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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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From Chaos to Rigidity and Back Again

From-Chaos-to-Rigidity-and-Back-Again
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

Two-Tasks-to-Do-When-Youre-Overwrought
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

Why-People-Hate-and-Buck-Authority
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

You-Can-Be-Competent-and-Cared-For
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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To Sit Quietly in a Room Alone

To-Sit-Quietly-in-a-Room-Alone
According to French philosopher Blaise Pascal, "All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone." “All” is an overstatement in my estimation, but I do believe that some of our problems stem from an inability to be comfortable by and with ourselves. This seems especially true of many dysregulated eaters. An only child, I spent a great deal of time alone and sitting quietly in an adult world. I never thought much about doing so until I began to hang out with “Joyce” in junior high school. She had to keep busy whenever we were together. If she wasn’t with me, she was out with other friends doing something. When we had sleepovers at her house, she kept the radio on in order to fall asleep. When we did homework together, she needed the TV on in the background, which made it hard for me...
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Anger, Helplessness and Paralysis

Anger-Helplessness-and-Paralysis-1
Many people who suffered abuse or other childhood mistreatment have become disconnected from their emotions. It’s not that they consciously wish to avoid their feelings; more that they don’t even realize they’re disconnected from them. This is a normal reaction to a budding nervous system being overwhelmed but is a maladaptive strategy for thriving in adulthood. Here's what happens. Let’s say your parents demand that you be the perfect little child and you are shamed or punished when you’re “bad” in their eyes. Maybe you don’t get all As, become excited and talk loudly in public places, or fail to clean your room. Or maybe you just don’t do what they want because you don’t want to. When this pattern happens often enough, it would be natural for you to become angry and resentful. This makes you respond to your parents in an oppositional manner. How well does that go over...
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10 Steps to Re-regulate When You Feel Overwhelmed

10-Steps-To-Re-regulate
One day I was talking with a client who was calmly sharing what had happened in her life since I’d seen her two weeks ago and she impressed with her calmness. With a history of anxiety, depression and having overcome serious drug and alcohol addictions, I wondered how she managed to handle the string of events she was relating to me: college classwork to become a therapist, frustration at bureaucracy dragging its feet when she had to have court papers signed by a specific date or she’d lose her scholarship, single-parenting her young son, dealing with the aftermath of her mother and step-father having been scammed out of a sizable amount of money, and being without a car for two weeks while it underwent necessary repairs. We talked about how we all suffer from discomfort when we lack control over outside circumstances and how growing up as an adult child of...
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You're Anxious Because (It's Not What You Think)

Youre-Anxious-Because
Clients tell me various and sundry reasons for having anxiety. Some say, “I know you tell me I shouldn’t worry, but I’m a worrier.” First, I eschew the word “should” and would never even tell them that. Second, what’s the point of condemning yourself to a worrier identity when it makes you miserable? The statement does no good and a lot of harm. Clients say they’re anxious because: I don’t know what I’ll be doing this summer. My husband may be fooling around.I can’t fit into my clothes.I don’t know where I’ll move to when my lease is up. My family is angry at me for telling the police that my neighbor tried to molest me.It’s almost hurricane season (note: I live in Florida).I have a wedding to go to soon and people will see how much weight I’ve gained. My child is having trouble in school.I need to have surgery on my ankle.My...
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The Only Way To Stop Causing Your Anxiety

Your-Anxiety
I know you don’t want to believe that you are causing your own anxiety, but you are. Sure, genetics play a role in calming agita, but they are not the instigator and promoter of your misery. That would be you, your worldview, and your specific thoughts.  This is not a bulletin hot off the press, although it may be new information to you. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and other clinical treatment approaches, philosophy, Buddhism, and meditation all espouse you having the power to alter how you feel and what you do by changing your beliefs and cognitions. “The School of Life presents: Forget finding happiness, instead find peace with anxiety” describes a major barrier to peace: clinging to a deep and fervent wish that you can make life risk- and danger-free. Instead, you must accept the paradox that you will experience less anxiety when you recognize that you—all of us— always will have...
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Success Doesn't Always Lead to Self-love

Success Doesn't Always Lead to Self-love
It’s theme time again in my practice. Suddenly the issue of clients turning themselves inside out for achievements and success to up their self-acceptance is cropping up everywhere. So, bulletin: striving and scrambling for success does not make you more lovable and failure does not make you less lovable.  It’s understandable that the two would get linked together so that people would think they’re one and the same. Understandable because of the success-oriented, achievement-dominated culture we live in. We worship those who are rich and renowned—whether they’re sports figures, business icons, or celebrities who are famous for just being famous. We don’t much care how they got there or what kind of people they were or are under all that glitters. I have many clients, dysregulated eaters, who value themselves according to their success. No matter how much they’re doing, it’s not enough. If they’re head of one board, why not...
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Can Optimism Help You Become a "Normal" Eater?

Can Optimism Help You Become a "Normal" Eater?
I’ve long written about how psychological traits—nuanced thinking, curiosity rather than judgment, persistence, patience, self-compassion and self-approval—affect eating. It turns out that optimism also can help improve your relationship with food.  “Dispositional optimism is defined as the general expectation that good things, rather than bad things, will happen in the future . . . It is a psychological trait that has been associated with positive health outcomes . . .” (“Optimism is associated with diet quality, food group consumption and snacking behavior in a general population,” W. Ait-hadad, M. Bénard, R. Shankland, E. Kesse-Guyot, M. Robert, M. Touvier, S. Hercberg, C. Buscail & S. Péneau, Nutrition Journal vol. 19, Article #: 6, 2020) This study concluded that “optimism was associated with better overall quality and less snacking. It was also associated with consumption of healthy food groups as well as unhealthy food groups typically consumed in social eating occasions. These findings suggest that optimism...
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What Happens When You Have Too Much Pleasure?

What Happens When You Have Too Much Pleasure?
What kinds of pleasure do you seek? How do you know when you’ve had enough pleasure? What happens when you have too much pleasure? Pleasure is different for different people. Because you’re reading this blog, I’ll assume that food is pleasure to you. But I bet you know people who find food low on their list of delights. Instead they relish swimming laps, reading a novel, watching the NCAA finals, planting flowers or touring Paris. Whatever your choice, you likely anticipate doing it and get a buzz of dopamine thinking about it. Then while you’re engaged in the pleasurable experience, you’re anywhere from happy to ecstatic. And either later that day or sometime in the future, you look back on your enjoyment and smile and smile.  Does the above happen to you when you’re eating mindlessly or overeating? Perhaps in the first few moments pleasure soars but, as quickly, it wanes....
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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...
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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,...
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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...
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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...
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It’s Only a Thought

It’s Only a Thought
I’m forever trying to explain to clients that they can resist their thoughts. When you get an idea to head for the fridge when you awaken at 2:30 a.m. or while watching TV, finishing a school paper or balancing your checkbook, you don’t need to respond to it. “It’s only a thought,” I remind clients. “You don’t need to act on every one you have, particularly in the food arena.” A thought is an electrochemical reaction and “...Experts estimate that the mind thinks between 60,000-80,000 thoughts a day...an average of 2500-3,300 thoughts per hour. Other experts estimate a smaller number, of 50,000 thoughts per day, which means about 2,100 thoughts per hour.” (How Many Thoughts Does Your Mind Think in One Hour? https://www.successconsciousness.com/blog/inner-peace/how-many-thoughts-does-your-mind-think-in-one-hour/, accessed 10/18/19) Busy little brains we have. Thoughts pop up continually, no matter what we’re doing. We have one thought which leads to another and another. We have...
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Personality Disorders and Dysregulated Eating

Personality Disorders and Dysregulated Eating
Many clients think that they’re mentally healthy because they don’t have depression,  anxiety or any combination of the two that would constitute a mood disorder. They don’t understand that there are other mental health conditions that might lead to mindless, binge or emotional eating. Welcome to learning about personality disorders. “A person’s personality typically stays the same over time. A personality disorder is a way of thinking, feeling and behaving that deviates from the expectations of the culture, causes distress or problems functioning, and lasts over time.” (American Psychiatric Association, “What are personality disorders?,” https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/personality-disorders/what-are-personality-disorders, accessed 10/5/19)  It’s also described as “. . . a type of mental disorder in which you have a rigid and unhealthy pattern of thinking, functioning and behaving. A person with a personality disorder has trouble perceiving and relating to situations and people. This causes significant problems and limitations in relationships, social activities, work, and school.”...
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Fear of Being Judged

Fear of Being Judged
A whopping 64.9% of women and 36.1% of men avoid going to the gym due to suffering from FOBJ or “fear of being judged.” (Newsweek, “Horizons,” 1/3-17/20, p. 36). That’s almost 2/3 of females in this country and more than 1/3 of males. If you suffer from FOBJ, here’s how to reduce your anxiety so you can get the exercise you want. Stop imagining. Where’s the evidence that you’re being judged? I’ve yet to find a client who can answer this question. I usually hear, “Well, I don’t really know, but they’re probably judging me” or “Sometimes people look at me funny like I don’t belong because I’m fat.” Be aware that what you assume or fantasize is not fact nor evidence.  Focus on facts. I recognize that you imagine you’re being judged and that you likely—actually, factually—have been judged by others which has badly hurt your feelings. But, unless someone...
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Do You Have Empathy for Others?

Do You Have Empathy for Others?
Many people I meet and treat engage in emotional eating because the people in their lives have little empathy for them or others. Empathy is a basic human feeling, perhaps the glue to holding us together as community. If you don’t have it from the people with whom you surround yourself, you might end up feeling more upset than you need to be and that may drive your emotional eating. So, consider this blog a primer on empathy. Here is what it is not, although you’d need to have empathy in order to feel the following emotions. It’s not compassion which is feeling kindness or kindly towards someone’s suffering. You need not feel kindness in order to have empathy, but you need empathy to feel kindness. It is also not sympathy which is feeling sorrow (we call it feeling sorry) that someone is experiencing pain.   According to nutritionist Ellen Glovsky, PhD,...
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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