself, a mind/body reaction to internal or external stimuli. An example of the former is how while noodling over what birthday gift to buy someone, say, your brother Joe, you say to yourself, “Well, that’s enough thinking about that.” This thought comes from a feeling of not wanting to continue putting attention on what to buy Joe. You may...
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Book Review – The Elephant in the Room

Reviewed by Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed. and originally published at New York Journal of Books: https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/elephant-room.The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man's Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America“The inspiring story of Tomlinson transforming his relationship with food may break your heart before it eventually lifts it.”The Elephant in the Room should be compulsory reading for people of every size. If you share Tomlinson’s love-hate relationship with food, you just may learn a thing or two that will set you on a path to more normal eating. If you’ve not battled with food or weight, he’ll paint you such a graphic picture that you’ll never look askance at a fat person again. And if you don’t feel compassion for his struggles, check for a missing piece of your heart.When it comes to being fat, Tomlinson tells it like it is: the stigma and shame, pity and pathologizing, self-loathing...
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