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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-compassion is Key to “Normal” Eating

Many people lack self-compassion, but it’s especially crucial for people who’ve come to hate their food failures and bodies. Make no mistake, lacking self-compassion puts you on the fast track to self-hate, so it’s a quality that none of us can afford to be without. First off, self-compassion is not: accepting unhealthy habits, giving up improvement, thinking that you’re perfect, or lacking accountability. If criticism is a harsh task-master, self-compassion is a soft one, encouraging you to be the best person you can be. It is: being kind to yourself when you’re hurting or suffering, understanding that you’re human and have frailties and limits, loving yourself in spite of your faults when you err or fail, and the way we connect to other flawed human beings as we all strive to do better If your parents weren’t self-compassionate, you never may have learned to be so. No problem: you’ll learn how...
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How Families Not Expressing Feelings Can Led to Eating Problems

In a radio interview of her new memoir, one of my favorite authors, Joyce Carol Oates, speaks of growing up in a family that didn’t talk about secrets. In many families of dysregulated eaters secrets are left undiscussed and feelings, in general, are neither aired or shared. Sadly, such avoidance may cause or exacerbate eating problems. How did your family view emotions when you were growing up—as scary, mysterious, unfathomable things to ward off? Did your family keep secrets and hold back feelings? Here are examples of experiences that might have wrongly skewed your view of emotions. A father turns stone-faced and walks away whenever his daughter talks about her feelings, causing her to believe that having them is wrong and sharing them only upsets people. When they’re angry, parents give each other and their children the silent treatment for days. A mother giggles inappropriately whenever her children express their upset....
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Depowering Guilt and Shame

If you haven’t heard of Brené Brown, let me introduce you to this compassionate and wise author, speaker, and University of Austin social work professor. I first heard her simple, honest truths in a TED talk. Here is some of her wisdom about failure and resilience (Time magazine, 9/21/15, p. 88), subjects that have strong relevance for people who’ve struggled with eating and weight concerns. Based on her research, she speaks of the importance of having courage: “He or she who is the most capable of being uncomfortable rises the fastest. There is a huge correlation between a capacity for discomfort and wholeheartedness. If you cannot manage [emotional] discomfort, that sends you barreling into perfectionism, blame, rationalizing—without taking away key learnings.” As I often say to clients as they’re leaving my office and they take no offense, “’Bye now. Have an uncomfortable week.” People who allow themselves to be emotionally uncomfortable...
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4 Simple Steps to Manage Emotional Eating

It takes only four simple steps to manage your emotions. The process involves handling memories that may trigger and intensify emotional upset in the present as well as the liberal use of self-compassion in clearing these memories. This approach assumes that memory snippets which are similar to current events automatically erupt and intensify what we’re feeling without our realizing that they do so. If you’ve been reading my blogs, you’ll know that when affective memories get triggered, our current feelings grow way out of proportion to a current situation, just the sort of thing that drives emotional eating. When you’re upset or want to eat when you’re not hungry, do the following: 1. Explore and identify what you’re feeling (sad, lonely, abandoned, ashamed, etc.). Name the specific emotion. You may know it right off or it may take a while to identify it. 2. Review your history and match the current...
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Overcoming Your Fears

Sometimes you must make the choice to overcome irrational fears or stay stuck in poor mental habits that lead to dysregulated eating. I have so many clients who wonder why they continue emotional eating without realizing that it’s because their fears keep them from living their best lives. Get rid of the fears and eating healthfully is much easier. Some clients are afraid to go out and seek a job and others fear leaving their current workplace or moving out of their field. They are afraid of rejection, being locked into work they don’t love, trying something new, failing or simply moving out of their comfort zone. Instead, they eat when they’re unhappy with work (or the lack of it) and comforting themselves with food prevents them from facing their fears. Other clients fear making improvements in relationships. They’re uncomfortable setting boundaries with family members, co-workers or friends, and when problems...
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Emotional Eating When You Want People to Change and They Won’t

Many dysregulated eaters are in relationships where they want another person to change. When he or she doesn’t, in frustration, these eaters turn to food to momentarily feel better. Of course, that feeling doesn’t last, nor does the strategy of trying to change the other person work. If it was going to work, it would have happened already. It doesn’t matter who we want to be different—a parent, lover, child, boss, colleague, spouse, friend or whoever. If we’re channeling our energy into believing he or she will change if we try hard enough or do exactly the right thing, we’re bound to end up feeling frustrated and hopeless. We’ve all heard it before: We can’t change other people; we can only change ourselves. Although we all know, on some level, that this is true, why then do we keep on trying to make people be different than they are or wish...
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The Day After Holiday Eating

Ah, yes, the day after Thanksgiving, time to be thankful that you have a chance to think, feel and act healthily about yesterday’s eating. If you’re happy with how you ate, great. If you’re unhappy with how you ate, still great. To understand why, read on. If you’ve been highly critical of yourself over how much and what you ate, this is the part of your problem which isn’t about food, but affects your relationship with it. Overeating and still feeling compassion for yourself is a game changer. Here are some of the things you might be saying to yourself if you’re used to being critical about your eating: “Typical, all my good intentions went down the drain and I hate how I ate.” “I wish I could do the day over again and eat the way I said I was going to.” “I feel so sick and bloated today. I’m...
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Don’t Let Regrets Stress You Out

Many people get hung up on regrets. What they wish they’d had or done takes up more real estate in their heads than the lives they’re currently living. To dwell in regret is like walking down a street looking backwards. While making yourself miserable, you miss the only part of your life that matters: now. Regrets are also called having a case of “shoulda, woulda, coulda” which has yet another name according to Amy Alkon, The Advice Goddess (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 7/30/15, E47): “counterfactual thinking—“thinking ‘counter’ to the actual ‘facts’ of what happened.” Of course, it’s fine to intentionally consider experiences in your past to understand why they happened as they did and to learn from them to do better in the future. It’s fine consciously to play out “what if” scenarios. What is totally unhealthy—and may drive you to eat mindlessly for comfort—is raking over the crummy decisions you’ve made in...
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Creativity Can Replace Mindless Eating

Half a lifetime ago, I did a lot of mindless eating, especially when I had that antsy feeling from having nothing to do. The more I turned to writing (fiction at first), the less I thought about food. The more writing I did, the more I wanted to do, so that it occupied my free time and gradually became a passion. Moreover, it energized my mind and body in a way that food-as-time-filler never could or did. To help you find your passion, here are some creativity stokers: In “Idea therapy: 8 ways to put your brain in its most creative gear” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 7/28/15, E6), Brigid Schulte describes the work of neuroscientist John Kounios, a professor of psychology at Drexel University who studies creativity and insightful thinking. Here are his ideas on creativity and mine for decreasing mindless eating: Be positive: Negativity is often due to anxiety and generates more...
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Many Meanings to Each Life Event

You may think that the meaning you make of events that happen to you is the only one that is possible to make. If so, you’d be wrong. There are numerous meanings that we can make of events, which is very freeing because this underscores that we can chose interpretations which are beneficial, not harmful, to our lives. Here are some examples: You don’t get a job you thought you were perfect for. You might make this meaning: They rejected me because I’m fat. No one will hire a fat person. These meanings are equally possible: - Someone else was more appropriate for the job than I am. - The position didn’t get filled after all because money got tight. - Someone had a better in for the job than I did going in cold. - The company already had someone in mind, but had to go through the hiring practice...
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Getting Angry May Mean Getting Healthy

Talking with two clients recently, I realized how “nice” girls or guys may misconstrue the anger they feel at people to mean there’s something wrong with themselves. One client came in complaining that she’d had a terrible time since we’d last met—twice she’d blown up at her sister and then she had words with her riding instructor. Another client detailed how her controlling daughter was really annoying her, then spoke at length about how frustrated she was about her granddaughter being manipulative. The first client was distressed because her anger made her feel “very uncomfortable and conflicted.” She said she didn’t want to be an angry person or angry at certain people and wondered what was wrong with her. The second client viewed her “annoyance” and “frustration” as scary because her own mother had often lost control when she’d experienced these feelings with her children. I reminded both clients that just...
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Do You Have a Done-Me-Wrong Collection?

While reading an article about “the victim mentality,” I had to smile when I came upon the term wrongs collecting when the author compared it to people collecting stamps or autographs. Actually, I thought, more like trophies. My smile was in self-recognition, as I’ve occasionally indulged in this particular vice myself. Be honest, do you collect wrongs done to you? If so, does this pursuit trigger unwanted eating? It can go something like this. You feel hurt, so you blame someone, the unfairness of life, the dark cloud hanging over your head, your dysfunctional childhood, some ongoing misery, or your ineptness at managing life well. Focusing on your hurt triggers a cascade of similar memories: the party you weren’t invited to, the job you were perfect for but didn’t get, the way your sister seems to have only good things happen to her, the fact that no matter how hard you...
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What If Anxious Eating is About Things Insignificant and Inconsequential?

A while ago, imagine my surprise when I turned left at an intersection and went through a red light. (I expected the yellow light to become a green turn arrow as it usually did at this intersection). Knowing the intersection has a red-light camera, I figured I’d probably receive a ticket. Immediately, feeling anxiety rising, I made the decision to view that potential ticket as insignificant and inconsequential. Yeah, it would cost money and may count as a point on my spotless driving record, but, in the big picture, no big deal. So, I opened up a file in my mind labeled “Inconsequential and Insignificant” and dropped that probable ticket right into it—and, honestly, I began to smile. Then I thought of all the things that happen in my life that I could file there and never think about again because they didn’t matter either: not understanding why someone I was...
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Coping with Change

Do you find that when life changes, you head for the cookie jar, especially when that change is unexpected or unwanted? Let’s face it, most people aren’t wild about giving up the known for the unknown. But because resisting change often worsens the situation, it’s useful to understand why it bothers us and how to handle it without mindless eating. In “Learning how to get along as life changes” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 5/12/15, 20E), Alina Tugend tells us how to cope with change in constructive ways. She advises that “Changes often make us feel out of control. And it’s particularly hard if change is foisted upon us, rather than being something we choose” but that “letting go of what we know to be the current reality and embracing new thought” is the only way to go. As a therapist and teacher, I find that much of what I do is to help...
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Break the Worry Habit

Do you know that worrying is a habit? Anything we do repeatedly over time becomes habit. Because worrying is only a mental pattern to which you’ve become accustomed, you can stop doing it and learn a more constructive way of thinking and behaving. You brain neurons grow according to what you do. One of my favorite authors, Ruth Rendell, British writer of psychological thrillers, wrote dozens of books. By continuously developing new plots and plot twists, she kept expanding her brain’s neural pathways in this direction, one great idea begetting another. Similarly, brain scans of New York City cab drivers show an enlarged brain area relating to spatial relations. Worriers let their thoughts run free and follow them wherever they go. They let their thoughts lead them around, rather than carefully selecting what they will allow to engage their minds. Worriers act as if they have no control over their thoughts....
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When Memories Trigger Painful Feelings and Food Binges

I talk a lot—I mean a lot—with clients about understanding how painful memories get triggered in the present. So many clients don’t realize they’re feeling anything distressing, yet find themselves in the midst of unrelenting binges. If you want to know how to prevent and stop emotional eating, here’s a brief review of the paradigm I use to stop mindless eating, overeating and binges due to painful emotions. The truth is that most of the time we are not filled with surging, intense, raw feelings. Sure, things often go wrong—in small ways every day and in large ways occasionally. And sometimes stress or distress enters our lives through rarer yet events such as grave medical problems happening to us or our loved ones, evictions, firings, grave, serious accidents, natural disasters, or occurrences beyond our control. However, these may not be the events that cause people to eat emotionally. Think about the...
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How to Change Habits and Be Happier

Habits can change. Think about one behavior you used to engage in that you no longer do. Two newly published books on the subjects of changing habits and finding happiness (there’s a connection!) instruct you on how to create a better life for yourself. Here’s what they have to say (Sarasota Herald Tribune, 5/5/15, 2E, 18E). In Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Every Day Lives, Gretchin Rubin describes how four types of people respond to changing behavior—Upholders, Questioners, Obligers and Rebels. According to her, understanding which type of person you are will help you change your habits and keep them changed. “Obligers find it very easy to meet external expectations, but struggle to meet their internal expectations.” They’ll do something for others, but not for themselves. “Upholders meet both external and internal expectations.” Their expectations of themselves are as important to them as the expectations of others. “Rebels...
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Releasing Tension to Decrease Mindless Eating

Do you eat to relieve tension? Maybe you call it by another name—stress, distress, anxiety, feeling antsy. Whatever you call it, the truth is that you don’t need to eat to release tension. By switching your view of it, you can reduce mindless eating. You may feel tension in the construct we call the mind. Your thoughts race, your self-talk stokes the fires of pressure building and building, and your head feels as if it’s going to explode unless you do something. Equally, tension may arise in your body. You may feel as if you can’t sit still, that you just gotta move. Your shoulders, neck or back may feel tight and even tender and sore. Under this kind of pressure, you may tell yourself that only food will make you unwind and feel better. Did you ever stop to think what this tension might be about? My guess is that...
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Are Your Eating Problems Caused by Fear and Anxiety?

Many dysregulated eaters are filled with fear and anxiety, but don’t register them as major problems. Rather, they think that their problem is food or weight—or stress. If you’re often anxious and worried, it’s time to better understand these emotions. Although “Fears 2015” (Sarasota Herald Tribune, 1/18/15, pp. 4-7) is about our big cultural fears like Ebola, terrorism and, even gluten, author Maura Rhodes advises that that too much fear is something we should be concerned about. Humans have evolved to be easily alarmed. The amygdala (our danger-sensing brain organ) gets swamped with sensory stimuli when it perceives a potential threat and goes into fight-flight mode to alert us of perceived danger. Unless our thinking organ, the pre-frontal cortex, says otherwise—“Hey, no problem here, so chill”—the amygdala becomes like a fire alarm that rings when there’s no fire or one that keeps clanging after the fire’s been put out. The entire...
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Why It’s Healthy to Cry

Did you know that it’s healthy and necessary for well-being to cry? Although you may say you hate to cry, especially in front of others, that only means you have wrongly developed negative feelings about crying from family and culture. In “No sob story: the good news about crying” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, page 38E), Mary Carpenter tells us why shedding tears is important. First and foremost, crying relieves stress. Most of you have probably experienced this release of tension. Tension is what causes people to burst into tears unexpectedly because it builds in their bodies until, wham, out comes the flood. Neuroscientist William Frey explains that “Tears can remove chemicals that build up during stress; it can lower blood pressure, and it reduces manganese, a mineral found in the highest concentrations in tears. Because manganese affects mood, there is some thought that shedding manganese helps you feel better.” Not surprisingly, Frey also...
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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