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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]

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....
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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-...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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Learn How to Enjoy Being Alone to Heal Your Eating Problems

APRIL 13 2017 LEARN HOW TO ENJOY BEING ALONE . .
Image by Debbie Digioia   One of the major problems of dysregulated eaters is difficulty being alone. I’m not talking about the occasional feeling of loneliness that we all experience at various points in our lives. I’m speaking of actually feeling distressed when you don’t have people or a good deal happening around you. In too many of these situations, dysregulated eaters may become so uncomfortable that they seek relief from food.   In “The Empathy Gap” (Psychotherapy Networker, Nov-Dec 2016, p. 32) psychologist Sherry Turkel stresses the need to learn to be by ourselves in order to have a functional adulthood. She says, “Children learn the capacity to be alone by being ‘alone with’ caring adults. Gradually, the child becomes comfortable being alone with him or herself.” There are many ways that this result may be derailed. Parents may be out working, too busy with their other children, or too...
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How to Calm Your Brain

HOW TO CALM YOUR YOUR BRAIN 4 6 17
Image by Debbie Digioia   I was looking through notes I took at a workshop I attended last year on “Calming An Overactive Brain,” and found some ideas which speak directly to why it’s difficult for dysregulated eaters to not reach for food when they’re in internal distress. My hope is that by understanding what goes on in your brain and body, you’ll be better able to manage your emotions and, even when you don’t do so, that you will have compassion for yourselves when you can’t change brain patterns as quickly as you’d like.   The brain processes the environment in two ways. In bottom-up processing, you encounter an environmental stressor that throws your body-mind off balance and your amygdala acts immediately, never mind what your higher-order thinking has to say. Top-down modulation is about controlling automatic reactions to keep the body in balance. Because visual stressors are so powerful in...
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Stop Measuring Everything Against Perfect

PERFECTION Blog March 27
Image by Debbie Digioia   Perfect — what a seductive word it is. And what a lie it represents. And what pain it causes. I wish I had a dollar for every time a client says, “Well, my eating isn’t perfect, but…” or “It’s not a perfect relationship, but…” Tell me, why must anything be perfect? Why would we expect it to be? Is it really possible that it could be, or is perfection, most of the time, for most of us, made of hope and wishes? Consider what you your life would be like if you’d never heard the word or the concept. A lot better, I’d wager.   I was asking a client how her relatively new relationship was going with her boyfriend and she said, “It’s not perfect, but we’re doing okay.” If she hadn’t looked a bit chagrined, I might have let the comment pass, because she was...
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Less Conflictual Relationships May Mean More Regulated Eating

Left alone many of you could probably eat quite “normally” much of the time. By left alone, I mean if people didn’t intrude into your lives. As much as they add joy to our world, humans can also be sources of stress, particularly when they’re what I call very difficult people ( http://eatingdisordersblogs.com/difficult-people/ ). The problem is how VDPs press our buttons, causing us to react without thinking.   Doctors Rick Brinkman and Rick Kirschner offer excellent advice on how to behave around VDPs to reduce stress and improve relationships in their book, Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst (McGraw-Hill, 1994). They help you understand what people want by breaking them down into four “intent” categories so that you can respond appropriately to others’ priorities.   1) When people want to get a task done, you’ll feel pressure to move...
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Are You Teaching Your Children What's Enough?

Figuring out how much to eat is done through a felt sense in the mind/body. Knowing when to stop eating is connected to knowing when to stop working, playing, or doing any activity. In “The three faces of overindulgence” authors Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 9/26/2016, p. B2), explain how to talk to children about what’s enough. The effects of overindulgence described in the book, How Much Is Too Much: Raising Likeable, Responsible, Respectful Children in An Age of Overindulgence by Clarke, Dawson and Bredehoft, produce children who have “difficulty in delaying gratification, irresponsibility, disrespect and defiance of authority, incompetence, interrelational problems, and trouble developing a personal identity.” The first form of overindulgence involves parents doing too much. This includes over-focusing on children and asking them, “Are you hungry?” too often or forcing them to eat or eat more than is satisfying. Parents who constantly push sweets and treats...
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Use Laughter to Change Your Mood

We’ve all heard the saying, “Laughter is the best medicine.” Is there any truth to this maxim or is it an old wives’ tale? According to “Is laughter effective complementary medicine?” by Florence Chaverneff, PhD (Psychiatric Advisor, 9/26/16), it’s true. Then, why not use it to help manage the internal distress that drives dysregulated eating? The article about gelotology, the study of laughter, explains the neurochemistry of what happens to us when we laugh and how to put this knowledge to good use to manage pain. Studying the brain pathway for laughter, research tells us that laughter affects our bodies in several positive, healthful ways, including “muscle relaxation, improved respiration and enhancement of immune system defenses, mental functioning and pain tolerance.” It does this through four channels: “1. physiological effects on the muscular, cardiovascular, immune and neuroendocrine systems; 2. the promotion of one's emotional state; 3. the improvement of one's stress-coping...
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It’s Okay If Your Crystal Ball Is a Bit Cloudy

Many dysregulated eaters feel a need to have an airtight plan and absolute certainty about how things will turn out before moving forward on a decision. One client calls it “getting things all figured out beforehand.” A lovely notion, but not how life really works. Face it, the process of making plans is as much for the present as it is for the future. We tell ourselves that we make them in order to ensure that things don’t go awry in the future, but equally, we plan because it helps us feel less anxious in the present about what lies ahead. Who wouldn’t want to feel more confident about what’s around the next bend in the road? The problem is that we can’t get it all figured out beforehand because we don’t know—and can’t know—what’s out there that might affect our best laid plans. Many of our fears of what could...
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How Self-compassion Generates Motivation

The biggest misperception I hear about giving up being hard on yourself and, instead, practicing self-compassion is that self-criticism pushes us to achieve our goals. Really? In that case, wouldn’t you and your harsh inner critic be off doing something else right now, other than reading this blog? The truth is that troubled eaters do a bang up job of engaging in self-flagellation and, if it worked to sustain motivation, you’d have overcome your eating problems ages ago. Face it, guilt, shame, self-disgust, and self-contempt are lousy motivators, while being self-compassionate is actually the winning strategy. When you show no mercy in tearing yourself apart for food failures, slip ups, mistakes, and relapses, how do you end up feeling? Worse, I’d wager, than you did after doing whatever you perceive was your error. By piling on disgust, contempt, and disappointment atop the shame or guilt, you end up feeling hopeless, helpless,...
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Hating Ourselves May Make Us Hate Others

Who among us hasn’t had the feeling, shameful as it may have been, that someone else’s happiness has highlighted our own misery so piercingly that we hated him or her, even for a moment? I’m not proud to say it and I now have self-compassion for it, but I know I had this reaction back when my eating was out of control, my body was far from what I wished it to be, and my life was full of longings for things I didn’t, and thought I would never, have. I was reminded of how easy it is to slip into hate and envy mode when you’re unhappy with yourself while listening to a radio interview of Lindy West, outspoken feminist, fat acceptance movement advocate, journalist, and author of Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, a book I have not read. She was talking about the nasty social media insults she’d...
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Is the Election Making You Eat When You’re Not Hungry?

There’s never been an election like this one and I say this as someone turning 70 next year. Feelings are high and emotional restraint is low. You can practically cut the political tension among families, friends, neighbors and co-workers with a knife. What a perfect time to turn to food to regulate your feelings. Or maybe there are better ways to manage your emotions and still enjoy a positive relationship with food. There are a few reasons you might turn to food inappropriately when political hot buttons get pressed, whether yours or someone else’s. The first is to calm yourself down after a rousing debate that still has you reeling hours (or days) after it’s over. The second is to break internal tension if you’ve been holding in your sentiments and feel about ready to burst. Here are some emotional triggers that may come up for you regarding political disagreements: Wanting...
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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