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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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Self-soothing, Self-talk and Self-regulation

Picture this: You’ve just raced out of a burning house and are still reeling from your narrow escape. Shaking and shivering, your heart is pounding, you can’t catch your breath, and thoughts are pinging around your head. Your nervous system is wildly dysregulated. So, would this be a good time to do a mental de-briefing about the fire’s origins or ways you might have prevented it? Of course not. After, fleeing that burning house, your first job is to get your emotional system to register that you’re safe and out of danger. To do this, you need soothing words and a gentle, comforting tone, a way to signal to your nervous system that all is well. You need to settle down, the same way a pot of boiling water requires time to stop bubbling away when you turn off the heat. This return to stasis won’t happen if you immediately launch...
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Curb Anxiety and Depression with Activity

If you turn to food when you’re anxious or depressed and are looking for a remedy with no side-effects, try staying active. Exercise actually changes your neurochemistry and helps lessen the blues, the blahs and the agita you may be feeling. Here’s how it works. “How exercise combats depression and anxiety” by Amanda Loudin (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, E18, 5/25/16) explains the power of activity in reducing these discomfiting emotional states. “Researchers at the University of California at Davis Medical Center found that exercise increased the level of the neurotransmitters glutamate and GABA, both of which are depleted in the brains of patients with depression and anxiety. The study shows that “exercise activates the metabolic pathway that replenishes these neurotransmitters.” Pretty simple and straightforward. If you tend toward emotional dysregulation as well as yo-yo eating, exercise can help. Richard Maddock, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and the study’s lead author, says, “This...
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Better to Cry Than to Eat Emotionally

Many of my clients with dysregulated eating have difficulty crying. It’s important to understand its function because my hunch is that many of you would do less emotional eating if you cried more. How do you feel about crying? Do you understand its purpose? Do you even know that it has one, and that—of all things—it may be connected to sex? According to Jay Efran, psychology professor at Temple University, who has a two-stage theory about tears, “people cry when something sparks anxiety or distress, and this is followed by a moment of recalibration or release…Both laughing and crying seem to be dictated by a rapid change in the part of our nervous system that controls involuntary actions such as heartbeat and pupil dilations.” (Sarasota Herald Tribune, p. E22, 5/11/16) When male mice tears are analyzed, they’re found to contain a pheromone that increases the possibility of females wanting to mate...
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Do You Eat When You’re Bored?

When I wrote about boredom in The Food and Feelings Workbook, I didn’t understand scientifically why we seek food when we feel bored. I only knew that it was an automatic reaction that often occurred when dysregulated eaters had nothing to do or were disengaged from what they were doing. Fast forward 10 years and science can explain why that happens. The findings of a preliminary study on boredom and eating were presented at the British Psychology Society’s annual meeting and I read about them in HealthDay (If You're Craving Cookies, You Might Just Be Bored). Here’s what was said by the study’s lead investigator, Sandi Mann of the University of Central Lancashire: "These results are in line with previous research suggesting that we crave fatty and sugary foods when we are bored. This strengthens the theory that boredom is related to low levels of the stimulating brain chemical dopamine and...
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Understanding Interpersonal Dynamics to Reduce Emotional Eating

One reason we get stressed (then engage in mindless eating or obsessing about food and weight) is due to how personally we take things in relationships. To avoid doing so and to see the larger picture, the key is understanding the intricacies and subtleties of interpersonal dynamics. Two important dynamics are simple projection and the more complicated, projective identification. Don’t get scared off by these terms. Once you understand and recognize them, relationships will be less upsetting. One example of projection is when we take a trait we dislike or are not comfortable with in ourselves, deny possessing it, and disdain it in someone else (who may or may not have this trait). This is why cheapskates look down on others who are tightwads, bullies accuse others of being oppressors, and people who refuse to be wrong will often accuse others of always needing to be right. When someone tells you...
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One Simple Way to Reduce Your Anxiety

The majority of my eating dysregulated clients have social anxiety and many have Generalized Anxiety Disorder as well. While curbing anxiety can seem like a daunting endeavor, here’s one strategy that’s easy to implement and gets results. It’s described in “Brain changer: using kindness to trump anxiety” by Amy Ellis Nutt (http://health.heraldtribune.com/2016/05/03/brain-changer-using-kindness-to-trump-anxiety/). Nutt says that “anxiety tends to turn people inward, make them more introspective and therefore, less socially engaged. Previously, scientists have shown that people who are more self-focused do in fact experience greater levels of anxiety.” She goes on to report on a study published in the journal Motivation and Emotion in which two University of British Columbia scientists tested out the idea of “whether acts of kindness, already shown by researchers to increase a person’s happiness, might also help alleviate social anxiety.” One group was instructed to perform three acts of kindness per day, twice a week for...
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How to Choose Happiness

Most people eat more mindfully when they’re happy or content, so it pays to learn how to generate and sustain these moods. “Want to Be Happier? So You Must Ask This Question Every Morning” by Harvey McKay, explains how to do just that. (https://bayart.org/2016/04/27/want-to-be-happier-so-you-must-ask-this-question-every-morning/) It tells us that Albert Einstein said, “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.” Consider how each perspective colors every aspect of your life. Is the world a friendly place where folks are generally nice and kind, or is it enemy territory, with them mostly out for themselves or out to get you? If you spend most of the day thinking about the pleasures you’re going to have—your cup of morning Joe, taking a walk in the park at lunch time, the witty co-worker you’re sharing a project with today, how great the weather’s been, or...
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Why We Get Upset So Easily—and How Not to

Many of us have experienced going from 0 to 10 on the distress scale in a nanosecond and seeking food to calm down. For some, it becomes a habit. Unfortunately, if we habitually use food to re-regulate or to preventively tamp down our upset or anger, we never learn effective skills to manage emotional distress. That is why some of you still fear upset and losing your temper or your cool many decades into life. The first thing you should know is that we are biologically built to feel fear and hurt as strong emotions because they may signal that there is a threat to us in the environment. Experiencing surges of emotion can be a sign that something is very wrong, but they can also, equally, amount to false alarms. As Amy Alkon, the Advice Goddess (whose column I love and quote from frequently in my blogs), describes in her...
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Letting Down Your Guard to Connect up

Many dysfunctional eaters are woefully unfamiliar with deep, intimate connections and believe that having an honest and vulnerable connection is a rarity in life. In fact, sometimes the first authentic relationship they have is with a therapist. They are convinced that opening up and letting down their guard with people will only cause them hurt and harm. They are sadly mistaken and their self-imposed emotional isolation is no doubt a large contributor to their turning to food when they’re stressed or distressed. I was reminded of how intimacy can bond people together when my husband and I were dining with two other couples. We’d known each couple for some time, and they had recently formed a friendship with each other. Granted that three of us were therapists used to talking about feelings, although that doesn’t mean we were totally comfortable talking about our own. Over the course of the evening, the...
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When Anger at Your Children Triggers Mindless Eating

If you’re a parent, much as you love ‘em, your kids might trigger your unwanted eating. They may be thoughtless or careless. Sometimes when they’re upset, they take out their distress on you. Other times, you hurt their feelings and they lash out and try to hurt you back. Whatever the reason, you can learn to avoid getting so angry at your children that you mindlessly seek food to re-regulate your emotions by understanding your usual triggers. “Learn what’s causing your anger” by Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman (Sarasota Herald Tribune, p. B3, 4/11/16) provides tips to discover what’s going on inside you when you feel angry at your kids. Their point is that it helps to dig below the surface to find out what’s really triggering you. Ask yourself, is what you’re feeling due to: 1. A sensory issue, in that you’re already overwhelmed, wiped out, dead on your feet,...
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6 Quick Self-soothing Strategies for Anxiety

One of the most challenging aspects of recovery for dysregulated eaters is soothing themselves when they’re anxious. Sometimes you might not even realize that you’re brimming with anxiety until you’ve eaten half a bag of cookies or find yourself at the McDonalds window giving your order. It’s vital to know your signals of experiencing anxiety, so you can soothe yourself before it drives you to mindless eating. Start by identifying three ways you know you’re anxious—difficulty focusing, feeling jumpy, thoughts running amuck in your head, clenching your teeth, tightening your jaw, shoulders and neck muscles tensing, a knot in your gut, rushing around (that’d be me), feeling inner pressure “to do,” or raising your voice when you don’t need to. Anxiety signals are both physical and mental. Make sure you recognize your signals before reading on. Now you’re ready to consider self-soothing actions. Here are three physical and three emotional strategies...
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A Tale of Emotional Re-regulation

My tale of emotional dysregulation and re-regulation happened earlier this month when I was enjoying myself at picnic given by a group I belong to. As I was leaving, I was introduced to a man loosely in the field of psychology and started talking to him—and the fun stopped. I share this experience to help you consider what you want to do and not do when you run into a very difficult person (see my blog Difficult People). He had been talking with a therapist friend of mine on a psychology-related topic and I gave my opinion. He pounced on me immediately, calling me prejudiced and demanding evidence to support my comment. I offered none, but explained my thinking. He verbally attacked once more and moved aggressively into my physical space. I made another point he tried to demolish, his voice rising in pitch. I was not afraid of him, but...
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How to Handle Being Blamed (Without Heading for the Cookie Jar)

Many people turn to food when they feel blamed, especially when they weren’t at fault. Because none of us are perfect, it pays to learn how to handle blame—to recognize what’s going on for the “blamer” and how to respond as the alleged “blamee.” Some people were never held accountable for wrongdoing growing up and didn’t learn to tolerate the shame of making mistakes or failing in order to acknowledge and get past shame. The emotion is foreign and humiliating to them, so they want to shake it right off. Others were shamed so frequently (overtly or covertly) in their formative years that they became overwhelmed with it and had to shut it down in order to function. As adults, any kind of shame or shaming (even for the smallest transgression) feels unbearable. In either case, many people lack the skill to willingly take in having erred, feel brief shame, let...
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Monitoring How You Feel

This blog is not about getting in touch with your emotions. Rather, it’s about how many of you, when asked “How are you?” end up answering quite a different question, which is “How are you feeling about yourself, especially emotionally?” I’ve noticed this quite a bit over the decades in and out of my practice. Here’s what I’ve seen. When a client comes in, I may ask, “How are you?” just to get the ball rolling if necessary, and often get these responses, “I think I’m doing okay,” “I’m not feeling great,” or “I’m not doing so well.” These responses reflect an internal appraisal of how they’re feeling about themselves or their interactions in the world, rather than of what they’re experiencing in the moment—a particular emotion—or in a specific area of their lives. The responses are more judgment and self-evaluation than actual description. Because so many dysregulated eaters often lack...
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When You Can’t Get What You Really Want, You Eat

When dysregulated eaters think they can’t get what they really want in life, they too often turn to food. They’re not hungry (not a smidge!), but end up on a mission to find something edible to satisfy them. And heaven help anyone who gets in their way. I know just what this process is like because I used to engage in it all the time. When we turn to food mindlessly, sometimes we know what we actually desire and sometimes we don’t. All we are certain of is that some big thing is missing in our lives and we think food will do the trick for now. Now can be all that matters when you have this kind of overpowering urge. It feels like there’s no time to investigate emotional needs, no ability to focus on what’s really missing in life. It’s too hard and frustrating and food is right there...
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Learn to Accept Uncertainty and Decrease Mindless Eating

Wanting to know the future, be safe, feel secure, and foresee all outcomes is a universal desire, but makes no sense when the task is impossible. Moreover, trying to do what is not possible is frustrating and a major cause of mindless eating. How often do you obsess about a decision, becoming preoccupied by it to the exclusion of thinking about anything else? How often do you push to control an outcome that is not in your control so that you’ll have the illusion of feeling safe or secure? How often do you tell yourself that you will not be okay unless this or that happens? If you think this way often enough, you might have convinced yourself that it is possible to know the future and remain safe and secure—and certain—throughout life. And, therefore, when this doesn’t happen, you may make a beeline to the cookie jar because you don’t...
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Sensitivity, Emotional Dysregulation, and Eating

Do you become easily emotionally dysregulated? Do you feel things intensely, react strongly to situations and people, and have a hard time shrugging off emotions, leading you to turn to food to re-regulate your mood? Have you been called “too sensitive or over-sensitive” or feel that you are more sensitive than others? Do prefer to spend a good deal of time alone rather than socializing or easily get over-stimulated? Here are two books which will help you feel better as you are. Fact is, you may be more sensitive to certain stimuli than others are. In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain explains the science behind low and high sensitivity. This is an enlightening book about reactivity and will help introverts feel more comfortable in our extrovert-laden world. As Cain described introverts and extroverts preferring different levels of stimulation, I thought about what...
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What Emotion Lies Beneath Your Anger?

Sometimes we feel such intense anger so quickly that we forget it may be a response to a more primary and fragile emotion. And too often we turn to food to make ourselves feel better by trying to comfort our initial distress or by attempting to reduce our anger to more tolerable levels. Here are three emotions which may trigger anger: Fear Fear is a common anger activator. For example, a client related how her pre-teen daughter had gone off on her bicycle without telling her parents where she was going and was missing for an hour. My client was naturally anxious about her whereabouts and well-being and drove all over town looking for her. When her daughter returned home as if nothing was wrong, my client was furious with her. My client eventually admitted that she’d felt scared that something had happened to her daughter—her fear had morphed into anger...
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Maintaining a Stable Sense of Self

Many dysregulated eaters find it difficult to keep a Stable Sense of Self at all times, that is, to hold a core, positive regard for themselves that is undeniable and unwavering—no matter what. With an unstable sense of self, you feel fantastic about yourself when you’ve done well or when people like and praise you, and equally awful about yourself when you’re rejected or criticized or don’t live up to perfection. Here are some examples of an unstable sense of self. Failing to make the tennis team, you’re full of shame and your self-esteem plummets. Being asked out on a second date by someone you like makes you feel lovable and valuable. When you don’t clean the house after promising yourself you would, you feel like a terrible, lazy person. Only by winning a short story contest do you allow yourself to believe you are a decent writer. With a stable...
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Science Tells You How to Stop Chasing Happiness to Be Happy

Do you eat or strive to lose weight in order to be “happy”? Do you go after happiness as if it’s a prize and once you’ve gotten your hands around it, it will be yours forever? “Why chasing happiness may be making you miserable” by Mandy Oaklander (Time, 10/12/15, p. 28) dispels myths about what will make you happy and offers advice on true happiness. It also explains why non-hunger food seeking just doesn’t cut it. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General measured college students’ drive for happiness against their real levels of well-being. They discovered that, for Americans, at least, “desperately wanting to be happy is linked with lower psychological health,” according to study author Brett Ford at the University of California, Berkeley. In “collectivist societies” like Japan, “happiness is seen as a social endeavor: spending time with friends, caring for parents, etc.” Ford maintains that...
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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