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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]

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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Food Variety versus Sameness

When you break out from dieting and restriction and start trying to eat “normally,” you might be somewhat self-conscious about whether you’re eating right. By that I mean, if you’re eating as other “normal” eaters do. You may wonder if it’s okay to eat the same foods repeatedly or if you’re supposed to crave variety. You may be unsure if eating at set times is acceptable or if you should eat only when you’re hungry. You may believe that you either have to fall in love with food or have a nonchalant attitude about it. You'll find your answers day by day, food by food, meal by meal. In part, your answers will be based on how you feel about eating in general. Some people simply put little attention on appetite. They eat to live and are easily satisfied with the basics and an occasional food frill. Others adore grocery shopping...
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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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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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