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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]

Tips on Changing Habits

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I blog a great deal about changing habits because, at base, that’s what going from dysregulated to “normal” eating is all about—exchanging one set of behaviors for another. How to Build Lasting Habits for a Better Life has some excellent practical ideas on how to get this done.  Katy Milkman, professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and co-founder and co-director of Wharton’s Behavior Change for Good Initiative, studies habits and explains why habits are hard to break: “We know from lots of research that people are very resistant in general to making a change. We’re comfortable in our ways. Any deviation from what we’re used to doing feels like a loss, and losses tend to loom larger than gains.”  She recommends that you surround yourself with people who have the habits you wish to have and observe what they do. Talk to them about how they acquired...
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It’s Time to Make Waves

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The fact that I live in Sarasota, Florida, a lovely city with panoramic ocean views, has nothing to do with the title of this blog. Rather, it comes from a session with a client in which we were talking about her desire to tighten boundaries with her family by confronting them on various issues. She described being afraid of “making waves” and I suggested that she not only make them but “swim in them.” I suggested she do so by reframing her fears. I know that her major fear was that by making waves she’d metaphorically drown. She has allowed herself to become dependent on family members who also get something out of her dependence. Her fear is that by confronting them about mistreating her, they’ll withdraw their support.  I’d wager that nearly everyone who fears making waves was raised in a family that didn’t support their authenticity or encourage them...
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Practice Radical Acceptance

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Clients often balk at the idea of accepting their bodies or behaviors because they think that acceptance means being okay with things as they are. I’ve blogged about how we can embrace both acceptance and accountability. A movement called Radical Acceptance takes the concept a step further and is worth learning about. “Radical acceptance means recognizing your emotional or physical distress . . . and wholeheartedly practicing acceptance.” (“5 ways to become more accepting,” Sarasota Herald Tribune, 5/18/21, 6E) Why throw yourself all in? Because radical acceptance actually makes you feel better. It helps you recognize that humans are complicated, fragile creatures who have complex feelings and thoughts. When you’re 100% with and for yourself, you’re being your most human no matter what’s going on with you. When you radically accept your thoughts and feelings, you don’t deny or minimize them. They may make you uncomfortable and you may not like...
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Your Inner Voice

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As a child, when my parents wanted me to speak quietly, they’d tell me to talk with my “inside voice,” the kind you’d use in a library or a movie theatre. But there’s a voice that’s even more hushed and personal than that one and it’s called your “inner” voice. According to The Inner Voice by Philip Jaekl, “That voice isn’t the sound of anything.” He explains that this voice replaces that of our parents and other adults as we gradually engage in a dialogue with it, that is, a conversation with authentic selves. According to research, between the ages of two and eight we begin what’s called “private speech.” In fact, “Studies showed that during imaginative play, children’s self-talk helps them guide their own thoughts and behaviour and exert true self-control.” The research of Russell Hurlburt, professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, concludes that ” inner speech consumes...
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The Secret to Building a Better Life

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Many people say, “I’ll eat better to live longer,” “I’ll exercise to lose weight,” or “I’ll meditate to feel less angry.” Although it’s true that healthier eating may contribute to longevity, that exercise may help shed pounds, and meditation may reduce reactivity, those goals miss a more essential point about such practices: that while you’re doing them, you feel better and that by doing enough practices in a day that increase feelings of well-being you make yourselves happier, more hopeful and more proud. Many dysregulated eaters—many people, period—don’t string together enough behaviors in a day or a week to combat stress or keep their mood relatively elevated. Instead they think about and plan down-the-road activities which will boost their spirits: outings and vacations, purchases and external self-care activities such as massages and facials. They contemplate what they’ll drink and eat and where they’ll go to do it. There’s nothing wrong with...
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It’s Okay to Be a Quitter

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Speaking with me about the wonderful changes she’s making in her life, a client mentioned that she took a job and realized after the first day that it was a poor match for her. She reasoned that she had a right to feel good about her work and immediately gave notice and apologized to her boss. After relating this story, she added, “I felt bad because I didn’t want them to think I was a quitter.” Her statement stuck in my craw. This isn’t the first time a client has taken care of themselves and felt a need to assure me (and likely themselves) they weren’t a quitter. As if being a quitter is a bad thing. Once again, this is confusing a situational trait, in this case, the ability to know when to give up on something or someone, with one’s entire personality or identity.  When people have an “I’m...
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Where Are You on the Mental Health Continuum?

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Many decades ago when I’d just started social work school in Boston, a friend became very sad after his wife left him for another man. I knew them both and their situation and assumed my friend was suffering from betrayal and grieving the loss of his marriage. When he continued to feel down and exhibited other distress symptoms, I finally realized that he was suffering from depression with which he still struggles to this day. With my clinical experience now, I would have seen that he was depressed more quickly. But, even with clinical experience, it’s not always easy to tell the difference between someone simply suffering through a difficult time and someone who has mental health issues that need to be treated. And if I’m not sure of the truth as a seasoned therapist, it’s even harder to discern for people without my experience. This dilemma is the focus of...
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Strategic Silence

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Anyone who knows me well would use the words chatty, highly verbal, or strongly interactive to describe me in a relationship—unless I’m employing a technique that therapists call strategic silence. It’s used to help clients sit with and expand feelings by helping the therapist from getting in their way of doing so. This blog is not about how strategic silence is used in therapy. It’s teaching you how to use this technique to improve your interpersonal skills dealing with difficult people. Social discourse generally involves one person saying something and another saying something in return. A back-and-forth volley of words is expected as in playing tennis. When your opponent hits the ball over the net, it’s assumed you’ll hit it back.  To learn to use strategic silence effectively, you must realize you’re breaking a social norm and feel okay about it. You also need a conscious reason for doing so which...
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How to Use Incompatible Response Training to Change Habits

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While reading a mystery book, I came across a child psychologist character describing his use of Incompatible Response Training, briefly explaining to his companion that it works by substituting one emotion for another. I thought the concept interesting and useful and Googled it to learn more about it. Habit Reversal Training, as it’s also called, involves substituting one habit for another. Why not use it with emotions? So I tried out this strategy with a client that afternoon. She’s very anxious, struggling to overcome perfectionism and people-pleasing, and looking for ways to dissolve her anxiety as she eagerly takes on more challenges in life. Raised by a shame-based mother and an insecure father who demanded she overperform to receive his approval, she grew up as the consummate overachiever and with sky-high anxiety. Both due to genetics and socialization, she couldn’t have turned out any other way. We talked about two large...
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The Secret to Getting Things Done

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This blog is for all of you who struggle with getting things done—whether you’re wildly busy or simply have little motivation to do the few important tasks you wish to accomplish. Remember, having alot to do is not necessarily the issue. It’s your inability to execute your (many or few) desires, that is, to go from intention to accomplishment. Be a Schedule Builder, Not a To-Do List Maker by Nir Eyal will put you on the right track by shifting your mindset from checking off to-do lists to structuring your life to suit yourself. Insists Eyal, “It’s time to shed the constant stress and toxic guilt of not checking off enough little boxes and finally understanding why running your life with a to-do list is like running your life on Windows 95.” His point is that we make to do lists to get things we’re ambivalent about doing done. After all,...
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Process Not Product

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If you’re rushing through life on automatic or holding off enjoying it until you’ve accomplished something, you might be focused on product rather than process. This could be the case if you’re highly goal-oriented or intent on success at any cost to yourself or others. One obvious example is thinking only of the number on the scale rather than putting attention on eating mindfully. You yearn for the finished product and don’t much care how you get it: by dieting, fasting or bariatric surgery. Here are examples of valuing product over process. You meet someone who’s your type and kind of nice and go out a few times. Although you notice things about them that aren’t what you’re looking for in a life partner, you ignore them because you’re already picturing yourself married with a house and two kids. Because you’re not valuing the getting-to-know-you part of the relationship, you miss many...
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Get Your Magic Wand in Gear

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In session, not too long ago, a client sighed and said she just wished I had a magic wand and could wave it over her to heal her eating disorder. How often I’ve heard that same wistful plea over my 30-plus years in the business. But this time, rather than smile and say my usual, “I would but my wand’s in the shop,” I told my client that she had her own magic wand but didn’t use it. You all have one. The problem with magic wands is that one can’t simply acquire one and then shove it in the back of the closet and forget about it. Wands need to be used or what’s the point of having one? Do you buy a bicycle and not ride it, spend a fortune on a jumbo screen TV, then never turn it on? I hope not. You have to actually use the...
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How Goals Can Be a Barrier to Bettering Your Health

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Many dysregulated eaters are ardently goal-oriented. They arise each morning with to-do lists at the ready and rush through the day ticking off items, set reminders of when things needs to get done, shift into overdrive to do them, obsess about how to make the future turn out differently than the present and past, and dream about future happiness. If you’re someone who’s goal oriented, everything in life is a project and you spend more time with your mind in the future than in the now. You do great things at work, make sure family members are well taken care of, and serve your community. Then instead of doing what you say you want to do to eat more healthfully or become more active, you put off these activities and end up eating mindlessly instead. You eat ice cream instead of cleaning the house, down a bag of chips instead of...
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Focus on Change, Not Your Problem

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A colleague sent me this quote I hadn’t heard before which was allegedly said by Socrates. When I checked, it actually wasn’t his, but I love the idea behind it: The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new. If you want to know one small way to succeed in recovery, there it is. I spend too much time listening to people talk about their problems and how much they want to overcome them. Then, when I share solutions, they often give a perfunctory nod to them and go right back to talking about what’s wrong. This is a bad habit, nothing more. I know clients want me to understand how difficult their eating problems are. I know they’re frustrated and disappointed in their inability to change to date. But how can complaining about a problem do anything to...
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How Your Brain Can Change for the Better

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An enlightening book I read, 7-½ Lessons about the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett, explains how our brains are sadly mismatched for current times. Remember, Homo sapien brains evolved to be as they are 35,000-100,000 years ago. Living in caves, we were hunters and gatherers suffering constant physical and mental stress from the elements, starvation, and other humans. I’m sure it had its moments, but for the most part, life was neither life nor pleasant and we had little control over it. In order to survive, we had to be exquisitely attuned and reactive to threats in our environment.  That’s why our brains developed as predictors. If we could predict what would happen, we could have power over our lives and a better shot at surviving. In fact, the premise of Dr. Barrett’s book is that the function of thinking is to predict and that we do this through learning. She...
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How Co-dependence Leads to Non-hunger Eating

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A discussion with a client who was having difficulty finding enough pleasure during the COVID pandemic got me thinking about what makes for resilience under stress. Why are some people thriving and others going down hill fast? Why are some people enjoying having time to themselves and others feeling depressed or frantic? Part of the problem is due to co-dependence. My client even described the state by saying, “I always focused on other people and got pleasure from doing that. My parents never encouraged me to think about what I wanted and so I never did. Now that I’m alone and have all this time to myself, I have no idea what to do with it.” This led to talking about how co-dependence—over-focusing on the needs and wants of others to the exclusion of your own—left her lacking skills in her current situation. Fortunately, she was eager to discuss what might...
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Stress and Self-care

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Recently I’ve come to understand what’s not working in clients’ view of self-care and stress. Hopefully this blog will give you a clearer perspective on how the two fit together. Here's what I hear from clients: I’m too busy for self-care right now, but when I’m less busy, I will certainly get right to it. You could also substitute the word stressed for busy with the same kind of thinking. Self-care is something that will happen in the future when stress somehow miraculously disappears on its own.  Here’s a typical example. A client we’ll call Julia has two kids, a part-time job working from home, and a husband who works hard but does little in the way of parenting. Julia has at times run marathons and eaten healthfully on diets. She loved how she felt when she ate with intention and mindfulness and exercised regularly. During this time she also made...
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A Communication Lesson

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How many of us simply speak to others as we have been spoken to for most of our lives? Oh, about 100%. If we were raised by parents who were loving and skilled at effective communication—to others, to us and in their self-talk—we are likely to pick up their positive interpersonal habits. For the rest of us, well, unless we learned it somehow or other along the way, we need to understand what constitutes civilized exchange. In my view, novel writer Louise Penny’s main character, Armand Gamache, is a fine teacher, instructing his police trainees as follows: “Civility,” he says, “How can we expect it if we don’t give it?” Before speaking, he recommends that we consider what we’re about to say by asking ourselves: “Is it true? Is it kind? Does it have to be said?” Is it true? It matters that what we say about someone is true for...
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How to Become More Motivated

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Several times a week, I have discussions with clients about why they’re not fulfilling promises they made to themselves about better eating, moving their bodies more or improving self-caring. Having spent much of the first half of my life involved in similar internal debates, I understand the distress you’re in, so here’s some advice: figure out what’s preventing you from having sustained motivation. In my view, motivation has two phases: jump-start and maintenance. The first thing to figure out is which phase you’re having problems with. Some folks just can’t seem to begin, forever standing at the starting line but never crossing it. Others begin again frequently, stopping and starting over. Whichever problem you have, you’ll want to determine what’s been preventing you from starting on keeping on. Here are my ideas:  You have mixed feelings about doing whatever it is you propose to do: cook more healthfully, walk three times...
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Will Accomplishing Goals Make You Happy?

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Ah, the beginning of a spanking new year and, per usual, there’s much talk about goals. Whether it’s doing more of this or less of that, most folks believe that reaching goals will make them happy. Unfortunately, science tells us that this idea is but a half truth. According to Happy New Year! Your Resolutions Won’t Bring You Joy, “Changing circumstances won’t make you hugely happier,” said Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of psychology at the University of California Riverside. In other words, the folks who are virtuous enough to keep their resolutions aren’t necessarily enjoying their lives more than the rest of us. And, if they are happier, it’s not because they kept their resolutions — it’s because they made the right resolutions in the right way.”  She goes on to advise that, after basic needs for food, shelter and safety are met, “Life events like marriage (makes you happy!) or divorce...
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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