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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. 

Tips for Dealing with Envy

I was talking with a client about envy—hers—but it also brought up the subject for me, as topics discussed in therapy often do. It’s so easy to fall into the envy trap and it can happen before we realize it. We may not even recognize that envy is what we’re feeling and, instead, experience it as anger at someone for something general or specific. Though I’ve blogged before on envy, here’s a reminder of what it is: a feeling between two people when you want something that the other person has. It’s different from a jealousy which generally involves three people and occurs when we fear that someone will take something we have. In envy, we want their boyfriend or girlfriend. In jealousy, we’re afraid they’ll take ours. Here are two approaches to banish envy, the second of which is a suggestion from a client. When you feel envious, try on...
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How Are Eating “Normally” and Therapy Similar?

Many people who seek therapy to resolve their eating problems become rapidly and easily disappointed and frustrated that the process takes longer than they expected. This is the exact same problem they have with food: the quick “fix” desire for whatever ails them. Fortunately, helping them respect and value the slow pace of therapy provides equal instruction on how to manage “gotta have it now” feelings around food.   Here are two problems and ways to deal with them that arise in both eating and therapy. Urge to control: Although some clients enter therapy without the desire to control the process, many dysregulated eaters come in wanting to focus exclusively on eating and weight loss. They could spend an entire session telling me everything they ate—and didn’t “allow” themselves to eat—since the last time they saw me. Whenever I veer off to inquire about other issues, such as how their life...
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Are You in an Abusive Relationship?

The saddest part of my job is treating people in or trying to extricate themselves from abusive romantic relationships. Many of them have been with abusive partners for decades and often question why they didn’t see the signs or get out earlier. Then they blame themselves for this oversight which often compounds the problem. In brief, we make decisions based upon what is familiar to us from childhood but generally make these decisions unconsciously. They just feel right. Suffice it to say that if we had parents (or caretakers) who were abusive to and neglectful of us, we are used to mistreatment which leads to lowered self-esteem and this dynamic becomes the template for future intimate relationships. This happens often to children whose parents are narcissistic, sociopathic, and/or have mental health or substance abuse problems. For more on how we get set up to pick abusive partners, browse my blog archives...
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Turning Insight into Action

Nearly all who come to therapy voluntarily are seeking enlightenment. They yearn for eureka moments, mental lightbulbs flashing, ah-ha insights that will rock their world. All well and good, as most behavioral changes begin with shifts in thinking. But insights are only the start of a process, not the end, which is purposeful, positive action. This shift from insight to action comes up frequently in therapy. One phone client shouted in exasperation, “I am so tired of asking why. I don’t care why I eat when I really don’t want food. I want to not do it.” Another lamented, “I understand my childhood, I so get why I’m like I am. Now how can I be different.” Another tearfully asked, “What am I doing wrong? Why aren’t I happy?” To use an automobile metaphor, insight is like shifting into first gear. It gets you out of your parking space or driveway....
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Why Facts Don’t Always Change Our Thinking

Those of us who aspire to be rational creatures generally believe ourselves to be whether we are or not. When asked, we insist that we base our decisions on facts and expect that others should do so as well. But, as explained in “The partisan brain” (The Economist, 12/8/18, p. 33, accessed 12/10/18), the evidence shows that facts aren’t the big persuaders that we wish them to be. This subject is highly relevant to dysregulated eaters who find it hard to believe that diets don’t work long-term or that certain foods will likely harm their health down the road. As many of you know, these truths don’t always change your thinking or behavior. Ever wonder why? Jeremy Frimer of the University of Winnipeg suggests that “people are willing to dismiss or deny facts and opinions that run counter to their beliefs.” According to the authors of The Enigma of Reason, Hugo...
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Book Review—The Power of Agency

Reviewed by:  Karen R. Koenig   (Originally published at New York Journal of Books) https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/power-agency The Power of Agency: The 7 Principles to Conquer Obstacles, Make Effective Decisions, and Create a Life on Your Own Terms “If you’re looking for a read that spotlights exactly how to take control of your life, this book provides a tidy amalgamation of theory and practice that’ll get you up and running with the tools you need.”  The Power of Agency provides the essentials for managing your life by referencing and recapping the best ideas that have been written on the subject over the past few decades. The authors keep us engaged with brief, to-the-point case examples and studies, check-list suggestions at the end of each chapter, and readable language that explains theoretical concepts by getting right to the point. The book includes a handy inventory/self-assessment on the components of agency at the start of...
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Make Family Out of Friends

The day after my husband and I had a couple we know quite well over for dinner, she emailed her thanks, including the heartwarming sentiment that they enjoyed spending time with us because we felt like family. I was enormously touched. Growing up as an only child, this was as meaningful a compliment as she could make and it got me thinking about how important close friends are in our lives—and, often, to our eating. Too often, intimate friendships are sadly lacking in the lives of dysregulated eaters. Many complain of being lonely and so they eat to feel better. As adults halfway through life, many don’t want to stay as (overly) attached to their parents as they are, but can’t seem to break away because they have so little outside support. Some have never known how to make friends while others have been so burned by disappointments and betrayals that...
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Didn’t Cause It, Can’t Fix It

If I had to generalize, I’d say that I spend a large chunk of the therapy hour trying to persuade clients that they can’t change the feelings or behaviors of other adults. Talk about continuing education. My best shot at helping clients accept this tough-to-swallow concept is to tell them, “If you didn’t cause it, you can’t fix it and if you didn’t start it, you can’t stop it.” They seem to get this idea on a theoretical level but find it hard to put into practice in specific instances. Here are some ways this theory might be applied. I treat a great many clients who have abusive (leaning toward sociopathic) partners. To a person, these abusers had awful, dysfunctional childhoods full of neglect and/or abuse. My guess is that these abusers’ parents had pretty crummy beginnings themselves. So, my clients meet someone at age 19 or 27 when their personalities...
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One More Time—Forget Self-control and Will Power to Change Eating Habits

If I could wave my fairy godmother wand to abolish certain thoughts, I’d eradicate those having to do with self-control and will power. Science is telling us repeatedly these days that they don’t work long-term to change eating or exercise habits. Please let this concept go so that you can learn what does help to establish better ongoing self-care. One research-based article is “Why willpower is overrated” by Brian Resnick (Vox, 4/25/18, https://getpocket.com/explore/item/why-willpower-is-overrated-2029766008 ,   accessed 11/28/18). It describes a 2011 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that says, paradoxically, that participants “who most readily agreed to survey statements like ‘I am good at resisting temptations’ reported fewer temptations throughout the study period. To put it more simply: The people who said they excelled at self-control were hardly using it at all.” A study of students in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science concluded that, “It...
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What Makes Us Angry?

I’ve been working with clients to help them identify what makes them angry in order to reduce emotional eating. I don’t mean why specifically—becoming angry when a spouse is late for dinner or getting mad because a friend blabs a secret shared in confidence. I mean recognizing that reasons for anger fall into broad categories and knowing which ones trigger you in order to avoid emotional eating. (“Parenting: helping kids manage relationships” by Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman, Sarasota Herald Tribune , 11/26/18, accessed 11/28/18). According to Stahlmann and Hagaman, we get angry for five reasons (they provide no source for them). Let’s look at how anger might be dealt with appropriately for each one. Pain: When we’re physically uncomfortable, we’re vulnerable to feeling irritated. Hence the term “hangry” (hungry plus angry). When we’re tired, we set ourselves up for life getting on our nerves and for being reactive. And, certainly...
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