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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. 

Is It a Chore or a Challenge?

Twice in one day, I had clients complain about exercise and eating healthily being chores. They had nothing but negative things to say about how they felt about engaging in these activities. Obviously, the intense feelings they had about these activities are only made worse by filing them in the category of “chore” in their brains. Would it, I wondered with them, make a difference to categorize them as “challenge”? According to the English Oxford Living Dictionaries, a chore is either a “routine task, especially a household one,” or “a tedious but necessary task.” (accessed 1/21/19, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/chore ). Even here we have leeway. Thinking of exercise as a routine will get the job done. It’s something you do frequently and regularly, so much so that you have no need to even think about it. The second meaning is more like how my clients view chores: as one big “Ugh!” They give...
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What Is Secondary Gain and How It Can Hurt You

I’m often struck by the fact that psychological concepts that I recognize like the back of my hand are unknown to many clients. I don’t know why I’m surprised, considering that the education of a therapist is based on possessing a thorough knowledge of psychology. One of these concepts that people don’t readily see and often need a therapist to point out to them is called secondary gain. To put it simply, a primary gain is one we’re conscious of and a secondary gain is one that is generally unconscious. The term is often applied in relation to poor health. The primary gain from going to the doctor would include getting proper diagnosis and treatment. The primary gain from telling people about your sickness might include informing friends about why you’ve been isolating or even finding out if they’ve gone through what you’re experiencing. With primary gain, we have an intentional,...
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Time to Raise the Bar on Deservedness

I feel sad for my clients who settle for so little in relationships and in other aspects of life. You may do the same thing if you compare what you have now to what you had growing up and think this is the best you can do—with friends, romance or work. In childhood, you may have been neglected or physically or sexually abused. Now you put up with emotional abuse or indifference thinking, “At least I’m not being hurt physically.” You may have suffered emotional abuse at the hands of your parents and now accept romantic or friend relationships with people who are sometimes nice to you but mistreat you at other times. You stay because this is the best you’ve been treated to date and are grateful that at least someone isn’t awful to you all the time. You stay because life has improved. But you’re still not getting the...
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Fake News—In Your Head

What happens when we believe fake news and what happens when we take as truth the random irrational thoughts floating through our minds day in and day out is pretty much the same thing. When we stop even trying to distinguish fact from fiction—within or without— and go with how we “feel,” we surrender rationality and suffer grave consequences. When our eating behaviors are the product of mental flotsam—denial, fantasy, pretzel logic, and irrational fears—we can forget about growing healthier or wiser. The fake news being generated by our brains (aka eating disordered thinking) will keep us chained to the merry-go-round of emotional and mindless eating forever. The only way off this very unmerry go-round is to take charge of our minds and start separating fact from fiction, fake news from real news. Here are the top 10 hits being broadcast 24/7 on the fake news channel of dysregulated eaters: I...
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What Is Instead of What If

One of my clients said that she’s practicing staying focused on “what is” rather than on “what if,” and I thought that was a great phrase and way to live. Living according to this creed, she’s making changes in her current life rather than agonizing about the future. What if you stopped obsessing about “what if” and made “what is” your primary focus? There is, of course, nothing wrong with considering what might happen in the future in order to try to make better decisions in the present. In fact, this is the best way to problem solve. But, there’s a big difference between intentionally thinking about consequences and putting your life on hold or not experiencing it to the fullest. Here are some examples of how these major differences play out: Some people have little direction in life and only the broadest of goals such as wanting to be happy....
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The Best Decisions Are Based on Rationality

Reading a book about how strongly human nature inclines toward irrationality and the importance of fighting to be rational made me think about illogical beliefs that clients bring into therapy. Although their lives are problem-laden or they can’t reach their eating and other goals, they are often upset when I challenge these irrational beliefs. Because my job is neither to placate nor make them feel good in the moment, but to get and keep them mentally healthy, I challenge them anyway. If you want the health, happiness, and success that other people achieve, you can’t hold these beliefs:   That will never happen to me. It’s understandable how this thought takes root. How reassuring to believe that bad things happen to other people and not to us. Or that bad things may befall us, but they only protect us from worse things happening. If we believe that unfortunate things happen only...
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Turning Insight into Action

Nearly all who come to therapy voluntarily are seeking enlightenment. They yearn for eureka moments, mental lightbulbs flashing, ah-ha insights that will rock their world. All well and good, as most behavioral changes begin with shifts in thinking. But insights are only the start of a process, not the end, which is purposeful, positive action. This shift from insight to action comes up frequently in therapy. One phone client shouted in exasperation, “I am so tired of asking why. I don’t care why I eat when I really don’t want food. I want to not do it.” Another lamented, “I understand my childhood, I so get why I’m like I am. Now how can I be different.” Another tearfully asked, “What am I doing wrong? Why aren’t I happy?” To use an automobile metaphor, insight is like shifting into first gear. It gets you out of your parking space or driveway....
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Why Facts Don’t Always Change Our Thinking

Those of us who aspire to be rational creatures generally believe ourselves to be whether we are or not. When asked, we insist that we base our decisions on facts and expect that others should do so as well. But, as explained in “The partisan brain” (The Economist, 12/8/18, p. 33, accessed 12/10/18), the evidence shows that facts aren’t the big persuaders that we wish them to be. This subject is highly relevant to dysregulated eaters who find it hard to believe that diets don’t work long-term or that certain foods will likely harm their health down the road. As many of you know, these truths don’t always change your thinking or behavior. Ever wonder why? Jeremy Frimer of the University of Winnipeg suggests that “people are willing to dismiss or deny facts and opinions that run counter to their beliefs.” According to the authors of The Enigma of Reason, Hugo...
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Didn’t Cause It, Can’t Fix It

If I had to generalize, I’d say that I spend a large chunk of the therapy hour trying to persuade clients that they can’t change the feelings or behaviors of other adults. Talk about continuing education. My best shot at helping clients accept this tough-to-swallow concept is to tell them, “If you didn’t cause it, you can’t fix it and if you didn’t start it, you can’t stop it.” They seem to get this idea on a theoretical level but find it hard to put into practice in specific instances. Here are some ways this theory might be applied. I treat a great many clients who have abusive (leaning toward sociopathic) partners. To a person, these abusers had awful, dysfunctional childhoods full of neglect and/or abuse. My guess is that these abusers’ parents had pretty crummy beginnings themselves. So, my clients meet someone at age 19 or 27 when their personalities...
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How (Not) to Give Advice

About a million times a week (okay, that’s a slight exaggeration), I hear clients tell themselves that they need to do something. They also share with me what they direct other people about to do—stop smoking, go back to college, see a doctor, quit playing the lottery, etc. They order people around the same way they order themselves around and it doesn’t work for others any better than it works for them. So, it was with great delight that I read a recent column by Dr. Ellen Glovsky, “Giving Advice in Motivational Interviewing” in a recent newsletter. Here’s her advice on giving unsolicited advice: “The truth is that most people will become more resistant when confronted and in this way the clinician’s behavior can cause resistance. I know it feels urgent in a situation in which the client is highly likely to harm themselves. It is very important to not push for...
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What Does Self-management Involve?

You have one primary job in the world: to manage yourself. If you take care of others, then you have a secondary job as well. If you cannot manage yourself even when you finally become an adult, don’t despair. You can learn. I have many clients who’ve made tremendous strides in self-care in a year or two of therapy. Sound like a long time? Not as long as spending the rest of your life lacking the knowledge for self-management. Self-management, according to Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman who write a syndicated parenting column, involves people learning “how to understand their emotions, contemplate their choices and then make proactive decisions rather than reactive or impulsive ones.” (“Helping kids develop self-management skills, Sarasota Herald Tribune , 11/12/18, B2) Wouldn’t being able to do that go a long way toward helping you eat better? According to Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, authors of “Emotional...
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That’s So Not Me

As sometimes happens, there’s been a theme cropping in my therapy sessions: “This is not who I am” (said vehemently). This attitude comes from a fixed (versus a growth) mindset ( https://www.karenrkoenig.com/blog/fixed-versus-growth-mindset ) which is the belief that you have an identity and traits you’re stuck with that will never change. This view allows no room for events or insights to impact us that will modify how we think, feel and behave. It’s like never allowing computer updates or uninstalling programs or having a TV that works only on a few channels. We’re all more than our current identity—different at various stages of our lives (childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle age, old age). We’re not made to have immutable personas. Naturally, there’s a basic “me” that we recognize as ourselves and a “you” that others recognize as “us,” but it’s the antithesis of growth or healing to say, “That is so...
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But I Hate Taking Medicine, Going to the Doctor, Etc.

I’m flabbergasted when clients adamantly refuse to take medicine, seek medical attention, or get recommended health treatment. This kind of irrationality is what gets people into trouble in the first place. Fortunately, clients come to me to learn how to take better care of themselves, so I am in a position to help them make better decisions. If you’re someone who refuses to go to a doctor, the hospital or take medication, I’d like you to stop and think about whether this is in your long-term best interest. Many clients say, “I hate going to the doctor,” “But I don’t want to go to the hospital,” or “I don’t like dependent on medication.” As if there are actually people out there who enjoy going to the doctor, are happy about going to the hospital, or like the idea of being dependent on medication. Doesn’t your attitude sound a tad silly to...
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Sorting Out Beliefs Learned from Parents

I’m sometimes amazed at what clients tell me, as if what they’re saying is a provable fact. It’s obvious to me that their thinking isn’t rational and that they have no idea they’re spouting—or, worse, believing—falsehoods. Sometimes these untruths are about eating and sometimes they’re not. Either way, they’ll need to change these beliefs to become “normal” eaters and emotionally healthy people. When we’re children, we believe nearly everything our parents tell us—but that doesn’t mean that all they say is true or that the beliefs we learn from them serve us well in adulthood. Just as you’re probably not still adorning your living quarters with dolls, toy soldiers, miniature tanks, stuffed animals or posters of teen idols, it’s not great mental health to be walking around with outdated, erroneous beliefs in your head. We believe what we learn growing up for several reasons. First, we don’t have the brain capacity...
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Find Many Things to Look Forward to Every Day

I often hear from clients that they seek food for pleasure when they have nothing to look forward to. I wonder how they have so narrowly constructed their lives to have so little joy, fun, and satisfaction. Most of them can’t wait for vacations, looking forward to them for months ahead of time, but such time away or off is over in a flash. What about the days they’re not on vacation? Why not put a bit more punch into them to prevent unwanted eating? I was thinking about this issue when a close friend told me on the phone that she was resuming horse-back riding after a three-year hiatus. She was excited talking about having done it once recently and feeling that she couldn’t wait to do it again. I could feel her anticipation through the phone lines. Our conversation got me thinking of an elderly woman I knew in...
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Reaching Goals through Pressure or Desire

I talk a lot (a whopping lot) with clients about how they feel that they need to or should do things. I’m sure they get tired of me nagging them about their word choice and approach to getting things done, but it really pays off in helping them shift to more beneficial, internal motivators. So, what better way to start off the new year than to encourage you to make a resolution to stop bullying yourself into doing things. Every time you say aloud or to yourself that you need/must/should/ought/have to do something (that is, use an external motivator), you’re putting pressure on yourself to do something. You’re trying to get yourself to act because you don’t have enough desire to do it without the pressure. So, you apply more force and ramp up the attacks on yourself, which do nothing to strengthen your desiring to do whatever it is. I...
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Growing a Strong Self That Withstands Rejection

Many people live in fear of rejection. They won’t change jobs, try to make friends, join groups or do anything which might put them in a position to be rebuffed. This deep-seated terror prevents them from being happy and emotionally healthy and is based on dysfunctional childhood experiences with rejection which haven’t been put to rest. Here are ways to rethink rejection so that it becomes tolerable and easily forgotten. No one likes to be rejected as a job applicant, but not everyone builds his or her life around avoiding the possibility of it happening. When we have a pattern of fearing and getting upset at rejection, we are not looking rationally at how the world works and have an immature sense of entitlement rather than view ourselves simply as one of many deserving people on the planet. Just because you don’t get a job that you believe you were perfect...
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Stop Asking Why People Won’t Change

Humans are meaning-making creatures with built-in curiosity about people and the world to help us survive and thrive by learning new behaviors and putting new ideas into practice. One kind of persistent answer-seeking that is regressive is wondering why someone doesn’t or won’t change. Though you may feel dismayed or dissatisfied because my explanation isn’t exactly what you’re looking for, it’s still the truth, one which you eventually will need to accept to become emotionally healthy. Let’s say that Mom regularly invalidates your thoughts and feelings, insisting that you think and feel as she does, or she becomes angry. You try hard to explain yourself over and over, but she still acts as if what your saying makes no sense or is wrong. So, you ask her repeatedly, “Why don’t you understand me?” or ask yourself, “What can I do to get her to understand me?” Nothing. Not a darn thing....
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Cultivating Doubt to Find the Truth

As I’ve written in my Food and Feelings Workbook, most of us feel uneasy with doubt and some people turn to food when it gnaws at them. We adore certainty because we believe it will lead us away from harm and towards safety and comfort. In reality, the opposite also can be true. Doubt helps us seek the truth, while certainty based on insufficient doubt often leads to false information and practices. Doubt is usually viewed negatively when it is actually valued neutral. We need some, but not too much of it. Here are (some) ideas on the subject from a presentation by David Allison, psychologist and Dean of Indiana University’s School of Public Health, to graduating students in June 2018. (IU School of Public Health-Bloomington (http://blogs.iu.edu/iusph/2018/06/07/doubt-and-truth-take-center-stage-in-dean-allisons-remarks-to-iusph-graduating-students/, retrieved 6/23/18) Allison says that: “It takes courage to admit doubt. It takes intelligence. It takes humility. Some of the greatest minds have embraced...
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No Need to Need

How often do you tell yourself that you need to eat more healthfully, consume less fat, read labels on food items, lose weight, find better ways to comfort yourself than eating, dine out less frequently, or plan better meals? How often do you use the word need to prod yourself to do tasks such as clean your domicile, find nicer friends, get a more interesting job, go out more often, or complete projects? Most dysregulated eaters insist they “need” to do something in order to motivate themselves. But it fails every time. I’ve blogged on this topic often: How we tell ourselves what we should or ought to be doing, then do the opposite. Honestly, I spend half my time talking with clients about their use of words like need and should and have to. If you’re still telling yourself what you need to do, it’s time to give it up...
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