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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. 

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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Stop Rebelling and Take Better Care of Yourself

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (Wikipedia, retrieved 5/4/18, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1_Corinthians_13) Although I’m a secular person, this bible quote (in reality, an afterthought to this blog) aptly describes what I want to say. I know I’m taking a more direct tack here than I usually do but, honestly, I’m not sure how to awaken clients and other dysregulated eaters to the fact that time’s a wastin’. I can only do my best to speak to you as mature people, which includes laying out some unavoidable and perhaps harsh truths. You can rebel against eating rules and how others want you to look or eat, or you can be an adult and take effective care of yourself no matter what others think or say—but you can’t be or...
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The (Very Big) Difference Between Worry and Problem-solving

After two sessions in a row with clients discussing problem-solving versus worrying, I realized that they’d been confusing the two activities and, therefore, were making themselves more anxious by worrying when they thought that what they were doing would reduce it. If you’re a worrier, this blog will help you understand its false promise. Worrying, a misguided attempt to reduce anxiety which generally produces more of it, takes place in a closed looped within the mind. It’s an internal process, an intra-psychic phenomenon. Like a dog chasing its tail, thoughts race around in repeating circles without getting anywhere. We imagine various scenarios and outcomes, but our fears remain, so we return to generating more or better solutions. It’s like trying to know what the weather is like when you’re indoors. You can’t. You need to step outside to find out. Problem-solving, on the other hand, takes place outside of your mind...
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When Self-care Tells You What and What Not to Eat

In a local pharmacy, I passed through the “nut” aisle and found myself tumbling back in time to 40 years ago in my local food mart searching for WheatNuts®. They “were originally developed by Pillsbury in the late 1970s and had been on the marketplace for 35 years before being pulled off the market by Anacon Foods in late 2013,” and “are a cult classic snack product that has a nationwide following of die hard Wheat Nutters.” (nadanut.com) I had been such a die-hard, and now I fear that if I’d continued to wolf them down as I did then, I would have died hard—and sooner rather than later. I remember downing a jar of them on my way to meet friends for dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Arriving early, sitting in my car and enjoying their uniquely amazing crunch and nutty flavor, I was whisked away to Planet Ecstasy until...
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Develop Rational Thinking to Improve Your Life

I often tell clients that if they want what other people have—lasting love, meaningful work, supportive friends, tolerable family relations, and good health—they need to think and act as others do. By that, I mean people whom they respect and think well of. They can’t keep being reactive, making foolish choices, and following their hearts rather than their heads if they want what others have achieved through rational thinking. Reading an article about inventor Elon Musk, though I’ve disliked some of his recent public comments, I found value in his description of rational decision-making. He’s a complicated, controversial, brilliant man who appears to use his critical thinking skills at work, but not with love. Want to guess in which arena he’s most successful? (“Elon Musk: The Architect of Tomorrow” by Neil Strauss, Rolling Stone, 11/15/17, http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/elon-musk-inventors-plans-for-outer-space-cars-finding-love-w511747?mc_cid=52dfe44621 , accessed 11/21/17). Here’s the “scientific method” Musk uses in problem-solving at work: 1. “Ask...
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3 Keys to Achieve Success

One of the major reasons—if not the one—that people fail to achieve success is that they focus on exactly the wrong things to make it happen. According to success psychology, there are three ways of thinking to help you attain and maintain your goals. I bet they’re just the opposite of what you’ve been doing! Here they are. Focus on what you’re doing well Most dysregulated eaters focus almost exclusively on what they’re doing or have done wrong. They obsess over their food failures—binges and mindless eating—and minimize their successes—stopping occasionally when full or making healthier food choices—if they acknowledge them at all. In fact, I usually need to drag their successes out of them. Successful people feel good about what they’re doing well, focus on it, and enjoy the pride they experience from their achievements. Learn from, then stop focusing on, what you didn’t do well Errors are a typical...
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Try Intentionally Adapting to a New Normal

I was watching the news when there was a shot of a man in a hospital bed. I don’t recall what had happened to him—Had he broken bones, lost a leg, or been badly burnt in a fire?—but his words were instantly etched in my mind, “I’m going to get used to a new normal.” I’d heard the phrase before (it’s around for a long time), but this time it hit me how we all need to do that because there’s really no other way to live well.   I specifically think of this man’s determination when I sit with clients who fight change. They’re in there mad as hell and come out swinging with both arms, as if by struggling hard enough against change, they can stop it from happening. Well, good luck with that. Heaven knows, we’ve all put up this fight at one point or another. I certainly...
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Setting Firm Boundaries with People to Improve Your Relationship With Food

A major problem I run into in treating dysregulated eaters is an inability to set firm boundaries with people. They get taken advantage of, walked on like doormats, ignored and neglected. And, then, when they feel hurt, they turn to food for comfort.   Make no mistake, setting and maintaining firm boundaries is a skill. I’ve written about it in many of my books, including Outsmarting Overeating and Nice Girls Finish Fat . It’s a learned behavior, like most of our life skills, from childhood. Either we learn that it’s okay to have needs and say no, or we learn that it’s unacceptable through love or approval being withdrawn when we assert ourselves. Often our same gender parent role models poor boundaries—Dad can’t refuse a request for help no matter what else is going on in his life or Mom keeps on doing for others until she’s depleted and depressed.  ...
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Selfish Versus Self-Care

Many people confuse selfishness and self-care. This mix up crops up often among dysregulated eaters. Is saying no to visiting a sick friend selfish or self-care? Is not answering your phone after a long day self-care or selfishness?   This dilemma arises often with clients because distinguishing between the two is far from clear cut. My thoughts on the subject are not meant to give you rules for making a determination between selfish and self-care, but are to get you to think before you say yes or no to anyone so that you don’t do it automatically and are making an intentional choice. My goal is to get you to stop flagellating yourself (and eating to quash misplaced guilt), when you feel selfish but are actually engaging in self-care. Knowing dysregulated eaters as well as I do, my hunch is that much of what feels selfish to you might actually fall...
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