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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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Change Creates Change

At lunch with a friend who’s always immersed in fascinating and challenging activities, we got to talking about trying new endeavors and doing things we already know how to do differently. In the spirit of our discussion, I switched my turkey wrap from my right hand to my left and continued munching. An enlightening experience, to be sure. We know from scientific studies that the more learning folks engage in as they age, the more functional they remain. Every time an unfamiliar task challenges us, the brain has to create new neural pathways which keep it growing and changing. It doesn’t matter if you shine in what you’re learning to do or acquire a skill that’s of little use to the rest of the world but of much use or fun to you. The point is that your brain benefits when it goes from here—no skill—to there—skilled. Moreover, doing new activities...

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Self-care When Life Is Hectic

Clients tell me how they used to take better care of themselves through exercise, meditation, yoga or some centering activity that brought them in touch with their mind/body. The way they tell it is that they enjoyed and benefited from the practice until life became so hectic that they “had” to give it up. Here’s another take on their story. It’s understandable that you might need to temporarily give up this kind of self-care if you need to work to eat or have shelter, in brief periods when you must provide critical care to someone, or during some major time-limited life upheaval. But aside from these situations, it’s reasonable to take good care of yourself on an ongoing basis. Ever wonder why, when life gets busy, self-care is one of the first things to go rather than some less essential activity? The answer is that you convince yourself you’re so needed...

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Biggest Eating Disorder Recovery Mistakes

After 30-plus years treating under- and overeaters, I can tell you exactly what people do wrong to impede their recovery and what they must do right to make it happen. No matter whether you’re struggling with binge-eating disorder, anorexia, bulimia, chronic restrictive dieting, or any combination thereof, here are the biggest eating disorder recovery mistakes you can make—and how to correct them. Expect change to happen quickly. By expecting that you’ll change rapidly and beating yourself up when you don’t, you lose precious time when you could be working on your issues and practicing new, healthy behaviors. Change is gradual for everyone. We’re all capable of taking only baby steps. Ironically, if you want to speed up your recovery, assume it will take a very long time.Misunderstand the change process. Forget hoping for a straight trajectory to your goals. Change not only takes time, but it comes in fits and starts....

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Making Commitments

Back in January, at a lecture by a social psychologist friend on the nature of commitments and cults, I found myself scribbling notes like mad as my mind drifted to our culture’s crazy allegiance to diets. Here’s what I learned about why, against all evidence and rationality, we insist on clinging to them. I get intrigued when research is counter-intuitive and a few observations of my professor friend were nothing but. First, he pointed out that we don’t make commitments to goals which make sense and that we know are achievable. Instead, we make commitments to things we don’t know are true and possible but hope or wish were so. For example, custom aside, uncertainty is the reason we feel a need to “commit” to marriage: because we can’t know we’ll live happily ever after, we make a pledge to ensure that it will happen. The same goes for diets. We...

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Creativity and Eating Problems

Many of my clients lament what they describe as their lack of creativity. Mostly they long for an outlet to engage body and mind so they won’t drift off to foodland. As a writer, I heartily endorse the passionate engagement of creativity to which mindless eating can’t hold a candle. In fact, when I’m writing, my poor hunger has to really pump up the volume to get my attention. If you want to become more engaged and creative, read on. Christian McEwen, author of WORLD ENOUGH AND TIME: ON CREATIVITY AND SLOWING DOWN (In praise of doing nothing, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 8/22/11), insists that creative people value “the virtues of …idleness in their own creative lives,” citing artists (in the broad sense of the word) who love open mental space because it frees them up. Unfortunately, our culture is so hell bent on keeping busy that we don’t give ourselves permission to...

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Give Your Mind a Vacation Around Food

Most disregulated eaters, at least those I’ve come across, have been using the wrong part of themselves to interact with food, when the right one is just itching to do its job. So many eaters get into trouble because they over-think around food, when what could be easier than simply letting natural appetite take over. When your body is in charge, the experience of eating flows perfectly from biological functions knowing what to do. Thinking, using what we call “the mind,” is useful and absolutely necessary for many activities: various types of work, decision-making, long-term planning, problem-solving, critical thinking, organizing, and many more. The body—senses, appetite, physical cues—also has its domain: getting you from here to there, playing sports, fine motor skill coordination, registering external sensations, and signaling sickness. These aspects of ourselves work in tandem to keep us living well and avoiding harm and each is tasked with doing part...

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What If You Didn’t Have Eating Problems?

One of the saddest things that having an eating problem can do is to con you into believing that it’s the main thing that’s wrong with you. The fact is that even if you had a peachy relationship with food, you’d still have areas of your life that need improvement. Ironically, if you were to put more effort into these areas of self-growth and skill learning, I guarantee that your eating difficulties would decrease. If you awakened tomorrow with a wonderful relationship with food and your body, would that be the end of working on becoming a more enlightened person? This is a crucial question to answer. Many of you are so busy focusing on food—hell-bent and desperate to overcome your eating problems--that you’re not putting sufficient energy into advancing in the human being department. In this sense, eating problems can be all consuming. For example, if you work on becoming...

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Develop a Positive Identity

Sometimes I can just tell when clients are about to make a big change before they actually do. This was the case with a client I work with who recently mentioned that she was plum tired of thinking of herself as a “struggling dieter” or a “binge-eater.” She said that she just wanted to be a normal person who had normal people’s problems. What I heard in her statement was that she no longer wished to obsess about food, and was ready to get on with life. For decades her identity had revolved around food and weight. For most of her youth she was a dieter and agonized about every pound and every morsel she put into her mouth. Then she catapulted into binge-eating and obsessing about being overweight. She was miserable “because of the shame of it,” health problems, not being able to do the activities she wanted, and because...

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Attachment and Self-nurturing

One of the biggest obstacles that disregulated eaters face in recovery is failing to sustain self-nurturing behavior--you stop noshing, start feelings your feelings, exercise regularly, take your vitamins daily, meditate, connect to friends, and carve out self-time. Then suddenly you don’t. Here’s at least a partial explanation to this puzzling pattern. First, the self-nurturing part of you is way (way, way) underdeveloped. That’s why you lack self- compassion, are self-critical/unforgiving/hard on yourself. Second, your attachment to that undeveloped nurturing aspect of self is tenuous. Sometimes you tune into it and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes it springs into life to guide you effectively through the world, but more often, you detach from it as if it didn’t even exist. When you’re attached to it, everything is fine and dandy. You leave work on time, insist that the kids leave you alone when you want to relax, have fun with friends, hit the...

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Hard Work and Real Learning Change Your Brain

I’ve always been against (and aghast) at the idea of giving people praise solely to help them feel better about themselves. The truth is that self-esteem comes from increased competence and confidence, each of which feeds the other. In fact, the “work” involved in gaining competence is what changes the brain and causes learning to occur. An article entitled, “Educators re-examine self-esteem boosting” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 1/16/12), explains how bona fide self-esteem develops in children and, more importantly, how it doesn’t. “Brain imaging shows how…connections between nerve cells in the cortex multiply and grow stronger as people learn and practice new skills.” That’s why I’m always harping on the need for practice in becoming a “normal” eater even when you’re frustrated or hopeless. Learning occurs no matter how you feel about the process. Just do the work, and success—via a changed brain—will be yours. The article also talks about seeking external rewards...

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Stuckness

Not a week goes by when I don’t hear clients complain about feeling stuck in improving their eating habits or making other changes in their lives. The truth is, there is no such psychological state as stuckness. Rather, stuckness is the negative perception of a state between inaction and action or between an action taken and a potential action. When you say you’re stuck, what are you really feeling? Here’s my guess: fear, risk-aversion, confusion, uncertainty, frustration, despair, doubt, maybe even emotional paralysis. Those are legitimate emotions and by acknowledging that you feel them, you’re doing yourself a service because then you can figure out the roots of your distress and how to overcome it. If you’re scared, what of? If you’re frustrated, what could generate new motivation? If you’re risk-aversive, what exactly will tip the balance to boost your courage? If you’re uncertain, what could you do to strengthen your...

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Why Resolutions Don’t Work

We’re not a month into the new year and I bet many of you are already breaking your well intended New Year’s resolutions. Don’t feel badly. Resolutions are like diets: they’re made to help you feel good in the moment, but don’t have the legs to take you the distance. Read on to find out how science explains why resolutions don’t work. Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an authority on the brain’s pleasure center, says, “We all as creatures are hard-wired…to give greater value to an immediate reward as opposed to something that’s delayed.” Get it? Our brains have evolved in such a way as to prefer instant gratification to delayed reward. You’re not crazy when you go for the chips rather than grab your coat to take a brisk walk, or when you swing by Wendy’s rather than head home to cook a nutritious...

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Understanding versus Accepting Behavior

I’ve noticed that sometimes when I comment to person A about person B’s bad behavior, “A” embarks on a lengthy explanation of how “B” might have come to be that way. In essence, person A is defending B’s behavior by detailing B’s dysfunctional childhood or the hard times B is going through, making it seem a natural consequence of their history. But does understanding bad behavior mean that we need to accept it? For example, I was having dinner with old friends when one woman started complaining about her elderly mother whom we all knew from an earlier time in our lives. The complainer was giving some pretty clear examples of the harsh treatment she was still receiving from her mother when another friend piped up with all the reasons Mom might be as she is. I kept my mouth shut for the most part and continued to observe the conversation,...

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Accountability

To whom are you accountable? Accepting that you—and only you—are responsible for your thoughts, feelings and behavior makes a huge difference in whether or not you’ll overcome your eating problems. That is, do you take charge of yourself or do you give over responsibility for your eating to family, friends, or our culture? For example, I counsel a wife who overeats, just waiting for her husband to say something to stop her. And her husband falls right into the trap every time as if his spouse has absolutely no will of her own. Accountability for her eating is in the wrong hands. Only when hubby refuses to be responsible for his wife’s food consumption, will she have a fighting chance to pick up the gauntlet herself. As long as he’s willing to act as her conscience, she’ll continue her dysfunctional behavior. I also have clients who sneak eat, as if the...

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Trusting Yourself and the Organic Process

As a disregulated eater, you likely doubt your ability to make wise decisions for yourself. Maybe lack of trust existed prior to your eating problems or maybe abusing food wore down your conviction that you can adequately care for yourself. If you’ve come to distrust your judgment, read on about a winning way to make decisions. To develop self-trust, you need to stop imposing answers on yourself and, instead, engage in self-discovery. This means tossing out what you or others think you should or shouldn’t do and waiting for answers that feel right to surface over time. Self-discovery is an organic process which is about patiently taking in information and, by doing so, having bits of wisdom unfold to you little by little to move you forward to a decision point. In this process, you don’t force an idea or decision on yourself prematurely, but allow time to discover how you...

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Do You Spend More Time Focused on Your Problems Than on Solutions?

A common occurrence is having a client come into my office and start telling me about a problem. That’s what clients are supposed to do with me, right—cough up their problems? Well, sure, that’s true, but I’m talking about describing their problems to the exclusion of focusing on what they might do to reduce or eliminate them. For example… A client might sit down and begin complaining about her husband being over-involved in his work and rarely spending time alone with her. She’ll describe in detail the instances during the week that he’s come home late while l listen, maybe making a comment or asking a question. When I ask if she’s followed up on corrective ideas we talked about previously, she’ll shrug and say how hard it is to change him and return to complaining. Another client might come in with a list of times he’s binged during the week and give...

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The Story of One Man’s Permanent Lifestyle Change

I was interviewed a while ago by Stanley F. Bronstein who radically changed his eating and lifestyle to become happier, healthier, and more fit. His story is inspiring. Hear his interview of me at http://superchangeyourlife.com/interviews/interviews-karen-koenig/ and learn more about him at SuperChangeYourLife. As you know, I don’t focus much on weight, but part of Stanley’s transformation was losing and keeping off more than 130 pounds and getting into an exercise regime he enjoys. His blood pressure dropped from 180/90 to 100/50 and I bet many of his “lab numbers” improved as well. Stanley says his problem was that he wasn’t willing to make the necessary changes [to get healthy] because he felt as if that would mean giving something up, that there would be too many painful sacrifices. But after sustaining success, he insists he didn’t give anything up, but has gained so much. He now “eats to live” and “no...

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Recovery Fatigue

I had an interesting discussion with a client about how well she was doing eating “normally” while visiting her family, then how things suddenly fell apart. She said that for most of the week she’d eaten only when she was hungry and stopped when she was full or satisfied, but that by the end of the visit, she was back to her old eating habits. The truth is I hear this lament a lot. It’s called recovery fatigue. It can be hard to keep attuned to hunger, food preference, enjoyment, and satiation on an ongoing basis. The process demands focus, effort, thought, reflection, insight—and discomfort. If you’re used to having a relationship with food that’s mostly on autopilot, serious, continuing concentration can feel exhausting. This is why pacing and patience is important rather than throwing all your energy into being different and getting well--and temporarily burning yourself out. Think about being...

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Acting Out Internal Conflict in a Positive Way

I was speaking with a client a while back about the war within her among what she calls her “wild child,” “the helpless onlooker,” and her “nurturing overseer.” As we talked about each facet of her personality that surfaces around her unwanted eating, I had an idea. Sometimes words, especially those in our heads and unspoken, just don’t cut it. Instead, I thought of a way for her to act out her inner dialogue. What better vehicle than to use sock puppets. After we had a giggle over my suggestion, we got down to some serious discussion about how this sock puppet drama might play out. She could either make them the old-fashioned way, out of a sock and tennis ball, or she might find a more sophisticated version in a store. Going with the home-made version, she could draw a face on the puppet that expressed what it was feeling....

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Lower Expectations for Less Unwanted Eating

It’s useful to have expectations, but not if they’re unrealistic and leave you disappointed. And since disappointment is one of the emotions that may drive unwanted eating, it’s far better to have reasonable expectations, even if that means giving up some of your most cherished hopes and dreams. A place to start is with acknowledging human limitation. One characteristic of disregulated eaters is not wanting to feel emotional discomfort, so instead of seeing life as it is (sometimes a bit on the yucky side), it’s more comfortable to construct an appealing reality. Such as believing that if you try hard enough to put forth your needs, people will change to meet them. That way you don’t have to change and accept that some folks simply cannot and will give you what you want and need. Why? Because they have limitations. Humans are short on life skills and long on not wanting...

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