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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. 

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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Eating Disorders and Shame

In my Food and Feelings Workbook I describe the purpose of shame as helping you to recognize that you’ve done something wrong or are not living up to your personal behavioral standards. Shame is such a powerful motivator that it often prods you to do things you would rather not do—eat though you fear gaining weight, stop yourself in the middle of a binge, refuse to purge in spite of feeling full. Without shame working as it should, none of us would recover from eating disorders! However, shame also has a dark side—you live in its shadow when you feel ashamed of your eating behavior and do nothing to correct it. Or, more accurately, when by not acknowledging your shame, you live in disappointment about yourself for not measuring up to the standards you know are healthy for you. To work effectively, shame must wash over you, give you a thorough...
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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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Strong Is Not the Way

I often hear people say that they have to be strong without understanding the havoc that trying to be that way all the time wreaks on life. First off, it’s impossible. We are not meant to be men and women of steel. Leave that job to superhuman comic book characters, please. We are meant, rather, to live in emotional balance—sometimes we need to be strong and sometimes we need to be (gulp!) weak. Unfortunately, our media images shine with folks who seem to have iron wills, never give in, do it all themselves, and are never overcome by emotion. Growing up with these images, we may believe that we should always have our lives under control as if we, and we alone, governed the universe. More likely, our parents encouraged us to be “big” boys and girls, by either word or example. Perhaps they provided rigid role models for toughing it...
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Riding the Brakes

I assume that all of you who drive know what it means to ride the brakes: your foot rests lightly on or hovers above the brake pedal so that you can stomp down on it in a flash or keep going so slowly that you never really pick up speed. This kind of driving hyper-vigilance comes from a fear of moving too fast and/or of not being able to brake quickly enough. The same kind of hyper-vigilance can be used to describe the behavior of the rigidly restrictive undereater who is constantly riding the brake of appetite. If you’re one of these people, perhaps you grew up believing that if you didn’t sit on your appetite, you’d never be able to reign it in. Maybe your parents or relatives were overweight or overeaters and you were ashamed of them, leading you to decide early on never to give in to excess...
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Learning to Let Loose

One pattern I’ve noticed over the decades is how many overeating problems there are among very successful women. You might even be one of them, an amazing, overachieving, talented female who holds a high-powered job, has an exciting, satisfying career, and/or is a leader in your field. You can’t help but impress people with how much you’ve achieved in your lifetime and what you get done in a day. Well respected and admired, you nevertheless frequently feel you’re not doing enough and have difficulty taking care of yourself as well as you take care of others. When I delve into the histories of women like you, I find first borns, only children, or sole females among brothers. Maybe you spent too much of your childhood taking care of parents who were physically or mentally ill or addicted, or being similarly responsible for siblings. The concept of putting your needs aside to...
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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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Book Reviews: Books for Healing

I know that many of you read books about eating (like mine!) to help you resolve your food problems. However, other books that don’t specifically target eating can work wonders in moving you toward recovery. For now, here’s a taste of the wisdom from my favorite “self-help” books. From time to time, I’ll provide you with more titles. Two books by Daniel Goleman offer highly readable descriptions of emotions from a biological and sociological perspective. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ focuses on temperament, the biology of emotions, and the importance of really knowing your “feeling” self. Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships provides a thorough education on the biopsychosocial chemistry of how and why we relate to others as we do. Another gem on the subject is The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life by Joseph LeDoux which tells explains how the brain...
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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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When Your Clothes Are Too Tight

Whether you’re learning to legalize foods and enjoying them for the first time (or the first time in a long time) or are putting on weight because you’re not paying attention to your food intake, your clothes may be getting tighter. A waistband digging into your belly, a zipper that won’t quite close, or pant legs that bind your thighs all can lead to physical discomfort. And if you’re someone engaged in ongoing battle with food and weight, snug clothes can bring on feelings such as shame, disappointment, and panic as well. People put on weight for a variety of reasons, including inability to exercise, aging, food allergies, medication, vacation, “the holidays,” and hormonal changes. “Normal” eaters might be a bit frustrated, surprised or perplexed by putting on a few pounds, but most take it in stride without an intense reaction. They might try cutting back on treats, increasing exercise, talking...
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