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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]

Is There Such a Thing as Hangry?

Is There Such a Thing as Hangry?
I can’t recall when I first heard the word “hangry.” I admit that I never actually looked up the definition, as it seemed cleverly obvious. Then I came upon an article explaining it.According to “Don’t get mad, but ‘hangry’ isn’t really angry” by Benedict Carey (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 12/17/19, p. E8), Although “Hangriness is a distinct sensation of urgency and growing impatience . . . psychologists are now trying to parse how, exactly, ‘hanger’ differs from the furious, simmering or righteous varieties.” Jennifer K. MacCormack, a University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill doctoral candidate in psychology and neuro-science, “found that people describe themselves, when hungry, as more annoyed than usual and less in control of their emotions.”Studying groups of people testing emotional awareness, she found that “Only the individuals in the second group, presumably less self-aware of their growing agitation, showed clear signs of stress and annoyance…” Her conclusion is illuminating: “Being...
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Personality Descriptors Are Value Neutral

Personality Descriptors Are Value Neutral
If you’ve read my book, Nice Girls Finish Fat—yes, “boys” can learn from it, too—you’d know that dysregulated eaters share many personality traits. Not every dysregulated eater has all of them, but most possess the majority of these attributes: perfectionism, all-nothing thinking, approval-seeking and people-pleasing, poor self-regulation and self-care, fear of confrontation, being hard on yourself, and being shame- not pride-based.  You may see yourself in this description and think, “Sure, I’d like to change and be different,” but you must understand that different doesn’t mean the opposite of how you currently think, feel and act. This view would be binary, a primary cause of eating and other dysregulation. Examples would be dieting or bingeing, holding in your feelings until you explode or being overly nice even when you dislike someone.Personality traits fall on a continuum and are value-neutral. Nice may be at one end and mean at the other, but there’s...
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Really, You’re Allowed to Hurt Other People’s Feelings

Really, You’re Allowed to Hurt Other People’s Feelings
The theme of not wanting to hurt other people’s feelings runs rampant through therapy sessions. In fact, I doubt I’ve met a dysregulated eater without this mindset which goes along with people-pleasing and approval-seeking. When I tell clients that being emotionally healthy means sometimes hurting other folks’ feelings, they’ll often say something like, “Well, I know it’s okay, but” and then describe why they believe, deep down, that it isn’t. Occasionally, they’re gobsmacked, as if they’d never heard such an off-the-wall idea or considered it an option. Bulletin: It’s okay to hurt someone’s feelings. Emotionally healthy people know this and expect it to happen. They do it when necessary as appropriately as possible and may feel bad but not guilty and they don’t freak out when someone hurts their feelings. Many dysregulated eaters have learned to stifle their needs and desires or tolerate emotional hurt because they believe they deserve what’s been said...
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The Importance of a Sense of Self

The Importance of a Sense of Self
What is your sense of self and how might it affect your eating and body image? Do you know what a sense of self means or what yours is? Do you understand what having a healthy one entails?Research by Christopher Basten, Ph.D. and Stephen Touyz, Ph.D. “lends some empirical support for the often-cited observation that eating disorders (EDs) occur in those whose sense of self and identity is weak.” (EDRS Post Presentation Summary 2018 Manual, “The relationship between sense of self and pathology in eating and body image,” Basten and Touyz, accessed 10/20/19). According to them, a weak sense of self includes “lacking a sense of wholeness, authenticity, continuity, and vitality.” Many eating disordered clients hold a view of themselves that is fragmented, That is, they see themselves as parts that are unintegrated with other parts to form a sense of wholeness. For example, they view their work value as distinct from...
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A Little Misunderstanding about What Learning Entails

A Little Misunderstanding about What Learning Entails
I have no doubt that some of you have a misunderstanding of how we learn based on what many clients say to me. Actually, they don’t outright say, “I don’t understand what the learning process entails.” Instead, they say things like, “I can’t stop bingeing,” “This is hard,” “I’ll never learn to be a ‘normal’ eater,” or “I’m struggling a lot.” When you’re at the beginning of a book or movie, do you know everything that will happen before you get to the end? Of course not. If you did, you wouldn’t need to be reading or watching. You learn what happens by sticking with the process, not by complaining that you don’t know what you didn’t learn yet. Could you drive a car the first time you started the engine or swim the first time you got tossed into a swimming pool? Learning behaviors or habits is a three-part process with a...
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Science Says to Stop Blaming Yourself for Your Eating Problems

Science Says to Stop Blaming Yourself for Your Eating Problems
Regarding this blog’s title, I’m not saying that you have no responsibility for your eating or your size or that you can’t improve your relationship with food and your body. I’m saying that early emotional, physical and sexual abuse and neglect, called Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs, (https://www.karenrkoenig.com/blog/adverse-childhood-experiences-may-affect-your-life-and-eating-today) have a substantial deleterious effect on your emotional and physical wellness in adulthood.  According to “How Childhood Stress Makes You Sick” by Adam Piore (Newsweek, 3/6/20, pp. 23-33), “In recent years, epidemiologists, neuroscientists, and molecular biologists have produced evidence that early childhood experiences, if sufficiently traumatic, can flip biological switches that can profoundly affect the architecture of the developing brain and long-term physical and emotional health.” For instance, in a weight study done by Vincent Felitti, head of Kaiser Permanente’s preventative medicine program, “more than 50% of his 300 patients” admitted to a sexual abuse history! Further studies produced similar results, that is, that ACEs...
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COVID-19 Isolation Need Not Lead to Overeating

COVID-19 Isolation Need Not Lead to Overeating
If you’ve felt an uptick in urges to munch and crunch your way through the day since COVID19 has revamped our lives, you’re not alone. It’s hard enough not to fall prey to emotional and mindless eating in the best of times. Enduring sky-rocketing stress while hunkered down, we need compassion for what we’re experiencing and a redoubling of attunement to emotions and appetite regulation in order to stay sane and healthy.   How can we not feel overwhelmed when seemingly overnight our usual host of worries has been transformed into inconceivable horrors: ourselves or loved ones succumbing to COVID19, losing our jobs and financial assets, and wondering when this nightmare will end? As our stress ramps up and routine pleasurable, relaxing activities are cut off one by one, it’s natural to experience feelings of extreme loss of control so that the mere act of eating seems like a magical antidote to combat...
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Should It Be Self-care or Self-caring?

Should It Be Self-care or Self-caring?
Two recent articles made me think about how to speak about the way we care for ourselves: “Diet Is a Noun” (David Katz, MD, Linked In, 8/16/19, accessed 8/23/19, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/diet-noun-david-l-katz-md-mph-facpm-facp-faclm/) and “Self-Care Is Not an Indulgence: It’s a Discipline” (Tami Forman, Forbes, 12/13/17, https://www.forbes.com/sites/tamiforman/2017/12/13/self-care-is-not-an-indulgence-its- adiscipline/?utm_source=FACEBOOK&utm_medium=social&utm_term=Malorie%2F#68 22a047fee0, accessed 8/23/19).Katz asserts that “Diet is decocted to ‘dieting,’ and what should be a reference to a dietary pattern that constructs, nourishes, and sustains a lifetime of vitality is reduced to the hokey-pokey of fashion, fad, and folly. In and out. On and off. Loss and regain.” The way we look at food makes it a thing, an act of this or that, a good bet in the moment, be it saying no or yes to food.My point in referencing Katz’s discussion of “diet” and “dieting” is to help you think about how you view eating. These days we call the continuous and steady attitude of eating to...
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Be Aware of Levels of Communication

Be Aware of Levels of Communication
There are many levels of communication and it’s essential to speak on all of them. We need to recognize the level on which we and others are speaking and what we seek from each other. Moreover, the more skilled we are at switching from one level to another, the better communication will flow. In “The Four Levels of Communication,” Charlie Gilkey explains (https://www.productiveflourishing.com, accessed 11/25/19):Social level: “… where we talk about the weather, sports, news, or around the things we care about. It’s superficial…and allows us to function among strangers and determine whether the people around us are foes or potential friends.” Mental level: “… where we talk about ideas, facts, non-controversial beliefs, plans, strategies, and tips. Most of our professional conversations fall into this area…”Emotional  level: “…in which we talk about our wants, needs, aspirations, fears and joys” and express them in verbal and non-verbal ways, showing “trust, vulnerability, and transparency,” afraid to be...
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How to Deal with People Who Act Like Victims

How to Deal with People Who Act Like Victims
Clients often come to sessions totally exasperated at having had dealings with someone who acts like a victim when they truly are not one. These clients are frustrated and angry, feel victimized themselves and helpless to change others. In fact, they’re so stuck in the problem that they’re not really interested in my solutions. In a dysfunctional emotional domino effect, I end up both frustrated that clients aren’t listening to my solutions and helpless and spent because I don’t seem to be able to help them.When I have this “poor me” experience in a session, I know that therapy has gone awry and it’s time for me to reflect on what’s going on because victimhood can be a contagious condition if we let it be. Person A complains to person B so much that B feels put upon and needs to vent to person C. Person A usually feels better after...
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Why We Eat the Way We Do

Why We Eat the Way We Do
Check out “Why We Eat The Way We Do” on NPR’s Hidden Brain which runs just shy of half an hour (https://www.npr.org/2019/11/11/778266536/hungry-hungry-hippocampus-the-psychology-of-how-we-eat, accessed 11/23/19). Here’s what I learned from this entertaining and enlightening podcast. Psychologist Paul Rozin was being interviewed by Shankar Vedantam, host of Hidden Brain. Rozin, who has spent decades studying “the interplay between food, identity, and culture,” maintains that "Food is not just nutrition that goes in your mouth or even pleasant sensations that go with it. It connects to your whole life, and it's really a very important part of performing your culture and experiencing your culture." This is why we enjoy certain ritualized foods—from birthday cake to Christmas pudding, Hebrew Sabbath challah, and Muslim couscous—and why we have strong associations to traditional or simply familiar foods from childhood.Two discussion points got me thinking. One was the difference between French and American eaters: Americans are focused on food...
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Really, You Don’t Have Time for Exercise?

Really, You Don’t Have Time for Exercise?
“I don’t have time to exercise” is a plaint I often hear. I can almost guarantee that if you think this thought frequently, you will convince yourself that it’s true. “…According to a new study from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and conducted by researchers at the non-profit Rand Corp. Americans, in fact, have plenty of free time: an average of five hours of it each day.” This conclusion is based on an analysis of the American Time Use Survey, which collects detailed time-use diaries from thousands of people each year. (“Making time for exercise in a busy day,” Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fitness Q&A,11/12/19, E17, accessed 11/12/19)What is it we do with all this extra time? Hint: it’s not reading, getting out in nature, or meditation. “Instead of exercising, we’re giving over the bulk of our free time to mobile, PC and TV screens.” For the purpose of this...
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Stop Telling Yourself It’s Hard to Take Care of Yourself

Stop Telling Yourself It’s Hard to Take Care of Yourself
I had another one of those weeks when several clients came in with the same complaint: It’s hard to not binge or overeat, exercise regularly, stop noshing, take “me” time, and do right for themselves. Hearing this grievance three times in three days, I knew I had to blog about this strange phenomenon. How could highly accomplished and competent clients insist it was too hard to take care of themselves? Why did capable people with enough fortitude, talent, gumption and persistence to be doing impressive things out in the world swear they couldn’t say no to a Mars bar or a bag of chips?I’m talking about…Single parents with a gaggle of teenagers at home and a difficult ex-spouse. Medical professionals whom we entrust with our lives. People taking care of aging parents while juggling a demanding career. Clients going to school and working at the same time. Folks who’ve stopped smoking...
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To Achieve, Believe

To Achieve, Believe
If you want to achieve, you’ve got to believe. I heard this line spoken by the initiator and director of a highly successful local Black theatre troupe during its 20th anniversary show. There so much truth in it. If you don’t believe, you will never achieve. Instead you’ll be surprised when good things happen to you or simply wait around for a stroke of good luck. People who are successful didn’t get that way by simply hoping good things would happen. The believed that they could do it—whatever it was—then went after it.Sadly, many clients tell themselves and me that they can’t achieve their eating or other goals and this is exactly what plays out. I understand that they have fears and wish to avoid experiencing failure and disappointment and that their childhoods didn’t prepare them with the skills they need to be successful—patience, perseverance, curiosity (rather than judgment), frustration tolerance...
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Change Your Self-talk Around Food and Your Body

Change Your Self-talk Around Food and Your Body
Most of our self-talk about food and everything else is so ingrained that we don’t realize what we’re thinking or saying to ourselves. Self-talk comes in the way of directives or judgments and truly can be a silent killer (of self-esteem and positive motivation) or a life saver. Feelings and actions don’t just pop up out of nowhere. They spring from what we think and tell ourselves which leads to experiencing and doing this rather than that.I know that you have words, phrases and ideas lodged in your brain learned a long time ago which are damaging your attempts to be a “normal” eater and feel compassionate about your body at any size. But the fact that I know this doesn’t help you unless you know it as well. Moreover, you not only need to be aware of damaging things you say to yourself around food and about your body, you...
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How a Dysfunctional Childhood Impacts Your Behavior Today

How a Dysfunctional Childhood Impacts Your Behavior Today
Although biology and genetics play a huge role in our development, the way we were treated in childhood is foundational to our emotional well being. Here are some startling statistics from “Resurrecting therapy: putting Big Pharma on the couch” by Erick Kuelker, PhD (Psychotherapy Networker, Sep/Oct 2019, pp 45-49) showing that when it comes to mental health, we hardly grow up on an equal playing field, that is, some of us really are far more unlucky and unfortunate than others. Such as, “Someone fortunate enough to have grown up in an emotionally healthy home had an 18% chance of developing depression by middle age. But having just one adverse child experience (ACE) boosted the risk by 50% . . . three to 84% and five or more to 340% greater risk.” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study by Robert Anda).Children of angry, narcissistic, unpredictable or poorly emotionally regulated parents frequently need...
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The Truth about Weight Loss

The Truth about Weight Loss
There’s been a debate raging for centuries about the role that nature versus nurture play in how we turn out. One aspect of this dispute is whether it’s socialization or biology that turns us into dysregulated eaters and people who carry high weights. Although I can’t settle the debate for you, I can provide scientific information for you to decide yourself. “Obesity is in the genes” by Jeffrey M. Friedman, MD, PhD (Scientific American, 10/31/19, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/obesity-is-in-the-genes/, accessed 11/8/19,) explains why a weight-loss focus will likely fail. Here’s some of what it says about eating and weight: “In aggregate, the genes that control food intake and metabolism act to keep weight in a stable range by creating a biological force that resists weight change in either direction. Moreover, the greater the amount of weight that is lost, the greater the sense of hunger that develops. So, when the obese lose large amounts of...
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Why You Must Do What Makes You Anxious

Why You Must Do What Makes You Anxious
Let me tell you about a CEU workshop I attended on rewiring the brain to reduce anxiety. Read on only if you wish to lower the amount of worrying you do. (“Rewire the Anxious Brain: Neuroscience-Informed Treatment of Anxiety, Panic and Worry,” presented by Daniel van Ingen, Psy.D. of Sarasota, FL, PESI, Inc., WI, 11/5/19).First off, let’s talk about your brain component, the amygdala, which is fear central and whose job it is to keep you emotionally and physically safety. Along with other brain structures, it’s your risk manager and captures intense affective memories in your life such as being bitten by a dog, smacked around by your father, screamed at by your mother, or just making it out of a car wreck alive. Any events it perceives as dangerous threats to you are stored in your amygdala and generate a fear response automatically.As I’ve blogged before, the amygdala scanning function...
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Let’s Do Lunch

Let’s Do Lunch
At an airport waiting with an old friend for a flight, the topic of food planning came up. Seeing as it was about lunchtime, I pulled out my freezer bag containing my yummy lunch and snacks for later. My friend asked why I just didn’t eat airport food and wasn’t I being a bit obsessive about carrying food with me whenever I travel. As I munched on lunch, I explained that airport food didn’t strike me as nutritiously appealing. Clearly she thought I was crazy for schlepping food around and I thought she was unwise to depend on airport food for sustenance. An aside: I love to eat at restaurants and have no problem dining at the homes of others without knowing what they’re serving. So, imagine my delight when I attended a clinical workshop with a therapist friend, bumped into a colleague, and the three of us pulled out our freezer...
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Conspicuously Absent

Conspicuously Absent
Conspicuously absent, that is what I’d call the care, attention and love that’s missing in the narratives of many dysregulated eaters toward themselves. I know this because clients come in talking about all they’re doing for everyone else in their lives and, if or when they shift to a self focus, it’s to talk up their shortcomings. I can almost see the outpouring of energy that they give to family and friends and feel how parched they are for care and attention.This manifests itself in several ways. One is that we may give others what we want but fear asking for (https://www.karenrkoenig.com/blog/giving-others-what-you-want) either because we believe we shouldn’t need it or are ashamed that we do—we give in the hope we’ll get back, rather than ask directly for help, support, care, or attention. The other issue is that people who tend to take care of others and not themselves are often...
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