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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Growing Up in An Alcoholic Family

Numerous troubled eaters I’ve counseled grew up in alcoholic families. By that I mean that at least one—and sometimes both—of their parents had serious problems with alcohol. Being raised in such a household has a profound negative impact on the development of a child and may affect, among other things, her relationship with food. Alcohol problems include a parent: abstaining from drinking for weeks or even months at a time, then going on a bender; losing jobs for coming to work drunk or hung over; withdrawing from family life or relationships to nurse a bottle alone; acting lovingly and reasonably when sober and falling into depression or flying into rages after a few drinks. Such a household might also be rife with arguments between the drinker and non-drinker and periods of function followed by dysfunction. Moreover, a subset of alcoholics become emotionally/physically/sexually abusive during a binge, which can then be followed...
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Giving Others What You Want

I see this happen over and over. A client who was overfed or overweight as a child, takes a laissez-faire attitude about food with his children. Or a client whose parents ignored their children’s nutritional needs, micromanages them when she has children of her own. This kind of dynamic happens outside the food arena as well. Here’s why. As adult as we may appear, there lives inside us that child that got too much of this and not enough of that. In an effort to make things right for our offspring, we often give them what we lacked. Or avoid giving them what we received too much of. For example, adults who were rigidly controlled by their parents as children, often give their children too much freedom, vowing to be nothing like their overbearing parents. At the other end of the spectrum, adults whose parents were off working or spending time...
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How We View Others

While reading a book I’ll soon blog about, a quote nearly knocked my socks off: “…The inside of you is always looking at the outside of everybody else. So the inside of you feels inadequate, insecure, anxious and looks at the outside of people…and thinks, I wish I had my act together like she does. But then you realize that the inside of her is probably looking at the outside of everyone else and thinking the same thing” (quote from Jane Savoie in WOMEN RIDERS WHO COULD…AND DID by Karma Kitaj). What a powerful description of what goes on for us all. I say all because many disregulated eaters don’t realize that everyone’s insides are looking at everyone else’s outsides. I know Savoie’s quote is true because I’ve experienced how it works. In my 40s, one night I received an out-of-the-blue call from a woman I’d known since junior high school...
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Emotional Separation from Parents

As a first-year grad student, I was stunned when Sophie Freud, granddaughter of Sigmund and one of my social work professors, boldly proclaimed that "We never finish emotionally separating from our parents." Decades later, I understand how we spend our lives sifting through parental messages to crystallize what we really think and feel. Separation is a life-long process filled with plateaus, milestones and, mostly, itsy bitsy baby steps. We’re taking part in separation or emotional disengagement even when we don’t realize it—as pre-teens by not making our beds or sneaking a peek at our folks’ personal items though we’ve been forbidden to do so, as adolescents by staying out beyond curfew or hanging with friends our parents dislike, as young adults by moving to another city for college or work, and as more mature adults by raising our children differently than we were raised. Each of these acts increases emotional separation....
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Needing Each Other

A New York Times article on human communication and touch contained a sentence which caught my eye. Although the article was about how positively people respond to touch, what grabbed my interest was more general—about why we need each other and relationships in the first place. One more reason to reach out and touch someone. Here’s what psychologist James A. Coan from the University of Virginia says: “We think that humans build relationships precisely…to distribute problem solving across brains. We are wired to literally share the processing load, and this is the signal we’re getting when we receive support through touch.” Hardwired to share the load—that’s a powerful statement which makes complete sense. When we problem solve with others, we multiply our chances of finding a solution. More brains, more brain-storming, more potential for varying solutions, and more likelihood that one of them will lead to success. Of course, the above...
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Approval Seeking

One trait that many disregulated eaters have in common is the desire for the approval of others. Sadly, not receiving this hoped-for approval can provoke disappointment, frustration, rage—and a whopper of a binge. While practicing strategies to disconnect internal distress from unwanted eating, it’s also essential to let go of approval-seeking thoughts and behavior. Here’s what you can do. You’ve read it in books and heard from scores of experts: Self-approval is more important than other-approval, and the only approval you’ll ever need is from yourself. Yet you go on making others’ opinions matter more than they should and continue to fear that people in general or particular individuals will be unhappy with you if you assert your needs. When you’re desperate for your father, mother, lover, partner, friend, colleague, boss or spouse to like—or love—you, you forget that you’re fully grown and can function perfectly well without them being favorably...
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Dealing with Difficult Parents

Lots of unwanted eating comes from the stress of dealing with parents who don’t respect our boundaries and who are more focused on their needs than ours. As we mature, the idea is to “separate” from them emotionally, that is, to know that you exist for you and not for them. No matter what your adult age, when parents try to control you, it’s not surprising that you turn to food for comfort. Here is some excellent advice on the subject, not from me, but from a therapist whose blog I was fortunate to read. His wisdom is so right on, I thought I’d give you his words rather than mine. Richard Wade, retired Marriage and Family Therapist, blogs and writes an advice column. With his permission, here is his (edited by me for brevity) response to a young woman whose parents vehemently disagreed with her choice of boyfriend because he...
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Friends, Mirroring and Contagion

I admit it—when the theory that friends can make friends fat came out a few years ago, I raised my eyebrows in disbelief. How could that be, I wondered—until I read Daniel Goleman’s SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE: THE NEW SCIENCE OF HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS, which explains how over time spent with someone, our brains tend to synchronize and mirror each other. Now I understand the need to hang out with healthy people, not merely because they raise our self-esteem and make us feel good, but because they may shape our lifestyle and habits. By the way, Goleman is also the author of EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE, a classic about our internal emotional world. According to research, in part due to peer pressure and in part to how our brains adapt to and synchronize with one another’s, who you spend time with might encourage positive eating and exercise habits or put you in danger. Consider these questions....
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Food and Relationships

Many disregulated eaters developed dysfunctional eating styles when they were children. Instead of being able to turn to people when they were in distress, they ended up running to the refrigerator. Maybe the whole family stuffed their emotions this way rather than share them. Or obsessed about calories, exercise and appearance to bind their anxiety rather than depend on each other. Or used food to cope with stress because they lacked effective life skills. If you are someone who chooses food over people, I’d like you to think about how you can stop relying on eating to manage your feelings and start relying on friends and family. I know this is a tall order. Clients often tell me that: there’s no one in life they can trust or count on, they don’t want to be a burden, friends have their own problems and don’t have time to listen to them, they...
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Holidays Without Family

It’s hard to watch clients sink into despair about wanting to spend the holidays with family who aren’t very nice to them and who are, frankly, toxic to be around. Clients could feel joyous and proud choosing to be with healthy, loving friends without fear of family dynamics ruining “normal” eating or a good time, but instead, yearn desperately for a happy, functional family that never was or will be. This is a natural concern for folks in their 20s who are just breaking away from home and learning to be independent, but it’s downright self-destructive for people who are older and who need to move on. This blog is for all of you who have yet to emotionally separate from your families, particularly your parents. Separation means viewing them from a mature perspective, ie, adult to adult. You recognize their strengths and weaknesses, no longer expect them to gratify your...
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Difficult People

We all have difficult people in our lives—family members, neighbors, co-workers. Notice that I didn’t mention friends or romantic partners because we can choose them and shouldn’t be cozying up to folks who are regularly hard to deal with and don’t bring us oodles of joy and pleasure. One of the triggers that provokes you to abuse food might be the difficult people in your life, so it pays to learn to how to handle them effectively. Let me say straight off that VDPs—Very Difficult People—are just that. They rub many, if not most, folks the wrong way. Sure, they may have a few die hard fans who defend and embrace them out of fear, warped loyalty, or entrenched dysfunction, but most mentally healthy people steer clear of them. Unfortunately, shutting them out of your life isn’t always possible, particularly if one is a boss, sibling, parent, business associate, or next...
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Nothing Like Family—Not

Boy, a recent headline offering a celebrity’s take on the holidays has me going. It read: “Family is all we have.” Great perspective for all who have few or no family members alive or who live far away from them. Nice outlook for those who are surrounded by abusive or dysfunctional relatives. This is exactly the kind of misguided sentiment that generates unhealthy thinking, feeling and behavior, especially this time of the year, and drives people into potentially self-destructive eating situations. “Family is all we have” is a dangerous message that pervades our culture (more likely, all cultures). It keeps secrets of abuse and other dysfunction from leaking out when we’re children and prevents us from getting psychological help as adults. It dissuades us from moving away from noxious people and toward positive relationships throughout our lives. It trashes our ability to put parental transgressions into perspective and recognize how their...
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Letter from a Client to Her Mother

This is the first time I’ve used blog space for anything other than my own writing. I was so moved by a letter a client wrote (but did not send) to her mother that I want to share it in the hope that it will help you as much to read it as it helped my client to write it. It’s a powerful declaration of selfhood based on a great deal of introspection and hard work. When you’re done reading, try writing your own letter (without sending it) to someone who has hurt you or with whom you’ve never shared your authentic feelings. It works! Dear Mom, In many ways your parenting has been inadequate. I know you did the best you could and that you have many strengths, too, but this letter is about the irrational and harmful things I have learned from you about myself, my feelings, other people,...
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Care versus Control

Last week I was talking to a phone client about her rebellion against taking good care of herself. Small wonder. Because of her dysfunctional upbringing, she’s confused about being cared for versus being controlled. Instead of believing that messages from others or from herself to herself are aimed at helping her, she feels controlled and strikes out in rebellion. When her inner voice tells her she should start the day with a healthy breakfast or stop eating when she’s full, it doesn’t sound caring and she doesn’t feel cared about. Instead, she feels bullied into doing something. Sound familiar? It’s easy to see how you could get care and control confused if your parents expressed love in a bossy or dictatorial way. Sure, some parents really were trying to control you when they insisted you should or shouldn’t eat something, but it’s likely they knew no other way to care about...
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Dealing with Hurtful Relatives

One of the great stresses of the holiday season is dealing with relatives who are hurtful, difficult or, perhaps, even emotionally abusive. Maybe you rarely see them and try to be nice when you do or are stuck with them all year long. There is no easy answer for how to deal with these kinds of family members, but you do have options. None will feel just right, but often you have to choose the best of the lot and live with the consequences. Newspaper advice columns often tell readers to ignore the bad things troublesome relatives do or say and look for the good in them. This is a viable option with a relative who is basically a decent person and only mildly annoying. You can usually tell if a remark is made with a benign or loving intent. Maybe your well-meaning, sweet aunt always asks when you’re going to...
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Sharing versus Burdening

Many people fear sharing hurt or upset because they don’t want to “burden” others. If you are one of these people, it’s time to let go of that dysfunctional way of thinking and behaving. Remember, the more you can rely on others (plus your own emotional resources, of course!), the more likely it is that you won’t turn to abusing food whenever you are in emotional distress. We become fearful of burdening others when in childhood (yes, we have to travel back there again) our care-takers give us the overt or covert, intentional or unintentional message that our problems are too big and our feelings are too intense. That belief is underscored if they reject, humiliate, or turn away from us when we try to express normal emotion or if they compete with us for emotional airspace. Does that mean that as a child you had too many problems, were over-sensitive,...
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Who’s On Your Side with Eating?

Getting support for not dieting and ending bingeing and obsessing about food is essential to achieving ”normal” eating. Surrounding yourself with people (consciously or unconsciously) working against your intuitive eating goals will make it more difficult, if not impossible, for you to reach them. Although it’s unrealistic to expect that everyone you know should suddenly become enlightened and realize how unhealthy and destructive chronic dieting, rigid food restriction, bingeing, or obsessing about food are, you’ll benefit enormously from increasing the number of people around you who support your eating goals and decreasing the number of people who don’t. Discerning who is truly in your corner and who is not may not be easy. Some people say they’re behind what you’re doing, but their actions make you wonder. They tell you how wonderful it is that you’re trying a new approach to eating, then try and tempt you with food or try...
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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.