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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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To Complain or Not to Complain

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Some dysregulated eaters don’t complain enough. They focus their complaints on their weight, the unfairness of not being able to eat certain foods, their lack of “self-discipline,” and how long and difficult the road to “normal” eating is. It’s a shame, really, that they confine their complaining to such a thin slice of life. I’m thinking that if they complained more, they might eat less. Coming from a mother who had no trouble finding things to grouse about and a father inclined toward stoicism, I saw how both the absence and presence of complaining could play out for better or worse. To complain, by the way, means “to say that you are annoyed, unhappy, or not satisfied about someone or something” (Oxford Advanced American Dictionary). I’ve been thinking about complaining lately as pandemic-weary clients have been doing a slew of it in sessions (and I’ve been doing more than usual) and...
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Toxic Positivity

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Many of you, especially those who incline toward depression and anxiety, might be wondering how positivity could ever be toxic. The truth is that, like negativity, too much of always being upbeat and look-on-the-bright side can hurt you and others. When Does a Good Attitude Become Toxic Positivity? explains how. A bit of background. As a therapist, I was trained to identify and help clients focus on resolving their problems. Therefore, I had to ask people about them—over and over again. Then in the 1990s along came the Positive Psychology movement which shifted therapeutic focus to clients’ strength and resilience, a welcome addition to the field. Fortunately, I’ve not felt a clinical need to choose one aspect of self over the other: people have amazing skills as well as enormous problems. Difficulties arise, however, when we feel we must choose one perspective over the other. You’ve probably met people who are...
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When You Feel You’re Not Doing Enough

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Many dysregulated eaters not only eat more food than their bodies need, but also give too much to other people. I half-jokingly call this having an “enough disorder” and have blogged about How to Sense Enoughness. A major cause of stress (and overeating), overdoing often rears its ugly head in interpersonal relationships. Here are examples: Your elderly mother expecting you to visit twice a week, while you’re working full-time as a single parent, is a major stressor for you. You keep trying to do so, but either find that half the time you end up cancelling one visit or return home exhausted and resentful. You feel you should visit twice weekly because that’s what Mom is requesting, believing that a good child would put their needs aside and make the effort. When your friends hint that Mom might be asking too much of you, you agree while at the same time...
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Do What Science Says Makes Us Happy

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Although dysregulated eaters seek happiness in food, it won’t give them what they’re looking for. Not that it’s a mystery how to become happy, with a gazillion books and articles on the subject. I’ve written a dozen-plus blogs on it myself. (see my blog archives). Here’s the latest on some of what science says from “Happiness in Hard Times” by Sari Harrar (AARP, The Magazine, June/July 2020, pp 57-59) Guidelines for happiness don’t change much, except that they may be more difficult to practice in times of crisis, for example, during this pandemic. “The happiness that helps in great difficulty is realistic. It recognizes fears and anxieties. It looks for meaning. It nourishes and sustains us, says psychologist Maria Sirois.” Does an ice cream sundae or a bag of Doritos address any of these issues? Sirois advises us to “Let yourself feel what you’re really feeling.” This doesn’t mean to make...
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The Difference Between Manifest and Latent Problems

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Problem-solving is hard enough when you know exactly what you’re looking to fix. It’s impossible when you’re trying to fix things that you’re not able to. For example, my husband and I were trying to figure out what was wrong with an old TV on which the picture kept flickering on and off. We failed at every way we tried to stabilize it. Then a friend suggested it might be our cable connection and Comcast came to the rescue.  This shows the difference between a manifest and a latent problem. Manifest problems are what’s visible to us and what seems evident. Latent ones are generally hidden and underlie what we think of as obvious. In this case, what we thought was the apparent problem—the TV—was, in fact, an incorrect diagnosis. The underlying problem was the cable connection. Who knew? The point is that no matter how much we fussed with the...
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Do You Suffer from Ostrich Syndrome?

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It’s easy to think we know a good deal about problems because we have so many of them, but it’s common to see things as problems that aren’t and ignore things that are. “Admitting you have a problem, and the ostrich syndrome” by Dennis Zink (Sarasota Herald Tribune, 7/20/20, D8) helps us true valid problems and find solutions. Zink lays out five types of problems: those you 1) know about and are trying to improve, 2) are aware of and ignore, 3) don’t realize exist, 4) want to solve but lack resources or the ability to do so, 5) want to solve but aren’t solvable. He says that type #1 problems are the most common, for example, recognizing that you overeat and paying attention to eating more mindfully. He suggests that if you know you have a problem, say, drinking too much alcohol, and don’t put attention on it, “you may...
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The Problem with Wishful Thinking

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Here’s one more reason to become strong and rational of mind: “When we indulge in wishful thinking, we make ourselves vulnerable to exploitation” (Conscience: The Origins of Moral Intuition by Patricia S. Churchland, p. 181). By wishful thinking, I don’t mean enjoying a fleeting yearning during a nor’easter to live in the Bahamas or fantasizing about having a fling with George Clooney or Beyoncé. There’s little psychic energy invested in either example because you aren’t planning on moving any time soon and recognize that celebrities are a bit out of your league. I’m talking about persisting in obsessing about something being one way when every fiber of your being (and everyone you know) is insisting that it’s the other way. Wishful thinking can hijack reason and lead you to believe that somehow, some way, you can live in the alternate universe of your making. It has no substance, no factual backing;...
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Your Own Worst Enemy

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Fat phobia is rampant, as we know, across this country and worldwide. Naturally, I’ve heard average- and low-weight people make negative comments about those of high weight. But, more often, it’s high-weight folks who hate fat the most. They’re not only hurting themselves but hurting other high-weight people as well. Here are some myths that fat phobia and weight stigma support, whether you’re projecting your feelings onto others or applying them to yourself.  High-weight people are undisciplined and have no self-control. The truth is that there are many accomplished people of high and highest weights—in business, the arts, politics and every day life who do their jobs well and care for their families. They are, in fact, highly disciplined in many or most areas of their lives. High-weight people don’t care about themselves. It’s true that some have all around poor self-care, but many don’t. They go to the doctor, try to...
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Are You (Unconsciously) Acting Out Childhood Conflicts in Adulthood?

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We all, to greater or lesser extent, are trying to work through old conflicts in adulthood. That’s fine when we’re conscious of our issues and working to stay in the present and heal old wounds. That’s not so fine if we don’t realize that we’re playing out the same old tug of war that we engaged in growing up. Take this couple I treated. John and his husband Terrence argued constantly about doing household chores. John worked off a rigid schedule and was proud when the house sparkled. He missed out on the happy childhood he deserved after his father died when he was nine and he was put in charge of his two younger siblings. As an adult, even after his chores were done, he felt uncomfortable sitting down to relax without feeling downright guilty.  Terrence was used to having things done for him, raised by a mother who barely...
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Do You Need to Have Problems to Feel Cared For?

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Wouldn’t it be awful if you were holding onto having an eating problem—or any other kind, for that matter—as a way to get people to pay attention to and care about you? As I explained in my secondary gain blog, this dynamic isn’t as strange or uncommon as it sounds. Here’s why you might be clinging to problems to feel loved or cared about. If you were physically neglected in childhood, you might feel starved for someone to do things for you now. Let’s say you were the third of five children and always felt kind of lost in the shuffle. Dad worked three jobs and Mom expected you to be independent because she was overwhelmed. Living in the country, you often wandered the woods alone and managed on your own. Mom had you dress and feed yourself early on, was too busy to help much with homework, and once forgot...
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How Structure Gives You Freedom

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Working with dysregulated eaters (and clients with other self-regulation problems), I talk a great deal about structure versus freedom. I’ve always thought about them as being opposite ends of a continuum, but recently was struck by something jazz musician Branford Marsalis said about music in a radio interview: “There’s only freedom in structure, my man. There’s no freedom in freedom.” That’s one to ponder, eh?  Although I don’t know that he meant what I’m going to suggest about structure and freedom applied to music, here’s my take on what he’s saying in general. By structuring some things in life, you get the physical freedom to enjoy other things. Say you abhor the same old same old and love change. All well and good, except you might think, “Gee, I’d love to go to the gym now, but I might want to work on my novel later or go visit grandma, so...
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Optimism Can Be Learned

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Within one hour I received emails from two friends about the Corona Virus. One expressed great fear and described giving up many social and volunteer activities, while the other lamented the hysteria gripping the country. You can pretty much guess which friend is the optimist and which is the pessimist.  “Researchers from the School of Medicine, the National Center for PTSD at VA Boston Healthcare System, and Harvard University’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health have found that . . . individuals with greater optimism are more likely to live longer.” They define optimism as “a general expectation that good things will happen, or believing that the future will be favorable because we can control important outcomes.” (Bostonia, “Never Underestimate the Power of Positive Thinking,” winter-spring 2020, p. 63) What does optimism have to do with dysregulated eating? For one thing, “research suggests that more optimistic people may be able...
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From Chaos to Rigidity and Back Again

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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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