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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]

Don’t Confuse Compassion with Over-Identification

Many people are confused about the difference between having compassion for someone and over-identifying with him or her. It’s a critical distinction, especially if you’re inclined to feel sorry for people and then end up losing yourself in the relationship and/or taking better care of them than of yourself. According to self-compassion author Kristen Neff, compassion is meeting suffering with kindness—part empathy and part wishing to treat someone as kindly as you’d like to be treated. There’s nothing wrong with compassion, which I encourage you to feel toward others and yourself. But, there’s everything wrong with over-identification. The Oxford Living Dictionaries defines it as, “The action of identifying oneself to an excessive degree with someone or something else, especially to the detriment of one's individuality or objectivity.” (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/overidentification, accessed 9/16/17) When we have compassion, we feel for someone. When we over-identify, we feel someone’s emotions to the point of losing our own perspective,...
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The Critical Importance of Emotional Health

How is it that so few people understand the purpose of emotions and how essential and valuable they are to us? The answer lies in our culture, especially its Puritan aspect, and in our ego-driven attachment to things rather than ideas and inner wisdom. Considering this off-base perspective, I was delighted to read what former US Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, MD, had to say about the relationship between physical and emotional health (“What it means to be healthy,” National Geographic, 9/2017, p.3). Reporting that he realized the importance of emotional well-being while traveling around the country, Vivek says that “people were experiencing a high degree of emotional pain. I think of emotional well-being as a resource within each of us that allows us to do more and perform better. That doesn’t mean just the absence of mental illness. It’s the presence of positive emotions that allows us to be resilient in the...
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The Difference Between Yearning and Wanting

How often do you use the word “want”? Probably a good deal. What about the word “yearn”? Is there a difference between yearning and wanting? According to Drs. Judith and Bob Wright, founders of the Wright Foundation and Wright Living, there most certainly is. (“How to understand and handle an abusive boss” by Lindsey Novak, At Work, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 9/4/17, D15) This topic is particularly relevant for dysregulated eaters who have food wants galore and often unmet yearnings. The Wrights tell us that wanting stimulates dopamine, generating that temporary rush you feel when you get what you desire. “Yearning, on the other hand, is paramount to one’s survival. When yearnings are met, one’s system is flooded with feel-good neurochemicals.” They’re saying that the high from getting what we yearn for is far better than the quick fix from satisfying a mere want. This idea makes me think about pride, which is that all-over...
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The 10-Second Cure for Eliminating Unhealthy Thoughts

Most of us have no idea that we can actually control what we’re afraid of, that is, we can decide which responses are appropriate to a situation and which are not. Many dysregulated eaters suffer from anxiety and negativity, and changing their response to fear helps enormously to increase their quality of life and relationship with food. Toward that end, I’d like to pass on to you a strategy put forth by my friend Ernie, a retired psychology professor. Here’s what he says to do the next time you’re in a situation in which you feel anxiety. Once you recognize that you feel anxious, “STOP—and do nothing for 10 seconds except look and listen.” Move from feeling to observing. Ernie uses the example of walking into a room and thinking that everyone is staring at you and recommends using 10 seconds to carefully observe what you see and hear. He says, “Probably nobody...
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Is There a Difference Between Feeling Guilt, Regret or Sorry?

We all find ourselves in situations in which someone has done something that hurts us and it’s important to be able to distinguish whether or not their apologies ring true or not. I’m not being nit-picky when I say that we need to know just what to look for. In order to recognize if a wrong-doer’s response is genuine and meaningful, we must carefully observe what an individual says as well as what he or she subsequently does. Take the phrase “I’m sorry,” which usually indicates that people feel regret or remorse for having caused someone pain: they wish they hadn’t done what they did or had done what they didn’t do. Examples include feeling: repentant for having had an affair, sad that they hadn’t taken you to the hospital when you said you had a stomach ache (which turned out to be appendicitis), or disappointed in themselves for resuming drinking when...
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Being Strong All The Time is Not Effective Mental Health

An article I read entitled “It’s O.K. to be a coward about cancer” (Time magazine, 8/7/17, pp. 21-22) got me thinking about our culture’s obsession with being strong no matter what happens. I firmly agree with what the author, Josh Friedman, has to say—how pushing ourselves to be strong is neither realistic nor helpful. For example, it can pave the way to emotional eating. Friedman, a cancer survivor himself, made reference to U.S. Senator John McCain’s public diagnosis of brain cancer, contending that to encourage and expect people to be “strong” while suffering serious diseases is wrong-headed and foolish. I have a friend who has endured several types of cancer over the many decades I’ve known him who does just that: insist he must be strong. His forceful statements about this need always seem to me more wishful thinking than realistic expectation. As Friedman says, our “tough guy narrative is seductive. It suggests...
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More Wisdom from Brene Brown

If you don’t know who Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW is, it’s time to get acquainted with her. She’s an author, TED talk speaker extraordinaire, and a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She is one wise woman whose insights every person with an eating disorder needs to learn from. Here are some nuggets of wisdom from an article she wrote on the “Physics of Vulnerability” in the May/June 2017 issue of Psychotherapy Networker (pp. 32-33). Brown believes that if you’re not allowing yourself to feel vulnerable often enough or refuse to move out of your comfort zone, you won’t get anywhere in life. I would add that if you spend most of your time obsessing about how to do something right and always need to feel safe and sure of an outcome, you not only won’t get very far in recovery, but you’ll have your eating...
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It’s Okay to Have Conflicting Thoughts on How You Want to Eat

It’s not uncommon to have mixed feelings or thoughts. I’ve written about this dynamic related to eating and body image in Starting Monday and in The Food and Feelings Workbook. How can we not have them? I lie in bed many mornings thinking about how I both do and don’t want to arise and begin the day. I feel ambivalent about almost every vacation or event that breaks up my routine—I look forward to something new and different, while feeling I’d just as soon pass the time enjoying my usual schedule. If mixed feelings are the norm, why do we get so upset about them? Why do we view them as negative and fight so hard to avoid them? We find ourselves averse to conflicting feelings or thoughts for two reasons. First, we may assume that there’s something wrong with us for not being unilaterally and single-minded about what we feel or...
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Stop Trying So Hard to Be Good

If you’re a regular blog reader of mine, you likely know that I have a strong negative bias against using the words “good” and “bad” in relation to food or eating. In fact, I have strong negative feelings about those two words, period. I say and write them occasionally, but try my darnedest not to because there’s usually a more descriptive word to use for both of them. Here’s my case against the words “good” and “bad.” First, is there anyone among us who didn’t hear these words ad nauseum as children? We’re schooled to always try to be good and to, at all costs, avoid being bad. We’re even told that Santa knows which way we’ve been, so it’s not just about pleasing our parents, relatives or teachers, but we’ve got to mind out Ps and Qs if we want to receive any presents from old St. Nick. Second, it’s dangerous to...
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Be Careful What You Tell Your Brain

You are not only what you eat, but what you tell yourself. Nearly every week, a client comes into my office and tells me how “overwhelmed” she is. She’ll say it multiple times: “I’m so overwhelmed” or “I’m really overwhelmed” or “Boy, am I overwhelmed.” Although I encourage clients to connect to their emotions, I don’t encourage them to keep reminding themselves of feelings they don’t need to be having. Our brain more or less understands only commands and translates more complex ideas into them. It hears our self-talk and does what it thinks we want it to do. So that, “I’m overwhelmed” tells the brain to feel pressured, “I’m miserable” instructs it to be unhappy, and “I’m scared” signals it to feel fear. This is, of course, the exact opposite of what you want to be telling your brain when you’re overwhelmed, miserable or scared.  Try an experiment. Set a timer and...
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Do Rules Help or Hurt Us?

I have many clients who struggle against food rules. Some are highly compliant in other ways—they wouldn’t jay-walk or cheat on their taxes—while others will push the limit in many life areas, seeing what they can “get away with.” Recently, while emailing with a “nice” girl client about her disdain and subsequent rebellion against food rules, I began thinking about their general evolutionary purpose. In 2009, I wrote a blog entitled “Structure versus Freedom,” which describes the human need for both structure and freedom and how they play out in adulthood when you have too much or too little of either in childhood. Kids who were raised with excessive structure in the form of rigid do’s and don’ts accompanied by little say in the matter, often grow up to overtly or covertly crave freedom. Alternately, kids allowed too much license may morph into adults who overtly or covertly crave structure. Implicit in my...
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You’re All Wrong About Anxiety

Most of my clients are anxious, whether they have dysregulated eating or not. They fret incessantly about how they’re doing in life compared to others, whether they’re making enough “right” decisions, and how they’ll manage if life doesn’t go exactly as they’ve planned. They’re so used to believing that it’s their worries and fears that keep the sky from crashing down upon them, that they never stop and think that anxiety is no more powerful than the Wizard of Oz or protective than the Emperor’s new clothes. This realization dawned up on me while talking with a client one day. She grew up very anxious with a strict mother who brooked little dissent and made my client think there was a right way—and, of course, a wrong way—to do everything. Hence, my client’s worry about whether she should leave a job that she (more or less) hated or stick around because it...
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Beliefs to Toss That Lead to Emotional Eating

A good deal of emotional eating is due to irrational beliefs, especially about people, that do not serve us well. When we build our lives around these unhealthy beliefs that run contrary to how the world actually works, we’re bound to get upset easily and often. By reframing these beliefs, you’ll provide yourself with a healthier base for better living and better eating. I’m nice, caring and loving, so other people must be that way too. Would that this were so. Many people have serious limitations in their ability to be intimate and forge positive, nurturing, mutually enhancing relationships. Most of their deficits are from growing up in dysfunctional families and from a culture that sends mixed messages about appropriate values to live by. It’s important to take these limited people as they are, not as you wish them to be. If they consistently treat you poorly and haven’t responded to your...
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Knowing the Difference Between Distress and Stress

Do you know the difference between distress and stress? You may think of them as one and the same, but they’re not. Distress is uncomfortable, upsetting and closely linked to anxiety. It often signals that we are hurt or are afraid to be hurt in some way. It’s an emotion which occurs in reaction to an external or internal trigger. I’ll get to explaining the difference between distress and stress in a minute. Here’s the instance of distress that prompted my writing this blog. A client arrived at my office early one evening flushed with emotion and started talking before she even sat down, explaining in rapid fire speech that she’d mailed her health insurance payment two months before and had just been notified by letter that her payment was overdue. We talked about what might have happened to the missing check and what she could do to remedy this situation. I...
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Are Recall Triggers the Canary in Your Coal Mine?

The triggering of recall memories are something like canaries in a coal mine. Their job is to prevent you from harm, like the poor birds flying ahead of minors sacrificing their lives to test for toxic air. Used consciously old memories can be a real benefit. Because they get triggered, you might catch onto who people are beneath the surface (he’s a trickster or she’s only out for herself) or what’s really going on in a situation more quickly than others. You’ve been there and done that and know what certain feelings and reactions may mean for you and others. However, if you let them direct your reactions in the present, you’ll never become an effective problem-solver. Let me tell you about a client we’ll call Cynthia who was excited and proud that she was now pretty much able to identify when emotional reactions were triggered by memories. She was more and...
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Can Stress Make Us Fat?

The most recent addition to our feeding behaviors is stress eating and it turns out, in fact, that too much stress may actually put weight on you. So says Nicholas Bakalar in “Long-term stress shows effects on waistlines” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 3/14/17, E10). You know how it goes: You’re facing an office deadline, need to chauffeur the kids around all day, have back-to-back clients, or it’s down to the wire at tax time, and you find yourself craving sweets or treats. According to results published in Obesity, 2,527 men and women over the age of 50 were tested in a study “quantifying stress by measuring levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in two-centimeter hair clippings, or about two months’ growth…they found that the higher the level of cortisol, the greater the body weight, BMI and waist circumference. Higher cortisol levels were also associated with persistence of obesity over time.” Researchers note that “they were...
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Hidden Reasons That Eating Disorder Clients Drop Out of Therapy

May 25 why some clients leave therapy too soon
Image by Debbie Digioia If you are or have been in therapy to deal with your eating problems, you may be interested in a therapist’s view of the hidden reasons that cause clients to drop out of treatment before they’re fully recovered. The reasons apply to people in any kind of therapy, of course, not just to troubled eaters. I’m hoping that writing about what I think too often happens will prevent such occurrences and help you understand your reasons for leaving therapy before you’re “done.” Please understand that I am not coming at this subject from a place of blaming or making you wrong. I’m attempting to explain you to yourself so that you have increased self-knowledge. That’s my job as a therapist and as a blogger about eating disorders. I’m also not talking about dropping out when you have major life changes that make it impossible time- or money-wise for you...
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When Life Isn’t Fair

May 15 2017 WHEN LIFE ISNT FAIR
Image by Debbie Digioia When life isn’t fair, many emotional eaters get wildly upset and turn to food to comfort themselves, though they may not realize what exactly is triggering their mindless eating at the time. If life’s unfairness is a major irritant in your life, you may feel differently about the subject after reading this blog. Moreover, you may find that justice not prevailing bothers you so little that you no longer turn to food when life seems to misfire. Let’s start with a basic question: What ever made you think that life should be or is fair? Did your parents complain about life not being fair which made you think that it ought to be? Were you schooled in the thinking that if we all work hard enough at it that justice will prevail? Were you taught that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people?...
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Stress Can Cancel Out Nutritious Eating

STRESS STRESS STRESS MAY 11
Image by Debbie Digioia Kudos to all of you who are trying to eat more nutritiously. Unfortunately, according to research, if you’re living a stressful life, you may be cancelling out the benefits of eating healthful foods (“Stress may erase benefits from healthy eating” by Nicholas Bakalar, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 10/11/16, p. E12). Here’s what a new study tells us. This small study (involving only 58 women) points to how mood and metabolism can affect us in ways we don’t realize. These women “ate a meal high in saturated fats. Then, one to two weeks later, the women ate a meal low in saturated fats.” The meals were identical in every other way. The only difference in these situations was that “Before each meal, the women completed questionnaires assessing symptoms of depression over the past week and the number of daily stressors in the past 24 hours.” According to blood samples taken, “Among women who...
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To Improve Your Eating, Improve Your EQ

APRIL 20 2017 IQ vs EQ
Image by Debbie Digioia If you’re smart and successful, you may wonder why you haven’t been able to resolve your eating problems. You may find it bizarre that you can have a high IQ (Intelligence Quotient), yet still eat mindlessly or emotionally and have yet to manage to enjoy a positive, sane relationship with food and your body. Your challenge makes perfect sense if you don’t have a high EQ (Emotional Quotient) aka emotional intelligence. According to psychologist and author Daniel Goleman, your EQ is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. “It is generally said to include three skills:1. Emotional awareness, including the ability to identify your own emotions and those of others;2. The ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem- solving;3. The ability to manage emotions, including the ability to regulate your own emotions, and the ability to...
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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