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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]

Sugar Addition

Recently I did some internet research on sugar addiction when the subject cropped up in a workshop. Can a person really be addicted to sugar? If so, does that mean she can never eat it and/or that if she does, she’s bound to go overboard and binge? How do you know if you’re addicted or if you only believe you are? I encourage you all to do your own research on sugar addiction, although the jury appears to be out on the subject. Some evidence indicates that rats seem to become addicted to sugar water based on specific criteria related to increased tolerance, cravings, and withdrawal symptoms, while other studies conclude that the problem is better defined in terms of psychological dependence than physical addiction. Perhaps some day we’ll have a definitive answer and a better understanding of how sugar affects our biochemistry. For now, each of us has to assess...
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An Eating Disorder or Misery

Many of you will not be able to overcome your eating problems until you get out of the unhappy situations you are working or living in. I know this advice is hard to hear, that you fear making major change, and that you will even forgo a healthy relationship with food to maintain the status quo. However, dysfunctional eating is often a reaction to a toxic situation and you won’t become a “normal” eater until you opt out of it. You may hate your job or like it but feel constantly stressed, overwhelmed, pressured, and frustrated. Or you enjoy your job, but not your colleagues who appear to delight in excluding or harassing you and go out of their way to make your life hell. Or you have an ogre of a boss who is chronically mean, condescending, blaming, insensitive, and/or petty, for whom nothing you do is ever good enough...
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3 Skills for Eating Satisfaction

One of the chief complaints I hear from clients and patients is how utterly impossible it seems to say no to food on a regular basis when they’re not hungry or to stop eating when they’re satisfied. They speak about going unconscious, falling into a trance, blocking out consequences, and being reduced to overwhelming won’t-take-no-for-an-answer desire. In clinical terms, they cannot refrain from acting on impulse. Three related skills are necessary to inhibit impulses, slightly different takes on saying no to yourself around food (or anything else). The first is the capacity for frustration tolerance, which means being able to endure frustration in order to achieve goals. If you have a doctor’s appointment but return home because you can’t easily find a parking space or if you give up on doing your taxes because they’re complicated and a brain drain, you have a low threshold for frustration. Frustration is unpleasant but...
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Self-soothing

A question came up on the message board for my Food and Feelings Workbook (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings) about self-soothing techniques. There are a variety that, if not learned adequately in childhood, need to be acquired later on for healthy emotional regulation. As with other skills, the more you practice, the better you get and the more natural the behaviors feel. Here are 4 that should help—body relaxation, positive self-talk, mantras, and physical self-comfort. The basic relaxation technique works best in a quiet environment. Sit or lie comfortably, close your eyes, and breathe deeply, inhaling warm, soothing air and exhaling body tension for about 5 minutes. Next, tense each part of your body for 5 seconds then relax it for 15 seconds, starting with your feet and ending with your head (to include legs, buttocks, abdomen, chest, neck, shoulders, and arms). Go slowly. Visualize inhalation bringing relaxing air to the specific body part and...
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The Upside of Perfectionism

Often mental health clinicians point out how being a perfectionist can prevent someone from leading a fulfilling, happy life. We warn against pushing too hard, having personal standards that are impossibly high, and trying to live up to expectations that are so unrealistic that they can’t help but lead to feeling inadequate. All true enough, but did you know that perfectionism also has an upside? When I work with people who refuse to make themselves uncomfortable in order to change or who want to give up when they realize how arduous the recovery process is, I wish they had a healthy dose of perfectionism. Some people fail to recover precisely because they’re not willing to put in the effort, are ambivalent about recovery, don’t follow suggestions or advice, and view themselves as powerless victims. They don’t know how to set goals, maintain motivation, push themselves over hurdles, and therefore throw in...
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Introducing a Forbidden Food

One of the scariest tasks in becoming a “normal” eater is starting to eat foods that you’ve forbidden yourself. However, if you move forward with mindfulness, planning and structure, you’ll be less fearful and more successful. Every time you aim to “legalize” a new food, follow (all of) these steps. All you need is a paper, pen, food, and courage! Step 1: Pick a food that challenges you which you don’t regularly keep in the house, one that exerts a moderate irrational pull, but not the most difficult food for you to resist. Step 2: After making a choice, without judgment, record your feelings about re-introducing this food into your diet—anxious, fearful, angry, hopeless, yearning, excited, mixed. Breathe deeply. Calm your anxiety by soothing self-talk. Step 3: Make a list of at least half a dozen beliefs you have about this food: I can’t eat this “normally”; I’ll gobble this right...
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What is Self-control?

We first hear the word “self-control” early in childhood and go on to use it to explain our eating successes and failures ever after. We act as if it’s a commodity we can go out and buy at the corner store, as if we either have it or don’t, as if it’s something outside ourselves that we can somehow get hold of and place inside us. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and we do ourselves a disservice by our wrong thinking. Self-control is a process, not a single action; it’s an acquired skill, more a way of thinking than behaving. It develops over time, generally starting in early childhood, but can also be learned at any time in adulthood. Let’s look at the word. The self part is pretty clear: it’s about us. The control part is more complicated. There are a number of meanings for the word control,...
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Explaining “Normal” Eating

In a thin-obsessed culture, it can be difficult to explain why you would choose not to diet—especially if you’re overweight, more so if you are obese—because we have few culturally accepted methods for weight loss. In the past, diets and fasting were the way to go and now, of course, we have surgery, as well. All are easily understood concepts. However, if you choose the route of “normal” eating, you’re talking about an animal that is not easily described. Yes, you can enumerate its four rules and give examples. You can explain that learning to eat “normally” is a process that goes beyond changing behavior and targets beliefs and emotions. In my experience, what gets in the way of understanding the concept is not you giving a poor or incomplete explanation, but your listener’s limited ability to “get it” or to understand what the big deal is. Their limits fall into...
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The Flip Side of Yes and No

If you’re having trouble saying yes or no to food, think about there being a flip side to every choice—each time you make a healthy decision to eat or not eat, you’re reaping a heaping of rewards. You’re not simply saying no to deprive yourself of food, but saying yes to taking better care of yourself. You’re not merely saying yes to a food you’ve previously rejected thinking it was “too fattening,” but saying no to the artificial restriction of diet think. The truth is that every time you accede to or refrain from anything in life—food or otherwise—you are moving toward one thing and away from another. Let’s say that you reject food you genuinely crave because you fear weight gain or that eating it prevent weight loss. Instead of focusing on pounds, consider all you will achieve by saying yes to that food: honoring your appetite, attempting to meet...
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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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