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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]

Identifying and Acting on Intent

If mindless eating is a problem, you might also be mindless in other areas of your life. Being mindful and acting with deliberate intent make each moment fuller and brighter—eating cheesecake, showering, or cleaning out the garage. Practice living with intent and I can practically guarantee that your life and your eating will change for the better. The difference between acting without or with deliberate intent is not simply three letters of the alphabet. It’s as large as the ocean, as vast as the sky. When you act mindlessly, you don’t know where you’re going and are, therefore, taking a risk on where you’ll end up. When you behave purposefully, you set your sights on a specific direction and destination, then assess how you’re doing getting where you want to go. For example, let’s say you’re angry at your spouse or partner for not having done the laundry when he or...
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Learn to Resolve Conflicts to Reduce Stress Eating

How often do you turn to mindless eating when you have a conflict—unexpected or ongoing—with someone? Improved conflict resolution skills will help you avoid running to food to distract or comfort yourself, tamp down boiling emotions, or soften aggrieved feelings. These tips for conflict resolution are from “As many solutions as there are conflicts” by Dennis Zink (Sarasota Herald Tribune, Business, 5/25/15, p.14) David Hooker, public service associate of JW Fanning Institute for Leadership Development says that “a conflict exists when two ideas are trying to share space” and goes on to identify five sources of conflict: Data: lack of or misinformationInterest: competition of interestsStructural: desire to control resources or time constraintsValues: differing ideologies or world viewsRelationship: miscommunication or strong emotions He suggests doing the following to resolve conflicts: Data: validate factsMethod: point out common goals and focusing on ends over meansGoals: clarify exactly what the goal is in case there...
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How to Lessen Stress by Becoming More Resilient

To decrease emotional eating, learn to become more resilient which will decrease your stress and bounce you back from stressful occurrences more quickly. Who wouldn’t want to become more resilient? Now there’s a book that tells you how to do it. Resilience is “a set of skills—as opposed to a disposition or personality type—that make it possible for people not only to get through hard times but to thrive during and after them.” (Time magazine, 6/1/15, “Bounce back” by Mandy Oaklander, p. 38) The article is based on the book entitled Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by Drs. Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney. They are researchers who believe that people can train themselves to become more resilient no matter what dysfunction or trauma they have experienced in their lives. They arrived at this conclusion through studying changes in the brain after participants underwent mindfulness and resilience training. Yes,...
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Learn How to Be Independent and Dependent

Here’s a question I often ask clients. As I tell them, it’s really a trick question: Is it better to be independent or dependent? If you’re like many of my clients, I bet you answered with “independent.” The answer is that being independent is not better than being dependent. They are of equal value. We need both qualities to live long and prosper. As Kenny Rogers croons in his hit song, “The Gambler,” “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.” He’s saying that both strategies are essential to winning. The same is true in the game of life. You need to employ both strategies, knowing when to be autonomous and do things yourself because you’re resourceful and capable. And, equally, you need to know when to solicit and accept help when you’re trying to solve a problem and are unable to do it or do it...
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On Never Giving Up

While attending a presentation of educational scholarships for deserving women at a local women’s center where I volunteer, it struck me that each of the several dozen women who had received scholarships had nearly the same thing to say: that though life had been very hard, they had never given up hope that they would make a better one for themselves. Hearing them, I got to thinking about how dysregulated eaters sometimes fall into victimization, helplessness and despair and how ready so many of you are to give up on becoming “normal” eaters. One young woman from Afghanistan left her large family and, on her own, traveled to the US where she was given an “adopted” mother to live with. How many of us can imagine what it would be like to come to a strange country where we didn’t speak the language, leaving our family behind in a war-torn country?...
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What Do We Mean by Healing?

I’ve had some conversations of late with clients about the nature of healing. What do we mean when we say we are or want to be “healed” from our childhoods? Is being “healed,” say, from an eating disorder, the same thing as being recovered from it?According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, “to heal” means 1) to make sound or whole, to restore to health; 2) to cause (an undesirable condition) to be overcome, to patch up (a breach or division); 3) to restore to original purity or integrity. In emotional healing, I’d count out being restored to an original state. That’s not going to happen, nor would that necessarily be beneficial. Yet, we can overcome eating problems or childhood abuse or neglect, that is, change our thoughts and behaviors.So we’re left with the concept of being made sound or whole and restored to health. Those seem like acceptable, realistic, doable goals....
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Decision-making via Pride and Shame

I thought I’d written on this topic before because it’s something I talk about all the time with clients, but I couldn’t find a blog about making decisions by the pride-and-shame method. This is a very simple way to make choices. It totally bypasses internal conflicts and focuses only on how the decision will make you feel: proud or ashamed. Sometimes, it’s quite clear cut how we’ll feel after we do something. If you were emotionally healthy, you’d return the wallet someone dropped and feel proud. And if you picked it up to keep it, you might feel enough shame to give it back. As an emotionally healthy person, when you engage in effective hygiene, you feel proud. Alternately, when you don’t brush your teeth or bathe, for example, you feel some shame. Likewise, when you’re emotionally healthy, you stop eating when you’re full or satisfied and feel proud. And, when...
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Having the Right or Doing What’s Right for You

I was listening to an interview on NPR a while back and a remark made stuck in my mind. To paraphrase, it went like this: The question isn’t whether you have the right to do something, but whether it’s right for you. Hmm, I thought, this is exactly what troubled eaters need to know about making food choices. Many of you struggle with feeling deprived of or entitled to food. You’ve dieted and restricted food for so long that a tension has built up which has made you want to break out and eat everything in sight or, at least, everything you think you couldn’t or “shouldn’t” eat. Believing you can’t have something—food, love, attention, etc.—may cause you to crave it. And to overfocus on it as if you’re on a crusade. Insisting that you have “the right” to eat something has roots in your upbringing or history with food. First...
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What We Bring to the Future

Talking with a client who was worrying about what might happen in the future, I told her, “Well we don’t know what the future will bring, but we can always know what we bring to it.” It’s true. We can’t ever know exactly what the future holds in store—events out of our control, uplifting surprises, life-changing good luck, tragic misfortune, or natural occurrences that turn our lives upside down. Life is a crapshoot: You roll the dice and live with whatever turns up. But, are we really that powerless in terms of the future? We can’t predict or control what will happen from this minute on, but we can be confident about what we’re bringing to the metaphorical party of life, and that’s what I mean when I say that “we always can know what we’re bringing to the future.” For example, on a concrete level, when it comes to a...
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Choosing to Stay Stuck or Move Forward

I’m all about encouraging troubled eaters to take baby steps to grow healthier, but there are some life-altering decisions which can catapult you forward and help you reach your goals more quickly. These are decisions that have high-impact consequences. Make a poor choice and you reinforce behaviors that keep you stuck in dysfunctional patterns. But make one in your long-term best interest and you alter you brain map by reinforcing neural pathways that lead you to emotional and mental health. For example, say you’re dating a self-centered guy (or gal) who makes you feel invisible and is more concerned with his needs than yours. Sure, he’s fun to be with and when he occasionally directs the sunshine of his love on you, you feel all warm and fuzzy. But, truth is—and you know it deep down—that he is really not emotionally mature enough for the kind of intimate, mutual relationship you...
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Be the Parent to Yourself That You Wish You’d Had

Whether you grew up without a parent or had one (or two) who weren’t great caretaker material, as an adult you need to know how to parent yourself well. If you take good care of yourself—and, to me, at rock bottom that’s what will turn you into a “normal” eater—it matters less what kind of early care-taking you received and more how you’re focused on re-parenting yourself now. I’ve blogged about this before, but the process of taking care of yourself is worth repeating. If parents didn’t model healthy caretaking for you by how they treated themselves or each other or didn’t care for you well enough physically and emotionally, you internalized negligent caretaking. Then you proceeded to go along thinking that you weren’t worth treating better or that poor care-taking was normal. As a child, you likely didn’t know any better and poor self-care habits became entrenched. Perhaps as a...
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Keep an Open, Not a Closed Mind

What one quality makes for a topnotch crime-solver? As an avid reader of mysteries, my take is that successful detection is born of curiosity and open mindedness. You don’t solve a crime by deciding right off the bat who had done it because then you’d be fitting evidence into a forgone conclusion. Instead, you are open to everything pertinent you find and build a case from the ground up. This is what scientists do as well, employing the scientific method. They begin with a hunch or hypothesis, then accumulate data until it points in a true-or-false-direction. Open-mindedness and curiosity keep scientists from cherry picking data which would sway their opinion one way or another. They let the truth emerge, even if it proves their initial assumption wrong. Quite honestly, I’ve found that many clients and Food and Feelings message board members are unwilling to stay curious and open-minded enough to disprove...
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Stop Calling Recovery Hard Work

I’m glad to be evolving as a therapist and educator on the topics of food and weight. The more I learn about how people change, the more value I am to my clients, students, and readers. One thing I’ve tried to stop myself from doing is saying and writing about recovery as “hard” or “work.” I’m not saying it can’t be challenging, because it can be, but it actually makes it more so when we keep reminding ourselves of the difficulty. This subject came up while I was talking with a client who mentioned several times during our session how hard changing her thinking or behavior would be. There are many ways we can think about change: as hard work, interesting, challenging, exhilarating, scary, fun, enlightening, impossible, frustrating, or an adventure. All these adjectives are possibilities—in part because of what we expect. Why tell ourselves that we might be feeling this...
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Internal versus External Self-care

How do you identify someone who has good self-care and high self-esteem? Do you assume that people who dress smartly, are well-groomed, pamper themselves, and always seem as if they know what to do or say must feel great about themselves? Is self-care all about massages and great hair cuts and going to the newest vacation hotspot? How do you identify someone who takes excellent care of themselves? Along with the self-esteem movement came new ideas about how to feel good about yourself. Do positive things for yourself to love yourself, it said. Tell yourself you’re a success and you’ll feel like one. While there’s some truth to these ideas, it’s only partial. Here’s why. I see many disregulated eaters who don’t take care of their emotional needs focusing on externals which make them feel better in the short run, as they miss the whole point of what excellent self-care is...
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How to Improve Self-control

I tend to avoid using the term self-control, never mind blogging about it. It smacks of rigidity, restriction, and holding yourself on a too-tight leash. But, one day I happened upon a review of the book The Marshmallow Test—Mastering Self-Control by Columbia University psychologist Walter Mischel (“Mastering the art of self control,” Science News, 11/15/14, p. 28) and couldn’t help but wonder what it had to say. It’s important to understand where the book’s title comes from. The Marshmallow Test is famous in psychology. Basically, it’s Mischel’s study of children faced with marshmallow temptation and their consumption based on being told that if they didn’t eat the marshmallows right away, they’d get two later. The upshot was that “Kids who waited for double the goodies grew up to do better in school, get better jobs, maintain better physical health and felt better about themselves than their grab-and-go peers.” Says Mischel, “No...
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Stop Competing with Others—Compete with Yourself

A major characteristic of people I treat for eating problems is that they frequently compare themselves to others. Sometimes they do this consciously but, honestly, most of the time I don’t think they have a clue that they’re doing it. There’s nothing wrong with a healthy dose of competition, but there’s everything wrong when you can’t stop noticing who has more of this and less of that and how you don’t stack up. Constant comparison is about feeling insecure and believing that you must have a certain amount of whatever—money, clothes, job status, successes, recognition—in order to feel okay about yourself. And this insecurity leads to envy and jealousy (see my blogs Envy and Jealousy) which are not emotions you want to feel very often never mind live on a steady diet of. Amy Alkon, the Advice Goddess, quotes psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 10/30/14,...
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Why Being Curious Is Crucial to Getting Healthy

For years I’ve been urging clients to replace self-condemnation with curiosity and self-compassion. Compassion simply feels better and it relaxes you (as opposed to being harsh with yourself which generates bodily tension), even if it may initially cause discomfort because you’re not used to being nice to yourself. And now it seems that curiosity also serves a vital function in promoting mental health. “Curiosity made you read this, but will you remember it?” (Meeri Kim, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 10/21/14, 20E) tells us that there is “brain activation between a state of curiosity and the anticipation of rewards” and that “being on a ‘curiosity high’ can facilitate learning.” Here’s how: “Things that you’re interested in, you learn better.” This is why therapists encourage you to be curious about your behavior and why lecturing you about change doesn’t work. Being curious about behavior activates your brain in a different way than pressuring yourself to...
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Changing Behavior Leads to Changing Beliefs

Not a month goes by when I don’t hear a client or HYPERLINK "Food and Feelings"  message board member insist that if they don’t believe something is true, they can’t possibly act as if it is. That belief is untrue and needs to change if you’re planning on recovering from your eating problems. Why? Because sometimes believing comes at the end of imagining and acting differently. You may tell yourself that you can’t act confidently interviewing for a job that you don’t feel totally qualified for or attending a wedding in your large-sized body feeling sexy and beautiful. You insist that you can’t do these things because they aren’t “true,” that the “truth” is that you’re highly insecure career-wise, feel silly pretending to be confident, and are certain that your interviewer will see right through you if you’re not honest. Or that you’re so ashamed of your body that sexy and...
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What Do You Think You Deserve?

Do you often eat food that isn’t good for you and that you’re not hungry for because you insist, “Well, why shouldn’t I eat it? I deserve it.” Truth is, when you feel truly deserving of good things, you don’t think this way. Yes, you do deserve to eat yummy foods, but with entitled eating, yumminess lasts until you guiltily swallow the last bite or feel sick to your stomach. Hello, you’re not eating for pleasure, but because you don’t have enough of it in your life. What follows your fleeting food fling is hours or days—or a lifetime—of feeling crummy about your eating and yourself. What you’re actually proving is that you don’t believe you deserve to feel good because feeling yucky is exactly what happens when you regularly eat for non-hunger reasons. Paradoxically, you end up driving home the point that you deserve pain and suffering, not pleasure. How...
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The Value of Mindlessness

I’ve long said that this culture, and especially disregulated eaters, need more intentional mindlessness in their lives along with, of course, more mindfulness. Of course, it’s not something one could campaign about the way there’s a movement for mindfulness, but the value of mindlessness should not be underestimated. Maybe it’s simply a question of being mindful enough to know when you want to be mindless. When you’re really tuned into yourself, that would sound like this: I sure am exhausted and my brain and body long for a rest. If that’s what I’m craving, then I’m going to tune out the world for a while until I feel refreshed. Do you hear any judgment here? Notice any struggle about whether this desire is right or wrong? None at all. My point being that the body/mind knows what it wants and needs and you ignore mindlessness at your own eating peril. If...
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