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. 

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Book Review: Bittersweet How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole

Book Review: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole
Book review by Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, MEd originally published at the NY Journal of Books In Bittersweet Susan Cain explains why it’s crucial to embrace all our emotions, especially those that are bittersweet. She takes on this nation’s pursuit of perpetual positivity with the same gusto, erudition, compassion, and thoughtfulness that made her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, a bestseller.   Cain describes the emotion of bittersweet as “longing, poignancy, and sorrow; an acute awareness of passing time; and a curiously piercing joy at the beauty of the world” along with recognition that light and dark, birth and death—bitter and sweet—are forever paired.” She even provides a short quiz to help readers determine if they lean temperamentally toward sanguine or bittersweet or travel between the two states. A lifelong devotee of Canadian singer-songwriter, poet and novelist Leonard Cohen, Cain uses examples from...
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How Positive Self-talk Improves Your Relationship with Food

How-Positive-Self-talk-Improves-Your-Relationship-with-Food-
I had a wonderful session with a client we’ll call Ava in which she described how she’d missed a work deadline, refused to berate herself over it, but continued to feel okay about herself, and didn’t end up turning to food after the incident. She’d been practicing self-compassion and it’s taken a while, but she’s definitely gotten the hang of it. Here’s what we figured out about the process she experienced. When she was a child and made mistakes, her father was cruel to her, so Ava grew up thinking he knew better than she did and became as hard on herself as he was on her. She mentally beat herself up every time she made an error or failed to live up to her perfectionist standards. She said the unkind things to herself that her father said to her which made her feel miserable. And feeling bad drove her to...
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How Being Stuck in the Chaos Cycle Harms You

How-Being-Stuck-in-the-Chaos-Cycle-Harms-You
Many dysregulated eaters were raised in chaotic environments and suffer from the emotional and physical aftermath today—hypervigilance, excessive body tension, substance abuse, high anxiety, control issues, denial, lack of self- or other- trust, panic attacks, poor interpersonal choices, fear of abandonment, indecisiveness, stress-related physical conditions, perfectionism, and difficulty calming down and feeling care-free.  Talking with clients about their experiences growing up in chaos helps them understand what happens in this debilitating cycle. One was raised in an upper-class city family with three siblings. Mom was severely depressed and Dad, though often loving, suffered from alcoholism. My client recalls few occasions when Dad was sober, and Mom wasn’t feeling depressed. Instead, she remembers what she calls chaos: feeling anxious going out because Dad might over-drink and embarrass the family, never knowing if Mom would be together enough to remember to pick her up after soccer practice, fearing walking into their apartment and...
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Book Review: Emotional Inheritance

Book-Review-Emotional-Inheritance
This book review was originally published at New York Journal of Books on 1/24/22.  Emotional Inheritance explodes the myth that what we don’t know can’t hurt us, at least when it comes to family legacies. It explores the subtle and often hidden ways we are impacted by what happened in the lives of previous generations, especially by the traumas family members suffered and the secrets they held. Psychoanalyst and multi-book author, Galit Atlas, PhD, describes “the many faces of inherited trauma, its impact, and how we move forward.” She intertwines the personal impact of her ancestry and experiences with case studies of her clients to help us understand that we are—for better or worse—far more than we think we are because of how the past lives on within us. This book will be helpful to clinicians treating trauma survivors as well as to anyone trying to unravel their identity and resolve...
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Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families

Adult-Children-of-Alcoholics-and-Dysfunctional-Families
I came across a list of 14 Traits of an Adult Child of an Alcoholic in our local Sarasota Herald Tribune. If one or both of your parents were addicted to drugs or alcohol (or even gambling, pornography, or the internet) or suffered from mental illness, you’re likely to have some or many of these traits. Many are traits of dysregulated eaters as well.  The Laundry List – 14 Traits of an Adult Child of an Alcoholic  We became isolated and afraid of people and authority figures.We became approval seekers and lost our identity in the process.We are frightened by angry people and any personal criticism.We either become alcoholics, marry them or both, or find another compulsive personality such as a workaholic to fulfill our abandonment needs.We live life from the viewpoint of victims, and we are attracted by that weakness in our love and friendship relationships.We have an overdeveloped sense...
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What Is Weighing Yourself Really About?

What-Is-Weighing-Yourself-Really-About
What an interesting discussion I had with a client about why she weighs herself. It turns out the answer is more complicated than either of us expected. It seems like there are two possibilities: one is to see if weight-loss progress is being made and the other is to enjoy a reward for the work put into becoming a “normal” eater. Naturally, it’s important for people to feel they’re moving toward success. In terms of progress, there are many ways to measure advancement. Why we choose the scale rather than other methods is more about culture than anything else. We’ve been told by society over and over that low weight equals beauty and by the medical establishment, that weight equals good health and that we should weigh ourselves often. The scale has long been judge and jury on those subjects, the arbiter of whether you were good or bad, healthy or...
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The Joy of Universality

The-Joy-of-Universality
I recall first hearing the term universality while taking a group therapy class in social work school. The APA defines it as “the tendency to assume that one’s personal qualities and characteristics, including attitudes and values, are common in the general social group or culture” and adds that it is “in self-help and psychotherapy groups, a curative factor fostered by members’ recognition that their problems and difficulties are not unique to them but instead are experienced by many of the group members.” In my three-plus decades running therapy and support groups, I had one client who absolutely insisted that what he felt no one had ever felt before, though I tried explaining that there are no new feelings under the sun. He was an anomaly. All my other clients felt enormous relief and even joy that others shared their thoughts and feelings because it meant that were not alone or abnormal....
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Why Parental Validation Is Essential

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Validation is another one of these subjects that I talk a great deal about with clients. It’s so crucial to healthy emotional development that I can’t believe I’ve never directly blogged about it. The topic came up when I was taking with a client about her having near constant extreme self-doubt. If you’re someone who’s always looking for the right answer and frequently engages in second-guessing, you probably suffer from a lack of childhood validation, “the recognition and acceptance of another person's thoughts, feelings, sensations, and behaviors as understandable.” Here's how the issue came up with Ming, the above-mentioned client. She said that no matter how often her boyfriend told her she was beautiful (and she is!), she never felt it. This insecurity had led to her having one quick affair and living with a constant, nagging feeling that she wasn’t attractive enough. She also admitted to being somewhat over-zealous with...
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How to Brush Off Rejection

How-to-Brush-Off-Rejection
The potential for rejection is everywhere—friendships, romance, jobs, activities—and it can be a primary reason dysregulated eaters seek comfort in food. Since there’s no way to escape rejection, why not develop ways to help you live with it.  A Toast to All Rejects teaches us why rejection is so painful and how to manage it more effectively. Cognitive-science professor Barbara Sarnecka and her graduate student team have been changing the experience of professional rejection by encouraging people to “run straight toward it.” At first, that may seem like a crazy idea, but it turns out that it works, especially if we don’t keep rejection a secret but share it with others. Studies explain that rejection can hurt like the dickens because it “threatens our self-esteem and our sense of belonging.” In fact, we’re highly sensitive to rejection because “many of the same networks in our brain that activate in response to...
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How to Achieve Positive Self-regard

How-to-Achieve-Positive-Self-regard
If you’ve ever been in therapy or read self-help books, you know that loving yourself is key to living your best life. Self-love often seems like a squishy term. Here’s one that might be easier to swallow: learning the purpose and practice of positive self-regard.  The Surprising Benefits of Unconditional Positive Regard explains what positive self-regard is and isn’t. It means treating yourself as a fallible human being no matter what you think, feel, say or do. It’s knowing our actions are unhealthy even as we’re doing them, but still seeing them as the best we can do at the time. Or looking back at something we did in horror yet treating ourselves with compassion in spite of it. To be clear, positive self-regard is not unconditional acceptance of our actions. It means holding ourselves in positive regard and still not liking but wanting to change our behaviors. For example, you...
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