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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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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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Stop Confusing Anger with Strength

Feeling emotionally injured and powerless is one of the worst experiences in the world. And it’s a real driver of emotional eating. The problem is that usually when we feel these particular emotions, we don’t realize exactly what’s going on inside us. Instead, we automatically react with anger which often gets us nowhere beyond enjoying a moment of fleeting satisfaction—and then straight to the cookie jar to reregulate our emotions. While reading an article about the leader of one country threatening to physically hurt the leader of another one, the article’s author made an astute observation: that it’s a mistake to confuse anger with strength. Anger makes us feel physically mighty and that’s where the confusion comes in. When we’re shamed, rejected or invalidated, anger also causes us to feel emotionally powerful, rescuing us from feeling hurt, weak and small. When anger takes over, we feel better, bigger and stronger. Many...
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Learn How to Stop Procrastinating

I read two articles on procrastination, along with overwhelm, which I wrote about in my previous blog, a word I dislike and avoid using. Both said more or less the same thing, which I’ve been saying for years. The word procrastination has gotten a bad rap and is not a permanent state of being, though it might be a habituated behavior you’ve come to rely on. If you’re ready to beat it, read on. “Why your brain loves procrastination” by Susannah Locke (Why Your Brain Loves Procrastination – Vox, https://getpocket.com/explore/item/why-your-brain-loves-procrastination , accessed 3/26/19) tells us that procrastination is nothing more than a coping mechanism to avoid doing something unpleasant and, instead, doing something we enjoy. Hardly a crime or a sin. However, that’s how we treat ourselves when we put off tasks. Instead, hoping to increase motivation, we’re hard on ourselves and the opposite happens: we feel worse. The key, says...
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Getting Over Overwhelm

I confess that I’d never heard the word “overwhelm” used as a noun until a few years ago. The verb “to overwhelm,” sure, and the adjective “overwhelming,” of course. After a cursory look online as I write this blog, it still didn’t come up. I first blogged about the “O” word in January 2011 (see archives) and I hear it more now than I did back then. Admittedly, I’m not a big fan of either the verb or the adjective. Both have way too many meanings for me and they’re all over the place. They include: bury, drown, completely defeat, trounce, vanquish, overpower, inundate, engulf, submerge, and feel intense or strong emotion. The closest definition in my mind is feeling like you have too many things to deal with, but if that’s the case, why not just say that?   Clients often tell me they’re overwhelmed or that life is overwhelming...
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Why Is Self-compassion So Hard for Dysregulated Eaters?

In my early years working with dysregulated eaters, I was surprised to discover what a  difficult time they have with self-compassion. It seems like an odd trait for people to struggle with—being nice, kind, and forgiving of themselves. Over the decades, however, I’ve learned a great deal about what kind of thinking prevents people from extending compassion to themselves. If this is an issue for you, read on. Part of the problem is a total misunderstanding of what the term means. So, one more time, according to Kristen Neff in her book Self-compassion , compassion means meeting suffering with kindness. That definition implies that self-compassion means meeting one’s own suffering with kindness. If I ask clients to offer compassion to others, they usually comprehend the concept because dysregulated eaters are generally very nice to others. If friends make a mistake, they reach out to assuage their guilt or shame. If a...
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Are You a Practitioner of Learned Helplessness?

Learned helplessness is a psychological dynamic which comes up often in therapy and is useful for clients to understand. It’s “a phenomenon in which repeated exposure to uncontrollable stressors results in individuals failing to use any control options that may later become available. Essentially, individuals are said to learn that they lack behavioral control over environmental events, which, in turn, undermines the motivation to make changes or attempt to alter situations.” (APA Dictionary of Psychology, https://dictionary.apa.org/learned-helplessness , accessed 3/6/19) It has been tied to depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and could be a good fit with eating disorders as well, though that belief is from my clinical experience, not from research. Gillian Fournier in “Learned Helplessness” calls it “A condition in which a person or animal has come to believe he or she is helpless in a situation, even when this is untrue.” (Psych Central Encyclopedia of Psychology, accessed 3/6/19,...
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Feeling Less Than May Make You Want to Eat More

Many dysregulated eaters chronically feel less than. They’re sure they’re not qualified for a job, even after getting hired. Comparing themselves to others, they always come up short. No matter what they’re doing or who they’re with, the feeling of being less than what others expect of them (or of what they expect of themselves) overwhelms them. Feeling smaller than, they eat to feel bigger. Here are some examples: · A client we’ll call Joe met a woman named Marla doing online dating and they went out a few times. During conversation, without bragging or being uppity, she mentioned that she came from a wealthy family. Joe, who grew up in poverty and now made a decent income for a man his age, felt that she would never be interested in him. When he met her family several weeks later, he continued to feel less than around them and that they...
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Accepting What You Can and Cannot Change part 2

It’s crucial, as words go in the song “The Gambler,” to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em. It’s vital to recognize when and where to pitch your tent and it’s just as vital to accept when it’s time to pack everything up and go home. In my previous blog, I described aspects of our lives that are possible to change, including friends, eating, job, lifestyle, and partners. Here are some fairly permanent features in our lives: We cannot change our: · family of origin with whom we’re stuck for better or worse. They were there when we came into the world and tend to want to stick to us like burrs. We can try to pretend they’re not our relatives, but they are our flesh and blood whether we like it or not. Of course, we can regulate distance from them and even choose to be...
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