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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]

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...
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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...
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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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Bouncing Between Dwelling and Denial

Bouncing Between Dwelling and Denial
When terrible things happen or even when we consider that they might, we tend to swing between two polar extremes: dwelling in distress or denial of it. Either we can’t stop thinking about a potential threat or we convince ourselves that it will never happen. Neither strategy is useful for problem-solving, but both are understandable, as they are our primitive responses to trying to protect ourselves from hurt and hurting. This pendulum swing happens in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many victims and survivors remain hyper-vigilant and excessively anxious about harm befalling them again and can think of nothing else. Wary of danger, being on the look out for it is their way of trying to ensure that it doesn’t re-occur. Intrusive memories become a warning of all the terrors that could resurface. Alternately, many survivors repress (unconsciously) or suppress (consciously) memories. Such denial makes them feel safe, as if nothing awful ever...
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Alexithymia and Eating Disorders

As a social work intern in an outpatient clinic, I had a client who my supervisor diagnosed with alexithymia, a condition I’d never heard of. If I hadn’t gone into the mental health field, I probably never would have run across it. But, it turns out to be highly relevant to therapy and to eating disorders as well.  Here’s what it looked like in my client. My client had been extremely close with her father who died after a long illness. She coped by coming into each session talking about a dead bird she’d seen in the gutter. She was ripped apart by the plight of this poor bird and could talk of little else. To make grieving easier, she used the defense mechanism of displacement to shift her feelings about her father onto the dead bird.  Alexithymia means literally “no words for feelings” and “is prevalent in patients with psychosomatic...
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How Often Are You Triggered by Memories?

memories
Clients spend most of their time telling me about situations which have been or might be very upsetting to them, what I call recall or memory triggers. My job is to teach them how to recognize triggers before, during or after the fact. I’ve blogged often about how to identify slipping into recall, but that’s not enough. You need to know what your triggers are. Remember, you can identify them because they are your emotional reactions that are out of proportion to or in excess of whatever is occurring in reality. Here’s a paragraph from one of my previous blogs. “To stop recall triggers, make a list of troubling memories regarding how you were hurt in childhood: being shamed, abandoned, neglected, compared unfavorably to others, fiercely competed with, ignored, teased, undermined, invalidated, feeling unheard or  invisible, regularly being forced to do things against your will, being manipulated, etc. Recognize that similar...
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What’s the Difference Between Constructive and Destructive Emotional Discomfort?

What’s the Difference Between Constructive and Destructive Emotional Discomfort?
Emotional discomfort is a complicated subject. Is it a feeling to take seriously, to ignore or to overcome? Does it serve or hinder us from growth? How can we learn to distinguish constructive from destructive emotional discomfort? After two sessions in a row discussing emotional discomfort with clients, I began thinking more about it. In the first session, a client said that she overate because “I didn’t want to feel uncomfortable stopping.” This led to discussion of why and whether she could have managed her uncomfortable feelings in order to avoid experiencing a different kind of discomfort, that is, over-fullness. In my next session, a client expressed pride that when she’s with certain kinds of people—mostly narcissists like her father—she’s now able to see them for what they are (from her emotional reaction to them) and either distance herself from them or manage being in their company. For certain, emotions are...
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Self-attunement

Self-attunement
I can’t recall where I learned about it, but somewhere I read a while back about successful people being attuned to themselves. There was a study or bunch of studies which came to this conclusion (having no citation, you’ll have to trust me on this one). Right away I thought about my clients—which ones were more or less connected to themselves and how they related to their progress in eating disorders recovery. Clinicians learn and generally talk a good deal about attunement in terms of how connected/in sync parents are to their children. When a parent on a long car ride finds her child crying, he might respond with understanding that children get fidgety strapped into car seats and need distraction. When a child comes home from school saying she’s fine but looks anxious and anger, an attuned parents asks if things really are okay.  Parental attunement to children requires time,...
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Let’s Hear It for Uncertainty and Confusion

uncertainty and confusion
What is it that scares some people so about being confused or uncertain? Why does not knowing throw too many folks into a tailspin or make them want to crawl into bed and pull the covers up over their heads? What if you were to value not knowing what you want or what to do and not stress about it but hang in their and learn from it? William Blake, the English poet, painter and printmaker, is quoted as saying that “Without contraries, there is no progression.” Author David Robson of The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Make Dumb Mistakes tells us that, “The latest neuroscience…shows that we learn best when we are confused.” Blake is saying that we need to engage with contraries (feelings, ideas, etc.) in order to emerge from them to make progress. Robson explains how we learn best when things are a bit tough, through “desirable difficulties”...
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Self-deception

baking cookies
Self-deception is a funny thing in that most of us would swear we don’t engage in this behavior, which is a way of showing that we do. One theory about self-deception is that it’s an anomaly or glitch in the 200,000-year-old brains of Homo Sapiens. However, evolutionary psychiatrist Randolph M. Nesse (author of Good Reasons for Bad Feelings), maintains that lying to ourselves has a function in the survival of our species, that is, to move us along in our primary task of procreation. As you know—if you’re honest with yourselves—the eating arena is rife with little lies. In Johare Window terms (Google it), this construct involves “what you don’t know you don’t know,” information that’s out of consciousness, aka your blind spot. Most of the time we’re unaware it exists because acknowledging it would hinder our need to feel okay. In the case of dysregulated eaters, that lack of consciousness...
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Embracing the Right Kind of Anger

Anger
Driving home from doing an errand, I heard an interview (shout out to NPR) about women and anger which got me thinking about how many dysregulated eaters and people with high weights—not just women—use anger in the opposite way from how it is useful. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, if they could channel anger more effectively.  Here’s what I see and hear. In general, these clients (and others as well) are angry at things which don’t merit anger or won’t be changed by it, while they feel accepting of or helpless about things which they have a shot at changing if they direct their rage at it. For example, dysregulated eaters could be angry at the culture and the media which are overtly or covertly pressuring them to diet and hate themselves unless they lose weight Instead, they’re furious at themselves for not being or becoming slimmer.  They could be...
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Distinguishing Thoughts from Feelings

Thinking
Many clients and the children, partners or parents they bring along to sessions have no idea that there’s a distinction between what they feel and what they think. Confusing the two leads to their being reactive and to poor decision-making and problem-solving. Differentiating the two is key to improving your relationship with food and your body. Here are examples to help you distinguish thoughts from feelings.  I ask a client how he feels about his job taking him away from his wife so much of the time and he responds, “I don’t really have a choice about it right now.” A client tells me that when her mother gets drunk, she’s nasty to her and I wonder how that makes her feel. She says, “Mom doesn’t mean anything by it. She’s drunk.” A client reports that his son came out to him as gay and I ask how he feels about...
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Balancing Emotions

Balancing Emotions
Emotions and personality traits run on a continuum and, to many clients’ surprise, are value neutral. Is it better to be angry or ignore being hurt? Is it healthier to play it safe or take a risk? In both cases the answer is that it depends on the situation. Hence, the view of emotions and traits as value-neutral and relative to what’s going on. My guess is that as a dysregulated eater your emotional reactions cluster at one end of the continuum or the other rather than being situation dependent. Consider the personality traits you possess and the emotions you generally feel and notice how you feel about their opposites. Here are some dyads to get you started. Detached…entangled, impulsive…cautious, fearless…anxious, controlling…passive, prompt…tardy, messy…neat, social…introverted, other-oriented…self-oriented, spendthrift…wasteful, rebellious…by-the-book, pessimistic…optimistic, private…open book, patient…impatient. I could go on, but you get the point.  For sure, we’re born with certain temperaments due to genetics,...
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Stand Up for Your Needs-Food and Otherwise

Friends eating
A client raised a common problem about dysregulated eaters: How to assert food needs when you’re with others. I vividly recall learning to get my eating preferences met in social situations and know that it can be difficult, but not impossible, to do.  First, as someone who’s been fully recovered from emotional/mindless/binge eating and chronic dieting for 30+ years, I still dislike being very hungry or full because they’re reminders of my old messed-up-with-food days. Second, I’m now a far healthier person emotionally and physically than I was back then. Taking care of my body is a job I welcome and enjoy and doing so comes first, before most things and people in life. Here’s what happened to my client who spent the day with a group of people who kept passing on stopping to eat. Though she thought she’d planned well for it according to the schedule of activities, she...
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Reducing Emotions From Wild to Mild

Emotional eating
Not a week goes by when clients don’t come in with stories about how their emotions have gotten the best of them and into trouble with food. They blew up at their supervisor when their feelings were hurt by critical evaluation, then polished off the bag of M&Ms they keep stashed in their desk drawer. They had two large pieces of ice-cream cake at their friend’s birthday party because they didn’t know many people there. They felt so guilty refusing to accompany a nagging, narcissistic parent to the doctor that they picked at food all day long though they weren’t hungry in the least. These are situations in which one might feel mild distress, while emotional eaters often feel wild distress. The goal isn’t to turn off a feeling but to scale it way down to what might be considered natural or normal in a situation, then deal with it minus...
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How to Take Feedback and Criticism

How to Take Feedback and Criticism
The task of receiving negative feedback well is hard for most people. It’s especially difficult for dysregulated eaters who often strive to be perfect in order to get validation. Although it’s a lovely fantasy to live in a world in which everyone approves of whatever you do, it’s not reality. Better to learn how to handle criticism. Hence, some tips from “How to Be Resilient in the Face of Harsh Criticism” by Joseph Grenny (Harvard Business Review, 6/17/19, https://hbr.org/2019/06/how-to-be-resilient-in-the-face-of-harsh criticism?utm_source=pocket-newtab , accessed 6/19/19). Grenny explains that receiving negative feedback (especially unexpectedly), “threatens two of our most fundamental psychological needs: safety (perceived physical, social, or material security) and worth (a sense of self-respect, self-regard, or self-confidence). Such threats to self are particularly upsetting if you’ve experienced them in excess in childhood as many dysregulated eaters have. If Mom or Dad (or anyone in your youth) regularly violated your sense of safety and...
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It’s Time to Forgive Yourself

Forgiveness
Many dysregulated eaters go on to forgive others who’ve harmed them before ever considering forgiving themselves for self-inflicted harm. I have clients who are quick (sometimes too quick) to pardon parents for abuse or neglect, sociopathic spouses or partners for abominable behavior, and bosses who have badly mistreated them. And yet they still beat themselves up for hurting a friend or for bingeing and purging.  There is a time and reason for forgiveness. Some clients jump in and forgive others without deeply acknowledging the harm done to them. They don’t want to be angry at others because it feels uncomfortable and unfamiliar, they feel responsible for causing the harm inflicted on them, or they believe that someone didn’t mean to do whatever he or she did. This is faux forgiveness. It’s crucial to take time to arrive at forgiveness so that it is authentic and meaningful, and you can truly put...
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Do You Need to care for Others to Be Loved?

  Many dysregulated eaters believe they must take care of others to be loved, along with its corollary that they won’t be lovable unless they take care of others. This puts them in caretaking overdrive and living in a world of daily maxi-stress. Moreover, it deprives them of the joy and comfort of being taken care of by others so that they feel protected and cherished. For mental health, the flow of emotional energy should look like this: dysregulated eater ↔ others. It should not look like this: dysregulated eater → others. Think of words like interdependence and mutuality to describe the dynamics. Notice that I use the term emotional energy. It’s not enough that someone does tasks for you to show their love, although this is an excellent way of expressing caring. For emotional health, there must be an easy exchange of empathy, active listening, compassion and support to and...
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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