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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]

Envy

A client sharing her problem with envy discovered it was actually a dual problem. First, hate that she coveted what someone else had—in this case, thinness—and, second, her shame about experiencing envy made her feel worse about herself. Her feelings got me wondering how many of you also struggle with envying people with thinner bodies and whether you, too, dislike yourself for having this emotion. My discussion with my client we’ll call “Jane” made me curious about what people truly want when they covet other people’s slimmer or fitter shells. What about you? Do you wish to have their actual body or do want your own trimmed down, toned version? Jane and I discussed what she was willing to go through to get what she perceived a thinner person did to get such a body. Did it involve “normal” eating or more, such as starvation, over-exercising, deprivation, purging or laxatives. What...
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How to Make Yourself Miserable

I got a chuckle out of reading an article on misery which really hit home shortly after listening to a man in the supermarket 10-items-or-less checkout line yell at the woman ahead of him for having 12 items, then storm out of the store. He was a misery expert. Here are some steps master family therapist Cloe Madenes puts forth for making yourself miserable, as laid out in her guide, “Honing Your Misery Skills” and summarized by Marilyn Preston in “8 easy steps to making yourself miserable” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Health/Fitness, 2/18/14). Blame your parents for all your problems. After all they begat and made you who you are today. Avoid taking responsibility for yourself. Complain as often as you can about being bored and how unexciting life is. Perhaps even create a crisis or two to perk yourself up. Do something that will bring a shift in your life, even if...
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Feeling Anxious versus Feeling Fine

Most of my clients over the decades have had high anxiety which has, in part, driven them to non-hunger eating. While I believe that there’s a genetic, neurobiological component to anxiety, I also know that it’s triggered by irrational beliefs that escalate, rather than de-escalate, distress and stress. Here’s a way out of anxious moments. Anxiety is a perceived sense of a general threat to self, while fear is a specific one. You may fear particular events like being bitten by a dog, getting an injection, having Uncle Bill pinch you as he did when he got drunk when you were a child. Alternately, you may be anxious in vaguer, more general situations—around strangers or in circumstances in which you need to perform or don’t have control. Get the difference? When you’re anxious, you “leave” the present and “enter” a mental future. To remain present, you need to observe how you...
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Are You Hung Up on Resentments

Are you someone who views the world as a hostile place and is full of resentments? If so, you might be setting yourself up for unnecessary internal distress. And you know where that might lead you—to making a beeline for the cookie jar! I recently came across the phrase “married to resentment” and it reminded me of many disregulated eaters who cling to their resentments. They remember every unkind word ever said to them (but not so many of the kind ones), every untoward act, every unintended insult, and accumulate grievances as if they’re legal tender. If you’re such a person, in your childhood you likely had parents who modeled bitterness and/or suffered unfairly yourself. If your parents were major complainers who squirreled away grievances, it might be difficult for you to imagine being any other way. If you were a victim, it may be hard to stop seeing yourself in...
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How Mood Affects Eating

Although many of you undoubtedly engage in non-hunger eating when you’re in a positive (aka good) mood, it’s more likely that you act on your cravings when you’re in a negative (aka bad) mood. So says Robert E. Thayer, Ph.D. in his book CALM ENERGY: HOW PEOPLE REGULATE MOOD WITH FOOD AND EXERCISE (2001, Oxford University Press, NY). To learn more about his research, read on. Thayer teaches readers to recognize what they’re looking for when they engage in non-hunger eating and how to find these same benefits through exercise. I’m not about to lecture you on the subject—and neither does he—but he makes the argument that you are not looking for nutrients when you’re not hungry. Mostly, he says, you’re reacting to your mood. And not just any mood, but a negative one. He maintains that, “Tiredness and tension usually underlie negative moods, and they cause overindulgence as people attempt...
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Vulnerability and Emotional Eating

Vulnerability is a universal feeling, one to which we may attribute different meanings, and the meaning you make of this emotion will determine what you do with it. Associated words to feeling vulnerable, physically or emotionally, are weak, small, insignificant, in danger, in trouble, susceptible, defenseless, or exposed. Each word indicates being at risk for harm due to lack of power. That’s because when we first felt vulnerability, in infancy, we did lack power to impact our lives. Our current take on vulnerability depends in large part on how our vulnerability was treated in childhood. If we couldn’t fight back when we were physically abused by parents or witnessed one parent abusing the other or our siblings, we felt a surge of helplessness and fear. If we couldn’t talk back to defend ourselves when we were emotionally abused, we also felt frightened and powerless. Both of these automatic, natural reactions generated...
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Are You Looking to be Full or Fulfilled?

When yearning for fulfilment, It’s not by chance that disregulated eaters fill themselves with food--and with people, activities, and material goods as they seek satisfaction, contentment, connection, and meaning. Sadly, they rarely get what they’re looking for because full and fulfilled are as different as apples and oranges. Many disregulated eaters yearn for more out of and a deeper engagement with life. They talk about feeling empty as if they could ingest something which would stay there and keep them feeling full up. The problem with using food—or success, applause or achievement to do this—is that you keep having to go back for more and more and more. The applause dies down or your success happened a while ago and you begin to feel depleted. So you think, Ah, that worked before, so I’ll just go out and find some more of it and I’ll be fine. And, that, ladies and...
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Venting versus Complaining

There’s a fine line between sharing intense negative feelings, called venting, and their morphing into gripes and grumbles that seem to have a life of their own. The former is a useful way to manage emotions in the short-term, while the latter actually considerably adds to emotional distress. Therefore, it pays to be able to distinguish between the two. When we feel as if we can’t take it any more, we often vent—about a boss’s constant criticism, our partner’s habits, harried lives, difficult children, or chronic illness. If we’ve picked the right people to vent to (active listeners, for one), we receive validation for our feelings, a sharing of comparable experiences or reactions, and assurance that anyone would feel similarly in our situation. We then experience a release of mental and physical tension and, relieved, we are ready to let go and move on. However, there’s a particular way of sharing...
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Don’t Overuse Your Emotions

Disregulated eaters do a funny thing with emotions: they employ them whether they’re appropriate or not. That is, they get emotional about things which truly don’t necessitate affective reactions, including eating. For example, they feel guilty about eating foods of low nutritional value or ashamed when they overeat. Are these reactions necessary when we’re feeding ourselves? “Normal” healthy eaters occasionally eat foods which won’t do much to nourish their bodies, but they don’t see this behavior as related to emotions. In fact, they have zero feelings about it. They eat, it’s done, and they move on. They also don’t make a fuss about overeating. They consume too much, give a satisfied groan, then not eat until they’re hungry again. They view these matters as biology and appetite, not of the heart. Alternately, you may inappropriately attach emotions to eating alone or with others. If, as a child, you ate your after-school...
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One More Time on Feeling Deserving

As I’ve written before, at the root of many troubled eaters’ food problems is the issue of not feeling deserving of health, happiness, success, etc. They are conflicted about whether or not they’re deserving of good things in life and, hence, behave sometimes as if they are and other times as if they aren’t. Let’s get this straight once and for all: everyone is deserving and you are no exception. A person who feels deserving, never thinks about it. It’s simply something they are like green-eyed or brown-haired, witty or a artsy. They are because, well, they are. I know that sounds awfully simplistic, but the subject is just that: simple. Many of you try to make it more complicated as in, “I’m deserving if” or “I’m deserving because.” You’re deserving because you were born. Think about it. There’s no way some folks are born deserving and some folks aren’t. That...
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A Lazy Gene- Say It Isn’t So

I was chagrined to read a blurb in the August/September 2013 copy of the AARP Magazine about “laziness.” I recognize that folks have differing motivations and mixed feelings about being active, but I have always stood firmly against using the negative term “lazy” regarding people who don’t take care of their bodies. And I still do. From the AARP article: “A new University of Missouri study shows that rats with sedentary parents are less motivated to run on an exercise wheel.” And, “After studying their brains, we found that running was less enjoyable for these rats than for those with active parents,” says study author Frank Booth, Ph.D. Okay, so there’s a hereditary link toward or away from enjoying body movement—at least if you’re a rat. I’ll buy that there even may be a similar genetic inheritance relating to finding pleasure from moving your body in humans. But, why call it...
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Exercise Calms You Down

When we think of exercise, what comes to mind is usually its benefits to body organs such as the circulatory system. But, did you know that exercise is just what the doctor ordered when it comes to reducing anxiety? It’s true. Next time you’re upset and have the urge to eat, move your body instead. Here’s why. Scientists have long known that exercise combats anxiety, but not exactly how that process works—until now. According to “How exercise calms the brain” (THE WEEK, 7/26/13), “physical activity creates excitable new neurons in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that regulates emotion, thinking, and memory.” One would think that this process would make people more anxious, but it works just the opposite. Studying active and sedentary mice, Princeton researchers discovered that the brains of mice that ran on their wheels regularly contained more of a specific neuron that releases the neurotransmitter called gabapentin,...
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Happiness and Eating

“The happiness of pursuit” by Jeffrey Kluger (TIME MAGAZINE, 7/8-15/13) is not about eating per se, but started me musing about food and our often driven pursuit of it. The article describes how Americans tap into the “happiness industry.” Two relevant ways are “‘pills’ (the TIME poll found that 25% of American women and 5% of men say they are taking antidepressants) and ‘food’(48% of women and 44% of men admit to eating to improve their mood).” Almost half the country engages in emotional eating! Most of you know that neurotransmitters manage our moods. Kluger tells us, “Serotonin and dopamine are often, simplistically, thought of as feel-good neurotransmitters.” He goes on to explain that, for certain people (in the article, he’s talking about the behavior of immigrants), “the power of the chemicals is that they regulate what researchers straightforwardly call search activity—forward-looking behavior that often occurs in pursuit of a specific...
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Life’s Non-negotiables

Disregulated eaters do best when they have some, but not too much, structure. We all need a certain amount of routine, and discovering what is absolutely necessary and what you can do without will help you feel more stable, centered and satisfied. Toward that end, it pays to know what activities or behaviors are non-negotiable in your life, that is, which ones are so crucial to your well-being that you refuse to live without them. Here are some things that are non-negotiable to people: finding a date or mate who loves nature or staying active, attending parent-teacher conferences or a child’s school performances, making dinner for the family every night and eating together, getting a good night sleep every night, visiting Mom in the nursing home weekly, eating a healthy breakfast, leaving work at five o’clock sharp, or cleaning the house weekly. When something is non-negotiable, you don’t sit around debating...
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Need and Greed

I got to thinking about greed, need and eating while reading a novel in which a psychologist character explains to a patient, “Of course, you were greedy. You were a child, you’re supposed to be greedy. Parents are there to fill your needs. That’s the whole point of parents.” Do you have difficulty differentiating need and greed when it comes to food and other things in life? Do you understand why that is? According to the dictionary, greed is excessive wanting, a wish for more than your share and what you deserve. Children, especially very young ones, can’t possibly know what they deserve or require. When we’re young, we’re a bundle of desires—for hugs, food, attention, comfort, toys, help, and information. We want what we want and are run by our primitive brain, lacking a more mature brain component to help us filter our desires. As the psychologist in the novel...
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The Benefits of Cultivating an Interior Life

Talking to a friend who remarked that her sister seemed to have little, if any, interior life, I realized how seldom this phrase is heard nowadays or used outside of clinical circles. Yet, having a rich “interior life” may be key to finding meaning and happiness in our existence and undoubtedly promotes emotional health and “normal” eating. What does it mean to have a rich interior life? People who have one reflect on themselves and their place in the world with curiosity, not judgment. They engage with ideas and wonder a great deal. They spend time musing and mulling over, which is not the same as ruminating about the past or being anxious about the future. They have no stake in this process except intellectually enlightening their horizons and broadening their understanding of the world. Their inner life excites them and is a resource. People with rich interior lives generally enjoy...
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Mood and Unhealthy Foods

Although some disregulated eaters head toward food when they’re in a good mood, most emotional eating is done when we feel crummy. If you think that eating unhealthy food makes you feel better, think again. Research says it ain’t necessarily so. Penn State researchers did a small study on 131 women to assess their moods before and after eating unhealthy foods, those high in salt, sugar, and saturated fat (Tufts Health and Nutrition Newsletter, 6/13, v. 31 #4). Their results: “If the women were in a bad mood” before they ate unhealthy food, eating made them feel even worse. Those who were in a good mood before eating bad food (“bad” is the study’s word, not mine), however, reported little change in their emotional state. Okay, this is one small experiment that leaves us with lots of questions, too many for generalizing. The subjects were only 131 random women who did...
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Why Focus on the Past

We all talk about “the past,” whether we’re reminiscing about events that happened decades ago or relating an incident that occurred yesterday. I have no quarrel with talking about what has already happened—as long as you know why you’re doing it. Too often, however, I hear discussions about childhoods and personal history that make me wonder what their purpose is. Why do you talk about “the past”? Sometimes we look to our history to fondly remember people, places, and events, intentionally recalling our graduation from college, a big date, home-coming of a new puppy, a child’s first word, or a visit to Paris. This life-enhancing activity can make you feel warm and fuzzy all over. Other times we consciously turn to memory for information—the name of that guy who was such a great dancer, the date of our last dental appointment, that funny saying of grandma’s. To recall information is also...
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Loneliness and Eating

Because I enjoy being validated as much as the next person, I was gratified to read Jane Brody’s column, “Loneliness can change your health for the worse” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 5/21/13) which describes the connection between feeling lonely and reaching for food. Understanding the connection will help you break it, so read on. Brody, a recovered emotional eater, quotes psychologist John T. Cacioppo, co-author of the book, LONELINESS: “Loneliness undermines people’s ability to self-regulate.” If you’ve read my blogs and books about disregulation and self-regulation, you’ll understand what’s happening. When we’re in emotional distress, our bio-chemistry goes into disequilibrium, and we may turn to the chemicals in food to re-regulate it. Cacioppo points to one experiment in which participants who were “made to feel socially disconnected ate many more cookies than those made to feel socially accepted,” and another in which people scoring high in loneliness “ate substantially more fatty foods than...
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Current versus Memory-Triggered Emotions

Clients sometimes get confused when I encourage them to experience all their emotions, yet discourage them from unconsciously dwelling on feelings that trickle up unbidden from the past. This advice is a bit confusing, I admit. So, let me explain. There’s a difference, at times obvious and at times subtle, between emotions that spring from a current event or interaction and those that are triggered by memory. For instance, if a friend is often late and, because of this, you end up entering a movie after it has started, you may have appropriate feelings of annoyance or anger. You’d want to connect to these feelings to rationally decide how to handle them—mention something when your friend arrives, wait until you’re having coffee after the movie, etc. However, in this same example, if your friend arrives late and your memory coughs up all the times your alcoholic father strolled in late for...
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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