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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. 

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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Accepting What You Can and Cannot Change part 1

It’s curious that sometimes I think my clients who are dysregulated eaters view what they can and cannot change exactly backward. For example, I think it can be hard to budge weight, but easier to shift what and how much we eat. They think it’s easier to change others than themselves and I believe in the opposite. Here’s a list of things I see as changeable. In part 2 of this blog, I’ll review the things I see as relatively fixed and not possible to change. We can change our: · friends because we chose them, or we allow ourselves to be chosen by them. Somewhere, maybe way back when, we formed a bond and have agreed to keep it and call it friendship. But that doesn’t mean we must keep it if it isn’t serving us well. As we change, we may need to cast off old friendships and seek...
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Humans are a Mass(Mess) of Contradictions

Our brains developed to quickly assess “good” from “bad” people, that is, those that we expect will be friendly to and not harm us from those we fear will be hostile and hurt us. Back when the first humans came on the scene, this was a useful brain feature to help us assess and monitor our relationships with others. But now it oversimplifies relationships and encourages all/nothing thinking which actually works to deter healthy relationships and causes unnecessary stress and reactive unwanted eating. An example of how wildly complicated humans are can be seen in a February news story of a man who bought $540 worth of cookies so that two Girl Scouts could come in from cold weather and was “later arrest on federal drug charges, including conspiracy to manufacture and distribute heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl.” (“Man who went viral for buying $540 of Girl Scout cookies arrested in DEA...
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We’re All Doing the Best We Can

One of my most challenging discussions in therapy is convincing clients that people are doing the best they can at any given point. I’ve always thought of this idea, along with its counterpart which I’ll describe in a moment, as a given psychological principle or truth. Yet I understand how difficult it is to wrap your mind around. The concept goes like this: people are doing the best they can, though it may not be good enough. Said another way, If people could do better, they would. Most clients and others hear me say that their parent/child/boss/etc. is doing the best he or she can and start telling me how untrue that is. For example, if your supervisor is constantly critical of your work and tells you so in a blunt and hurtful manner, that is the best she can do right now. Here’s the key point, however. Her best may...
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The Result of Evolution Are We

As a staunch believer in evolution, I’m forever reminding clients that we’re frail, fragile beings and far from the wunderkind we think we are or would love to be, especially emotionally. Speaking to these points, here’s what psychiatrist and trauma specialist Dr. Arash Javankakht has to say in “To live your best life, live the life you evolved for” (The Conversation, https://www.cnn.com/2019/02/04/health/life-you-evolved-for-partner/index.html , accessed 2/5/19). “I often tell my patients and students that to understand how fear works in us, we have to see it in the context where it evolved. Ten thousand years ago, if another human frowned at us, chances were high one of us would be dead in a couple of minutes. In the tribal life of our ancestors, if other tribe members did not like you, you would be dead, or exiled and dead…Biological evolution is very slow, but civilization, culture, society, and technology evolve relatively fast....
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Do You Have Emotional Granularity?

Having high emotional granularity is a vital tool for reducing emotional eating. The term was coined by Northeastern University Psychology Professor Lisa Feldman Barrett shortly after the turn of the century and refers to the ability to recognize, identify and express a full range of emotions. People with high emotional granularity have “finely tuned feelings.” They value emotions and are in touch with them most of the time. Moreover, they don’t lump all emotions together but feel and can describe their nuances. Upset might be parsed as frightened, dismayed or exasperated. Angry might be viewed as frustrated, helpless or fearful. Says Barrett, “Emotional granularity isn’t just about having a rich vocabulary; it’s about experiencing the world, and yourself, more precisely. This can make a difference in your life. In fact, there is growing scientific evidence that precisely tailored emotional experiences are good for you, even if those experiences are negative.” (“Are...
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What Do You Mean by Parts of Yourself?

Here’s a phrase I hear often: “part of myself.” And here’s how it’s used, “There’s a part of me that wants to stop eating so much” or, “Part of me thinks I’d benefit from exercising and the other part thinks I’d be better off going back to sleep.” I’m sure you get my drift on how the term is used. But do you understand what you mean by using the word? Can you point to where this “part of you” is? If you’re talking about two parts, are they in different places? I’m not trying to be silly here but to make a point. The truth is that there is no “part” of you that feels one way or thinks another. What you mean is that you have conflicting/contradictory/mixed/opposing thoughts and feelings. We all do. When you use the word “part,” it sounds as if there’s a permanent installation somewhere within...
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It’s Time to Grow Up

There’s an I-won’t-grow-up quality to dysregulated eating. Denial of consequences or the childish hope of avoiding them. A rush from rebelling against authority, rules and being told what is right or what to do. Glee in getting away with something. The sly triumph of getting something for nothing. The magical belief of reaching goals without putting in a commensurate effort. Manipulation of others into setting your food boundaries, then resenting the hell out of them for doing just that. Yearning for what other people have without doing the work. Being ruled by irrational fears. Avoiding discomfort and pain. Giving in easily. Doing only what feels good and still expecting to have a great life. If you recognize yourself in these descriptions, sit a moment with your awareness. If you feel a ping of shame, that’s okay. A ping is just right. No need to do a number on yourself about how...
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Are You Too Porous?

While listening to a friend and retired psychologist, share her experiences about a trip to India many decades before, she mentioned how disturbed she was to see dead babies floating in the Ganges River. This led to discussing how some people are what she calls more “porous” than others. I find myself returning to this concept often in my practice, especially working with dysregulated eaters who generally are highly porous. Porosity, also called permeability, like most things, exists on a continuum. There are people who nothing seems to affect as if they have an emotional wall around them that prevents them from taking in the pain or suffering of others. No matter what’s happening to people, they appear to remain untouched by it. At the other end of the spectrum are people who are extremely sensitive to the feelings of others. They intensely experience the suffering of people, friends or strangers....
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Have a Love Affair with Yourself

If you read my blogs regularly, you know how adamantly I warn against using directives like should, need to, must, ought, have to and am supposed to. Unfortunately, you’ve probably been using them for years thinking that they’re going to get you to change your eating, exercises or other behaviors. And yet, here you are reading my blogs. These words are external motivators that get you exactly nowhere. There is another way. It’s called self-love. Think about what it would be like to have a love affair with yourself. Here’s how it would change your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. When you love someone, you care about and want to take care of them. No one has to urge you to do so. You do it automatically straight from the heart. You notice and value all the wonderful things they say and do. You can’t help it because you think they’re special....
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Tips for Dealing with Envy

I was talking with a client about envy—hers—but it also brought up the subject for me, as topics discussed in therapy often do. It’s so easy to fall into the envy trap and it can happen before we realize it. We may not even recognize that envy is what we’re feeling and, instead, experience it as anger at someone for something general or specific. Though I’ve blogged before on envy, here’s a reminder of what it is: a feeling between two people when you want something that the other person has. It’s different from a jealousy which generally involves three people and occurs when we fear that someone will take something we have. In envy, we want their boyfriend or girlfriend. In jealousy, we’re afraid they’ll take ours. Here are two approaches to banish envy, the second of which is a suggestion from a client. When you feel envious, try on...
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What Makes Us Angry?

I’ve been working with clients to help them identify what makes them angry in order to reduce emotional eating. I don’t mean why specifically—becoming angry when a spouse is late for dinner or getting mad because a friend blabs a secret shared in confidence. I mean recognizing that reasons for anger fall into broad categories and knowing which ones trigger you in order to avoid emotional eating. (“Parenting: helping kids manage relationships” by Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman, Sarasota Herald Tribune , 11/26/18, accessed 11/28/18). According to Stahlmann and Hagaman, we get angry for five reasons (they provide no source for them). Let’s look at how anger might be dealt with appropriately for each one. Pain: When we’re physically uncomfortable, we’re vulnerable to feeling irritated. Hence the term “hangry” (hungry plus angry). When we’re tired, we set ourselves up for life getting on our nerves and for being reactive. And, certainly...
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Beware of Flights into Health

What is a “flight into health” and why is it the opposite of what it sounds like and a dynamic to avoid? It is: “In dynamic psychotherapy, the early but often only temporary disappearance of the symptoms that ostensibly brought the patient into therapy; a defense against the anxiety engendered by the prospect of further psychoanalytic exploration of the patient's conflicts. (Flight into Health - Medical Definition from MediLexicon, https://www.medilexicon.com/dictionary/34029 , accessed 11/24/18) I see “flights into health” often in my practice. All psychotherapists do. So that you can recognize them in yourself and people you know, here are some examples. A client prone to depression who has no meaningful work and hasn’t found the right man comes back from a vacation abroad and is jazzed and hopeful about her future because of her experience. After a while, her depression returns. She’s been in therapy for years and this vacation →...
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What Makes Us (Truly) Happy?

As a therapist, I spend a lot of time talking about happiness. I’ve written blogs about it, posted numerous articles on it, and have a smattering of books on the subject sitting on my bookshelves for clients to borrow to learn more about the subject. Though information abounds about happiness, many of my dysregulated eating (and otherwise troubled) clients have problems finding and holding on to it. “Is happiness genetic?” by Jen Christensen ( www.cnn.com , 7/30/13, accessed 11/13/18) helps us understand why. There are two types of happiness: hedonic and eudaimonic. The hedonic type comes pleasurable experiences or instant gratification—that jolt or a bolt of happy which washes over you. This is the buzz we get from eating high-sugar/high-fat foods, shopping, or receiving a text from a beloved. The other type of happiness, eudaimonic, derives from a sense of well-being that arises from working towards and achieving goals which give...
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