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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]

Stop Beating Yourself Up

Psychology teaches us that there are two ways to change behavior: one is through incentives and the other is through punishment. Incentives mean working for reward or pleasure, and punishment involves taking action to avoid pain. One form of behavior modification is not necessarily more potent than the other, but using only self-punishment will not help you become a “normal” eater. If you are used to coming down hard on yourself in your efforts to eat more or less, you will have to change your approach. Think about how you were encouraged to alter your behavior in childhood and how your parents tried to modify theirs. Did they beat themselves up when they didn’t measure up? Did they punish you verbally or physically when you failed to meet their or your expectations? Or did they use appropriate incentives to sustain motivation and offer healthy rewards for you to do better? My...
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Eating from Boredom

Recently a question came up on the message boards I advise on (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/dietsurvivors and http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings) about eating from boredom. Boredom is an interesting emotion because it can stand alone but also may mask other uncomfortable feelings such as loneliness, sadness, anxiety and depression. There are two types of boredom: acute and chronic. You may feel acute boredom when your friend cancels plans for Saturday night at the last minute and leaves you with nothing to do or when you accompany a partner to a lecture that doesn’t interest you all that much. Chronic boredom is a regular occurrence—you frequently feel you have nothing to do or are unengaged emotionally, you lack energy to get up and go yet are antsy, you feel stuck in old routines, in your same old skin. Some boredom is inevitable. We can’t be in the thick of things 24/7. We need time to relax, reflect, and...
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Changing Weight

As we get older, most of us put on weight or have body shifts. If you’ve been slender most of your life, it can come as quite a shock to try on a garment you haven’t worn in a while only to find that it no longer fits. Or you may realize that you’re now more comfortable in a larger size than you previously wore, but find no major change on the scale. Either situation may generate an uncharacteristic, new focus on food and weight, even when you’ve not been previously concerned about them. Some people who’ve never had eating or weight problems make the transition to a larger clothing size and higher scale number fairly easily. They figure they’ve been fortunate for a long time and attribute body changes to age, decreased activity, and hormones. They may watch what they eat a bit more carefully and cut back somewhat on...
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Foresight versus Hindsight

A query came up a few weeks ago on The Food and Feelings message board ( http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings ) about how to use feelings to prevent food abuse rather than going unconscious and being barraged by an onslaught of negative emotions after the abuse. This issue arose often during my years working at a clinic with polysubstance abusers who often felt little or no fear about dealing drugs— ignoring the real possibility of arrest—but were terrified about going to jail after being caught. These clients appeared fearless, but were not: they buried their fear until they were forced to face consequences. My work was to help them experience their full-blown, post-behavior fear before they behaved badly in order to prevent it. The same process applies to eating or not eating. If your medical tests warn that you’re at high risk for major trouble in the near or distant future because of the...
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Food and Fear

A question came up recently on the Food and Feelings message board ( http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings ) about eating out of fear that you’ll be hungry later and won’t have food available. This automatic deprivational response is an excellent example of emotion based on irrational belief leading to dysfunctional behavior. (For further reading on fear and food, see my Food and Feelings Workbook.) By the time we become adults, our fears are generally so long-standing that we don’t even recognize them as adaptive responses we learned in childhood. If you want to overcome an eating disorder, you not only have to notice how your fears drive your eating behaviors, but also understand how they came about. Fears of not being able to soothe, feed, or take care of yourself arise in two ways. We learn what is “right” for us by having our caretakers do things to and for us and internalizing this...
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Depowering Food

It’s amazing the false power we give to food, how we offer ourselves up as its hostage and let it dominate our lives. We fork over our power, then spend the rest of our lives trying to grab it back. When this happens, it’s time to think of Dorothy and her friends in The Wizard of Oz—we need the courage to unmask food and see it for what it really is so that we can get it working for, not against, us. Food is nothing more than molecules, some natural, some artificial that contain the nutrients we need to live. Any specialness we perceive is conferred on it by us. Although one food may taste better than another, likes and dislikes are a matter of preference. Food may have mood-altering and anesthetizing properties, but unlike alcohol and drugs, it does not have the chemical make up to actually remove us from...
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What Makes You Special

I occasionally hear people discussing their eating problems by throwing around terms like disorder or dysfunction with a sly kind of pride, as if having a medical condition makes them special or unique. To be sure, these people are in the minority; the majority of troubled eaters minimize their condition rather than flaunt it. Most are filled with shame about their abusive relationship with food and want to keep it a secret. Sadly, however, some people use their eating dysfunction to get attention when they feel there’s very little else about them that is outstanding or compelling. After all, tell people you have an eating disorder and most of them want to hear all the gory details or at least cluck in sympathy and offer advice. As a culture, we’re riveted by the eating malfunctions of celebrities, their revolving-door stays in rehab, and their no-holds-barred memoirs. Ironically, these days, it’s almost...
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Self-esteem

What do you believe you deserve in life? Maybe you think that half a loaf is better than none, that you should be grateful for what you have because other people have it far worse, that if you simply ignore what’s lacking in your life and concentrate on what’s right, you’ll be fine. There’s nothing wrong with any of these perspectives—except if you use them to justify staying in a situation in which you’re habitually unhappy. Whether or not you believe it, you deserve to be happy and successful, not of course every minute of every day, but in general, most of the time. You deserve to be treated with respect, to lead a meaningful life, to make your own goals and find appropriate ways to meet them, to have love and human affection, to live in peace and harmony with intimates, to receive support for becoming a healthier person, to...
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Talk to Others in Recovery

I’m always amazed at the shame that underlies disordered eating and the release that comes from talking about it with others. Alcoholics Anonymous says that our secrets keep us sick, and that is an important truth. Being alone with an eating disorder is hell. Either you feel like a freak or, at best, only slightly abnormal. You know there must be a better way to deal with food, but you can’t seem to figure out what it is. Talking with people who are still stuck in disorder is a start because you’re at least breaking down your isolation. It can be a relief to realize that other people have more serious eating problems than you have or that they’ve had them for a longer time. It’s liberating to tear down your wall of shame by telling people about your bingeing, purging, or starvation. It can make you feel as if you’ve...
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Body Acceptance

In her new book, Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss—and the Myths and Realities of Dieting, Gina Kolata puts forth a version of set point theory, maintaining that for mostly biological reasons, the body has a natural weight that it will return to again and again. She presents case studies and scientific evidence based on research that the body “fails” at dieting because it simply cannot drop below a minimum weight. If she is right, how can you learn to accept your so-called set point—when you’re eating both “normally” and nutritiously—even if you wish it were lower? The fact is, even if you can’t change your body, you can always change your mind. Many heavy people get on with life and don’t become obsessed with losing weight or being fat. They know they’re large, might or might not aim for fitness, and weight is not the focal point of...
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