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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. 

Neurotic versus Personality Disordered

I remember being fascinated in my social work psychopathology class as my professor described two types of clients we’d be treating. One type would seek us out and the other likely would need to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into our offices. Although I’m not sure after 30-plus years in practice that I’d draw such a sharp distinction between the two types, I do think back to my professor’s description when I meet clients for the first time or listen to them talk about the folks who populate their lives. The first type has what we call a neurotic disorder. To paraphrase my professor, they think that all their problems are their fault. No matter what has happened to them, they brought it on. They made the wrong choice, didn’t see something coming, and berate themselves for staying too long in bad situations. They are mercilessly hard on themselves and...
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Fear Is an Excellent Motivator for Positive Change

I had a client decades ago when I worked in a Boston methadone clinic who used to tuck his stash of heroin under the trolley tracks in a hidey hole, so he’d know where it was but wouldn’t get caught by the police with it on him. He did get caught with and arrested and was then terrified about what would happen to him. When he was released from jail, we talked about how his fear response was working backwards—he felt fear after the fact when he should have felt it beforehand. The point of fear, from an evolutionary standpoint, is to keep us from doing or repeating behaviors that will harm us. We wouldn’t survive without this instinct. But some people push away useful fear and, therefore, continue to endanger themselves. For instance, I have a client with COPD who had difficulty talking about how cigarettes were destroying his...
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Give Saying No to Yourself a Different Meaning

Most emotional, mindless, compulsive overeaters consider saying no to themselves a huge drag, just about the worst thing that could happen to them. That’s because “no” has a negative connotation for them from childhood. Healthy adults see “no” as positive: it balances out all the many yesses they say to themselves and puts up the proverbial guardrails on the crib so that the baby doesn’t fall out and hurt itself. It’s a self-loving, gentle reminder to think ahead to the consequences of their actions, an expression of how much they value (in Jungian terms) both expansion and containment, the voice inside that cares enough to, as my father-in-law used to joke, “Save me from myself!” What exactly does no mean to you that it’s become such an unwelcome, outlaw of a word that you can’t bear to say it around food? Here are some possibilities: No means cut out the...
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How to Stop Being Permanently Aggrieved

If you’re ever going to end your eating problems and create a satisfying life for yourself, you’ll need to give up being permanently aggrieved. Perhaps you don’t realize that this is your view life (and how others may view you) and would be wildly distressed if you were to acknowledge that you see the world as constantly stacked against you, the helpless victim who’s been cheated by life. You may feel so distressed at the idea of having this worldview that you tell yourself you don’t. Understandable, but refusing to recognize your perpetual put upon-ness is only a barrier to living the wonderful life you yearn for and deserve. So, what do I mean by being permanently aggrieved? Read on. First is looking to blame others for why you’re not happy, successful, loved, etc. Because it’s so painful to think that you could have brought unhappiness, failure, and rejection or...
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The Dangers of Counter-dependence

I recently discovered that I’ve blogged about dependence and independence, but not about counter-dependence. I suspect that many of you don’t know what this dynamic entails, although it’s rampant in the eating disorder community. Read on to learn more. A simple definition of dependence is reliance on others, while independence means relying on oneself. Obviously, none of us can be completely one way or the other. As adults, we’re expected to do many things for ourselves, assuming we are able. Your spouse or friend might spoon some ice cream into your mouth for a taste, but it’s unlikely that anyone will take on the job of feeding you when you can feed yourself. Likewise, we can be highly accomplished and autonomous, but we can’t do everything ourselves (perform surgery, pilot an airplane, grow all our own food, fix our own cars). Counter-dependent people will do just about anything to avoid...
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Are You Stuck Between Blame and Shame?

One dysfunctional pattern you may be stuck in is cycling between blame and shame—being unhappy and wanting to blame someone else (or lots of people) alternating with blaming yourself and feeling deeply ashamed of your deficits, mistakes, etc. Nothing good can come out of ping-ponging between these two effects which both may trigger emotional eating. Here are two examples of this dynamic. You, an adult, have an alcoholic father whom you take care of more often than you’d like to. You often blame him for keeping you stuck living at home making sure he stays alive or gets to work and you feel angry that he’s dependent on you. Or you blame your mom who divorced Dad a long time ago. Alternately, you blame yourself for staying in the situation which makes you feel terrible about yourself. With blame comes deep disappointment and shame that you don’t do anything to...
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When a Breakdown Might Actually Be a Breakthrough

While meeting with a new client who’d been abused by her husband for many years, she explained that she’d finally had a breakdown several years before and ended up in therapy in another state. She said she’d sought help because she was crying almost all the time, had little energy left over to take care of her children, and barely wanted to get out of bed in the morning. I told her that instead of having had a breakdown, she’d had a breakthrough and what a grand thing it was that it happened. When we stop trying to hold bad family situations together at all cost, give up making excuses for people who don’t deserve it, start feeling authentic emotions, trust ourselves and let reality sink in, we often have breakthroughs which may feel like breakdowns. Initially, it’s true that what we experience may feel unfamiliar, awful and as if...
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Experiencing Political News Overload?

Many clients complain that political news overload these days is a major current eating stressor. They feel angry, helpless, despairing and frightened about the future. They don’t know whether to laugh, scream or cry. So they eat. Here’s how to avoid political news overload and retain your sanity: Taking in news: Recognize that though the news is available 24/7/365, we don’t have to partake of it in all forms all those times. I have a friend who listens to podcasts while she runs and when the podcasts are over and she’s returned home, that’s it. She relies on certain sites to keep her informed, is very choosy about what she listens to, and doesn’t tend to listen to an endless array of podcasts on the same subject. It’s not great to focus on the news while you’re eating if it’s likely to trigger overeating because you get anxious or angry...
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Is Compassion Always Necessary?

For several months, I’ve wondered if I was suffering from compassion fatigue, common to many therapists. Then I realized that I didn’t lack compassion with clients who make me feel alive and who bring great joy to my life. As I thought more about what I was experiencing, I realized that I was feeling less and less for abusers in clients’ lives and in the world. I began to feel that it was okay to not feel compassion for people who cause suffering but weren’t themselves suffering. I know we want to aim for understanding and forgiveness, especially those of us with clinical credentials after our names. The therapist’s job is to feel the pain of and with others rather than shrug it off or react to it. But, the fact is that compassion, defined by Dr. Kristen Neff, author of Self-compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself,...
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Loving Without Desiring

When I first came across the concept of loving, but not desiring something, I thought it brilliant. It’s from in A Child In Time (page 255), a book by one of my favorite fiction authors, Ian McEwan. Referencing feeling stuck mourning his beloved young daughter several years after her kidnapping, a character in the novel says, “I had to go on loving her, but I had to stop desiring her.” This concept could apply to almost anything. Especially food. The phrase hit home because I’d been out to dinner with a good friend the evening before coming across it and we’d been discussing how to handle her food cravings. She insisted that she loved the chocolate cake in this particular restaurant which, she explained, made it impossible to resist it. As I’d learned to love certain foods without desiring them in order to become a “normal” eater, I wish I’d...
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Eating from Emotional Depletion

Although we’ve evolved to eat when our internal food gauge dips to empty, instead, many dysregulated eaters mistakenly turn to food when they’re emotionally depleted. Sometimes our ability to take care of things or people can simply drain us to the point of having nothing left to give. Then, rather than rejuvenate ourselves with sleep, relaxation, joy or rest, we turn to food and can’t get enough of what we didn’t need in the first place. There are a number of ways that we may become emotionally depleted. What they all have in common is putting out more emotional energy than we’re taking in. * Being the go to person. If you’re all things to all people, you’re going to be running on empty far too often. If you say yes to every request—from your kids, partner, friends, parents, siblings, boss, co-workers or neighbors—you’re going to feel exhausted most of...
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Resist Pressure to Be What You Are Not

How many of your problems are due to not being true to yourself? Not being authentic and knowing exactly who you are, recognizing your preferences and distastes. Many of my clients with eating dysregulation tell me they’ve been people-pleasers for so long that they’ve become disconnected from their own needs and desires. And you? I was reminded of authenticity by two dinners with friends. First was the night my husband and I dined out with a couple who are wine connoisseurs who spent a good deal of time discussing what wine to order. I, on the other hand, ordered a low-priced Chardonnay because I always joke that I’m a Ripple girl at heart—someone who lacks a sensitive palate for the taste of high quality alcohol. Since that’s the case, I don’t bother to fuss about wine and can live with my ignorance. Then the next week we dined out with...
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Using Probability to Counter Anxiety and Decrease Emotional Eating

Anxious people tend to lump all their anxieties together—running out of gas on a road trip, their spouse leaving them for someone younger, failing an exam, dying in a plane crash, or losing their wallet. The truth is that all of these things are possible, but each has a different probability. By looking at the likelihood of events that frighten us, we can reduce anxiety, live more comfortably in the world, and reduce emotional eating. Remember, just because it’s possible for something to happen, does not mean that it will. Stop and think if you confuse or equate possibility with absolute certainty. Do you automatically fear and believe that whatever is causing your worry is a definite? By that, I mean do you take all of your fears seriously and give them equal weight? If so, you will be anxious a great deal of the time. While it is true...
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How Our Minds Are Like Our Homes

Our minds are like our homes. Create a hostile, unsafe, chaotic environment in your living space and few folks will want to visit or, if they do, they’ll soon be unhappy, uncomfortable and wanting to leave. Provide a comfortable, hospitable, inviting, safe, environment and they’re likely to want to relax there and return frequently. What kind of “home” is your mind: warm and friendly, cold and intimidating, an utter mess?   Because we spend a huge amount of time in our minds, it pays to create a mental and emotional landscape that’s hospitable to and supportive of growth and well-being. That can’t happen if we’re highly critical of ourselves or others, frequently confuse memory with reality, regularly make invalid meanings of events, or wall off parts of ourselves from our consciousness while stuffing our minds with grievances and misery.   If this is what you do, no wonder it’s difficult...
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Do You Have Pre-Traumatic Disorder?

Yes, you read the title of this blog correctly: Pre -Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s a condition I made up which in no way takes away from the serious and enduring effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (aka PTSD) which many of dysregulated eaters suffer from. I’m not in any way making fun of PTSD or minimizing it, I assure you.      The bona fide PTSD may happen when an external event dysregulates and overwhelms our nervous systems. The fictitious condition, which many of my clients also have, comes from catastrophizing external events and spending too much time thinking about future possible disasters. It’s a way of viewing the world as a glass that’s always half-filled, and not with water, but with poison. It’s a mindset that says, “Something terrible will happen to me and I’m positive that I won’t be able to cope with it. It will ruin my life...
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Thoughts on Suicide

After a recent spate of high-profile suicides, I thought it important to talk about the subject openly because some of you reading this blog may be thinking about it. Or have thought about it. Or have attempted it. Or maybe you know someone who’s taken his or her life. Whenever necessary, I speak directly with clients about the possibility of their being suicidal, but it’s never an easy subject to bring up. However, it’s a lot more comfortable than what I would be feeling if a client attempted it.   I’ve had clients who’ve been passively or actively suicidal, and those who’ve had to be hospitalized or hospitalized themselves when things got too iffy for them or for scary someone else. I’ve known people, mostly acquaintances, who’ve killed themselves—a co-worker decades ago, a man I very briefly dated who lived in Canada, and two very wonderful elderly people who led...
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Which Type of Happiness Makes People Happiest

Josh Humi, author of “Life Guide”, asserts that there are two kinds of happiness: experiential and reflective (“A Living Humanist Document,” The Humanist.com, 9/28/17, accessed 9/29/17, https://thehumanist.com/ ). He explains the former as “the enjoyment of a present-moment experience (for example, eating a tasty meal or sharing a laugh with friends),” and the latter…”as one’s belief that he or she has lived a valuable life, to the extent that one reasonably believes he or she could have lived a valuable life (for example, via personally meaningful accomplishments).” He describes reflective happiness as having a “long-lasting ‘background’ impact on one’s happiness,” that is, that “all else being equal, pursuing the latter will likely have a greater positive impact on one’s happiness over the long run.” I would add that reflective happiness adds depth and breadth to who we are, while experiential happiness is limited to what we did.   I’m blogging...
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Fatalism Versus Irrational Hope Regarding Eating Disorders

A client mentioned seeing parts of her childhood reflected in Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance, a book I recently read at her suggestion. What struck her was Vance describing how people may respond to childhood dysfunction in an unhealthy, polarized way through either fatalism or irrational hope or a mix of the two. This is a perfect description of the mindset of many dysregulated eaters, especially regarding their relationship with food.   Fatalism is a belief in a fixed destiny that we are powerless to change or escape. An example is believing that what was said of you as a child—no one will ever love you, you’re not good enough, or you won’t amount to anything—is true. Fatalist thinking then leads to you act in such a way that you end up not living up to your potential, failing to follow...
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Negative Effects of Loneliness and Isolation

Many clients eat for comfort when they’re lonely. As I’ve blogged before, we’re all lonely once in a while. That can’t be helped. The kind of loneliness that clients are referring to is a chronic feeling which some people remember having had since early childhood.   It is not isolation, per se, that causes loneliness problems, but “the subjective perception of isolation—the discrepancy between one’s desired and actual level of social connection.” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, “Loneliness and isolation aren’t the same thing” by Jane Brody, E24, 12/19/2017). We all know people who have few social connections and seem just fine with their quantity and quality. We may know others who surround themselves with friends and family, but still seem disconnected from them and also, perhaps, from themselves.   There are a number of reasons that people might be lonely. Some came from small, isolated families who had or saw few relatives....
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Understanding People Who Hurt You as Expressing Their Hurt

One valuable lesson, among many, that I’ve learned as a therapist is to not take hurtful remarks or actions personally. When clients say something unkind to me, I try to understand why they said it. This focus has helped enormously in my personal, as well as in my professional, life. This doesn’t mean that I repeatedly allow people to hurt my feelings or that I let them off the hook for their remarks or actions. It means that I do not internalize what they say to or about me and think negatively of myself because of it.   Here are some clinical examples of what I mean. A relatively new client said to me, “Well, at least you’re not as worthless as my last therapist.” I could have interpreted his comment as meaning that I’m still pretty useless and not very helpful. Instead, I thought that he might have had...
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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