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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. 

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Change Yourself and Your Eating Will Follow Suit

If you are journeying from dysfunctional to functional eating, you will have to change more about you than your relationship with food. In fact, that may be the final thing that shifts as you work on becoming a healthier person all around. Beware: if you only focus on whether or not your eating is becoming more “normal,” it’s easy to fall into hopelessness. You may have to develop other aspects of your personality—by altering particular character traits—before your eating habits will budge. For example, if you’re unhappy with your living situation or job, major contributors to both satisfaction or stress, you may not be able to give up disordered eating. Try as you might, you’re asking too much of yourself. Living or working under conditions in which you regularly feel unheard, undervalued, shamed, or in other ways disempowered will make change all but impossible. Once you learn to speak up and...
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Truths of Recovery

When you decide to work on overcoming your eating problems, what’s your idea of how that will happen or even when you feel a spark of hope that you could be happier and healthier around food, what’s your notion of how you’ll get from here to there? I bet that few of you have or had a clear, realistic idea of what recovery entails and, instead, your heads are or were filled with misconceptions such as: 1. Recovery will follow a straight line. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We generally make a change or two and engage in the new thinking or behavior for a while, then stop it. Why? Likely because the old ways are so deeply grooved in our brains that it’s easier to return to them. So we end up at times doing well, doing poorly, and standing still. The truth is that recovery is always...
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Measuring Progress in Recovery

Measuring your progress in recovering from an eating disorder can be perplexing: Are you going nowhere if you just had a whopper of a binge or went on a one-day fast for quick weight loss? Do you have to be symptom free to be moving ahead? Should you be focusing on the times you eat “normally” or the times you don’t? Progress can be measured in three ways. The first is by the duration of the dysfunctional behavior, that is, how long it goes on. Say, for example, your usual binge lasts for hours. Or, conversely, when you’re in self-denial mode, you can go nearly all day insisting that you’re not hungry enough to eat. You’re making progress in the first instance if you binge for 20 minutes, catch yourself, then stop. You’re making headway in the second instance if you force yourself to eat after an hour of self-imposed starvation...
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Why Do You Think You Won’t Recover?

Clients and class members often say they can’t believe they’ll ever eat “normally.” Sometimes they sound sorrowful and others times their words are accompanied by a chuckle; either way, I know that hopelessness is breaking their heart. Although it’s perfectly understandable that someone who’s been a dysregulated eater for decades would doubt their capacity to go the distance and become a functional eater, being convinced only ensures failure. Most people don’t examine why they’re sure they can’t recover, but remain stuck in hopelessness as if it were absolute truth. The only way you’ll fail to achieve your eating goals is if you give up pursuing them. The question is what would stop you—or anyone—from going from disturbed eating to “normal” eating. When you say, “Oh, I’ll never get there,” what exactly do you mean? Why won’t you? What will prevent it? Maybe you believe that the effort will be too hard...
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Psychological Markers

In the recovery process, there are markers—psychological shifts—that indicate making progress towards “normal” eating. Just as children must achieve development milestones, so must eaters who are journeying from dysfunction to function. If you’re wondering how you need to change to recover, here are some markers to look for. The first marker is true acceptance that your way of eating is unsound and unhealthy. If you’re ambivalent about how unhealthy your eating is, your internal conflicts will play out in your behavior. If you whole-heartedly believe that learning to eat “normally” is exactly what you need to do to get over your food problems, then you’ll be able to put 100% of your psychic energy into the process (though the journey will still be long and arduous). A second marker is accepting that diets and restriction are not the answer to disordered eating. Some problem eaters have known this for years and...
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How to Approach Struggle

Too often dysregulated eaters miss the point when the fight to change their eating habits. I hear them say they know they “must battle with their urges,” and “should be ashamed if they fail.” I note the high standards they set for themselves and the do-or-die way they attack the subject. What if you didn’t have to think in terms of battling and fighting with food and, instead, could view it as a process that was opening yourself to new possibilities? Because of the dysfunctional way you learned to view the world—in black-and-white or all-or-nothing terms—you often get things backward. I don’t mean this as a criticism, but as an observation. One example is your approach to change. This is what I often hear. “I don’t struggle enough in the moment. I should struggle more. What’s wrong with me? I ought to be ashamed of myself.” From the outset, the goal...
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Seeing Yourself Clearly

I start my “Quit Fighting with Food” workshops by asking each group member tosay one thing they like about themselves. Often, members are stumped or mumble something like, “I’m nice,” or “I’m good to others.” The reasons for beginning the workshop this way are three-fold: to help break the ice, to establish a mindset that members are more than just people with eating problems, and to get a sense of members’ ability to assess themselves accurately. In all my 30 years of teaching, it’s rare for a workshop member to come up with something really unique about themselves, and I can’t remember when I last heard a positive assessment strongly asserted. Usually group members look pained and embarrassed and appear to feel they need to come up with something that won’t make them sound as if they’re boasting. What, you may wonder, does asserting something positive about yourself have to do...
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Identifying Beliefs

Thanks, readers, for your comments which often give me ideas to blog about. In fact, a question came up recently about how to identify beliefs and prompted me to write this blog, so keep those comments coming! I also get ideas from two message boards I hope you’ll check out (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/dietsurvivors and http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings). Beliefs, also called cognitions, are your assumptions, theories, ideas, values, attitudes, hypotheses about life and how you fit into it. They’re your operating instructions, just as your computer’s program is what guides it and makes it function. Beliefs are subjective, not objective, neither fact nor truth. Unlike the latter, beliefs can change. In fact, one of the unhealthiest beliefs you can have is that you’re stuck with your beliefs and that you can’t change them. That kind of thinking leads to rigid behavior which keeps you mentally and emotionally stunted and perceiving yourself as a victim of cruel...
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Yawn…Excuse Me, I’m Tired

An issue that crops up occasionally on two eating-related message boards I post on (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/group/dietsurvivors) is confusion between fatigue and hunger or desire for food. Maybe you too abuse food when you should be putting up your feet or counting Zs. If you regularly wonder if you’re tired or hungry, you may be missing out on their physical/mental signals or mistaking one signal for another; in fact, you may also have difficulty discerning other physical cues. Perhaps your parents were confused about their physical needs and couldn’t teach you how to identify, distinguish among, and respond to physical needs. Maybe you distance yourself from your body because trying to meet its needs overwhelms you. Or you respond to your body’s desire to shut off consciousness (fatigue) by abusing food until you’re zoned out. You may also mix up fatigue and hunger or food obsession because you don’t want to rest...
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How Therapy Helps

Every time a client alters how they think about and behave around food, I realize all over again what a difference therapy can make in the life of someone with eating problems. Of course, as a therapist for nearly 30 years, I’m naturally biased. Yet, I don’t believe I’d keep on meeting with clients day after day, year after year, if I didn’t see people transform their lives before my eyes. I know that the idea of going to therapy scares people—it’s a frightening process to open up to a stranger, hope that life could be better, and work hard to make it happen—but it’s essential if you’ve never been to therapy (or haven’t stayed long enough to benefit) to understand how it helps. On a concrete level, a therapist offers a new view of yourself through eyes which are compassionate and hopeful. Her job is to listen non-judgmentally and empathize...
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The Price of Success

Some of you might be fairly close to eating “normally,” and wonder why you still have bouts of bingeing or rigid restrictive eating when most of the time you do pretty well around food. You might recognize that you’re sabotaging your success, but can’t imagine why. This phenomenon is not as unusual as it sounds. After all, there is a price to pay when you give up an eating disorder and become a “normal” eater.The price is subtle: recovery means giving up suffering and struggling which may be all you ever have known eating-wise. Because being disorder-free may have been your goal for years or decades, perhaps you can’t imagine a downside to having a peaceable relationship with food. Growing up, you may have been taught that it’s wrong to rest on your laurels, be content with success, feel satisfied with your achievements, and not keep pushing your limits. When you...
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Struggle On

You won’t become a “normal” eater without internal struggle, and I mean tons of it. You know, those head-banging conversations you have with yourself that go like this: I really want it but I know I shouldn’t eat it, and I’ll feel so much better if I take care of myself but it’s so hard, I don’t know if I can except if I don’t learn how I’ll have food problems forever. Or like this: I hate being afraid to eat but I can’t stand the idea of gaining weight, but I know that a few pounds won’t really make me fat except I’m scared that if I start eating I won’t stop and soon I’ll be big as a house. These inner dialogues may make you want to scream, but they’re absolutely essential for growth and change because they shake you out of your comfort zone. Do things mindlessly, the...
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Seeking New Understandings

While watching the annual Kennedy Awards presentations last year, one of the recipients, world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, commented (and I’m paraphrasing here) that every day he seeks new understanding. Part of his greatness is learning new musical styles and ways of making music, and seeking understanding obviously contributes to that process. It may even be one of the factors that makes it possible. How can a mindset of seeking understanding help you resolve your eating problems, that is the question? Do you awaken every day without judgment about yourself, eat without self-condemnation, engage in self-reflection as naturally as breathing, lead with curiosity about yourself and the world? Or do you keep a closed mind and mull around only what’s in it—often negative thoughts about your relationship with food? Imagine awakening every day like Yo-Yo Ma and making it a priority to seek new understanding. You’d look at your family/neighbors/co-workers differently. You’d...
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Use Your Teeth and Tongue

As you endeavor to become a “normal” eater, you’ll most certainly want to get your teeth and tongue working for you. They’re probably not organs you think much about, except at brushing time or when you have an appointment with your dentist or hygienist. But, they’re key body parts in regulating appetite (along with your brain) and play a major role in registering pleasure and satisfaction. It’s pretty easy to figure out what part your teeth play in the eating process. Chewing not only grinds food into small enough pieces for your stomach to digest it, it also releases flavor. Many rapid eaters don’t chew food long enough and swallow oversized bites. Not only is this unhealthy for digestion, but it prevents flavor from being released. Although you say you love food, do you really love it enough to chew at a slow rate so that flavor bursts out of every bite? Conversely,...
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Feeling Bad Before You Feel Good

As an overeater or undereater struggling to become a “normal” eater, you’re in for a bumpy ride. Things are going to get worse before they get better. Oh, no, I can hear you say, Things are already terrible. How could they get worse? Here’s how. By stopping old behaviors and ways of thinking and trying on new ones, you’re entering unchartered territory which is scary and strange. Plan on feeling frightened, frustrated, hopeless, overwhelmed, helpless, and impatient. Plan on wanting to give up and go back to your old ways. Plan on feeling like a stranger to yourself and thinking and acting in unpredictable ways. There is no way to achieve “normal” eating without going through this process. It is impossible. Everyone who has worked through their eating problems has felt similar to the way you do. No one had a good time, no one was thrilled with the process. But...
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Treat Yourself Like You Treat Your Dog

Last week I was talking to someone with an eating problem who joked about treating her dogs better than herself. She described feeding them exactly what they wanted and her joy in loving them unconditionally. My first thought was how common her attitude is among dysregulated eaters who often treat family members, friends, and, yes, pets better than themselves. Maybe you’re one of these people who are caught in a vicious cycle of devaluing yourself which leads to disordered eating which erodes self-love which perpetuates more disordered eating. The process of putting all your good feelings into an “other” and holding all the bad ones inside yourself is called projection and stems from discomfort with feeling lovable and worthy. Think about it: Why would you treat an animal better than you? You’d only do it if you didn’t think you deserved as much as Fido or Whiskers. I’m not suggesting that...
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If You Couldn’t Make Choices

Every time I see my neighbor who’s a quadriplegic, I think to myself, I bet she’d give anything to have a choice about whether to exercise or feed herself. We take so much for granted as we muddle along, especially using the easy way out and deciding by doing nothing and letting things happen. Letting the chips fall becomes a way of life. Think, what would life would be like if choices were taken away from you? As the saying goes, use it or lose it! Do you live as if you have forever to be different—unconsciously, blocking out how your food intake in (or lack thereof) might damage your future health? It’s one thing to be present to the moment; it’s another to be barricaded in it and act as if now is all you have. Consider this question: If you had to be in a wheelchair for the rest...
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What Are You Waiting For?

Procrastinating is one of the unappealing aspects of being human. Everyone does it sometimes. After all, why be unhappy today when you can put it off ‘til tomorrow, right? Well, that might work with making an appointment to have your teeth cleaned or doing your taxes, but if you keep postponing these activities, your teeth will rot and the IRS will be camping on your doorstep. We think we can ignore unpleasant consequences because they’re off in the future, but every day brings us closer and closer to them. Many people talk about changing their eating habits but do little or nothing about it. Understandable: change hurts, is hard, and rocks our boat. Fortunately, in my practice and classes, I work with individuals who are eager to learn new attitudes and behaviors. But, what of you folks who keep saying that you’ll get into therapy or join an eating support group...
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Do You See What I See

My job as a psychotherapist is to crawl inside someone’s head and look out at the world through their eyes. Through that process, I’ve learned that many people with eating problems are hyper-self-conscious and -self-critical about their food intake because they assume that others are as focused on and negative about it as they are. The same holds true for many overweight people and those who fear weight gain who, hating fat, assume that they’re being judged in the same pejorative way that they judge others. It usually comes as a surprise when I tell them that there are folks out there who don’t care very much about what others weigh, and that the majority of people don’t pay much attention to what others eat or don’t eat. Those kinds of things are not even on their radar screen!One of the limitations of life is the lens through which we see...
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After a Binge or Purge

One of the worst feelings a dysregulated eater experiences comes after engaging in a behavior you know is self-destructive but you go ahead and do it anyway. No sooner have you swallowed the last bite of whatever you ate so fast you didn’t taste it, than in rush self-loathing and regrets. No sooner have you closed the bathroom door behind you after a purge, than here come the recriminations and remorse. If only you could turn back the clock and undo your acting out, everything would be all right. But, of course, you can’t, and things are anything but all right. In your mind, you’ve lost control again, ruining your day, your week—your life.Okay, let’s put your behavior into perspective. What you did may disappoint and upset you, but it’s changeable and you’ve hurt no one but yourself. The absolute worst thing you can do following a binge or a purge...
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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