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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]

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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Betrayal and Feeling Unsafe

  Many clients who have difficulty trusting and depending on people had childhoods in which they experienced big T or little t trauma. It’s one thing to have your brother sexually abuse you (big T), another to have an alcoholic parent constantly berate and belittle you for not living up to his or her expectations, and another to have both parents leave you hungry and cold night after night, neglecting your needs because they’re out partying. All three examples illustrate not only traumatic experiences but betrayal. In “Trauma and Betrayal: Complex Combination” ( Social Work Today , May/June 2019, pp-23), Scott Janssen, MSW, LCSW argues that “Betrayal originates in action, or a failure of action, by individuals, groups, or institutions that causes harm to those who have given their trust.” In most childhood cases, we’re talking about parents or relatives who care for us. Scott goes on to say that, “The...
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You Don’t Need to Know Your Whole Future Today

  One of the best ways to drive up anxiety is to try to plan for your whole future today. It’s fine to have general goals like wanting to be a surgeon, travel the world, or be able to send your kids to college, but it’s absolutely unnecessary to think you need to know every bend and turn in the road for your future right now. If you lean in this direction of trying to control everything that’s going to happen to you in your many tomorrows, you’re setting yourself up for heightened anxiety and turning to food to reduce it. Here’s why. If you’re still under 30, you may not realize that life has a way of doing what it wants regardless of your desires. Maybe your life has gone swimmingly so far. You’ve been fortunate enough to have a great family, no major losses, enjoyed friends and getting your...
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What Is Your Dysregulated Eating Saying to the World?

  Most people think that dysregulated eating and body size is all about choosing the “wrong” foods and eating them in excess. But eating disorders therapists recognize that behaviors often speak louder than words and convey our innermost thoughts, even ones that are hidden away from ourselves. Here are some messages that dysregulated eaters may struggle to express to someone or to the world. Starvation: I don’t need you or anyone. I have such supreme powers that I don’t even need nourishment. I’m special and can live on air. My will power is exceptional. Don’t look at me. I don’t want you to see or notice me except for what I want to be noticed for which is my ability to control my world. Help me, feed me, and take care of me because I can’t take care of myself. Look at me. I can do what you can’t. I’m better...
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How Emotional Vulnerability Improves Mental Health

When I encourage clients to be emotionally vulnerable, I usually get a response such as, “Why would I want to bare my emotions?” or “If I do that, I’ll get hurt,” or “That will give people too much power over me.” They don’t realize that being open and authentic has nothing to do with what other people might say or do to us. Rather, it has everything to do with who we want to be and who we want to share our intimate lives with. Expressing emotional vulnerability may be useful in helping others engage more fully with us, open up and share their hurts, be less defensive and combative, and improve communication. In business or politics, exposing your tender emotions may be done to get others to let down their guard, to take them off guard, or to strategically shift the balance of power toward ourselves. But none of that...
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Get in the Zone More Often to Improve Your Relationship with Food

I know when I’m in “the zone” and I love being there. When I’m with clients I try to throw myself into to the process of therapy and get lost in their stories, even running over our session time because I forget to look at the clock. When I write I’m usually in the zone, letting ideas and sentences take shape unconsciously. When I’m reading a book that fascinates or grips me, I’m in the zone. How often are you in “the zone”? And why is an eating disorders therapist rhapsodizing about the zone? The answer is that when you turn to food and eat when you’re not hungry, I have a hunch that you’re trying to enter the zone. You’re looking to, as Geneen Roth says, “go unconscious.” You want to shut out the worries of the world and whisk yourself to another reality full of so much peace or...
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What Science Says about Anxiety

Unfortunately, many dysregulated eaters suffer from anxiety. When it muddles your thinking, your life (and those of people around you) is made harder. It can suck the pleasure out of everyday existence when it causes rumination, discomfort with uncertainty, social isolation, fears, and phobias. Patterns of anxiety begin in childhood and understanding the kind you have will help you recognize and manage it better. According to Sujata Gupta in “Young and Anxious: Seeking ways to break the link between preschool worries and adult anxiety” (Science News, 4/27/19, pp. 18-23), preschoolers may have one or more of these anxiety types: · Separation: beyond the second year of life, fear of being separated from caregivers · Social: fears of being negatively judged in social situations · Generalized: unwarranted excessive anxiety about the future · Phobias: excessive fears of specific things such as snakes, water, germs, etc. Then there’s how anxiety works in some...
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Time to Get Rid of Old Regrets

We all have regrets. Some are petty and insignificant, while some are larger and have had a major impact on our lives. Do you know the one thing they all have in common? They are actions completed and, as such, it serves no purpose to dwell on them. Thinking about things you did in the past not only serves no purpose, but it ruins the present. I’ve blogged on regrets before, but this time my focus is on a specific kind of regret: those from years or decades ago. It makes sense that we might still be thinking about a mistake we made yesterday—missing an appointment or having a tiff with your son who happened to be in the right. It makes no sense to still be thinking about whatever we did or didn’t do in the distant past, whether or not it affects our lives today. Here are some examples:...
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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