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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]

Why Is Self-compassion So Hard for Dysregulated Eaters?

In my early years working with dysregulated eaters, I was surprised to discover what a  difficult time they have with self-compassion. It seems like an odd trait for people to struggle with—being nice, kind, and forgiving of themselves. Over the decades, however, I’ve learned a great deal about what kind of thinking prevents people from extending compassion to themselves. If this is an issue for you, read on. Part of the problem is a total misunderstanding of what the term means. So, one more time, according to Kristen Neff in her book Self-compassion , compassion means meeting suffering with kindness. That definition implies that self-compassion means meeting one’s own suffering with kindness. If I ask clients to offer compassion to others, they usually comprehend the concept because dysregulated eaters are generally very nice to others. If friends make a mistake, they reach out to assuage their guilt or shame. If a...
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What is Self Differentiation and Why Is It So Important?

Self-differentiation is a word you probably don’t hear in everyday usage. But it’s a crucial process to living (and eating) well. It’s happening when you hear people speaking their minds with thoughtful conviction even though others might disapprove. It’s lacking when someone spends her life rebelling against the views and values of her parents and clinging to their opposite. It’s missing when someone stifles his feelings and thoughts in fear of hurting others or being rejected or shamed by them. Get the picture? Murray Bowen, MD developed the self-differentiation theory which applies to human development and family dynamics. His theory has two major parts. 1) “Differentiation of self is the ability to separate feelings and thoughts. Undifferentiated people cannot separate feelings and thoughts; when asked to think, they are flooded with feelings, and have difficulty thinking logically and basing their responses on that. 2) Further, they have difficulty separating their own...
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Doctors, Health and Higher Weight People

I’m disturbed whenever I meet with a client who’s had difficulty with the medical community due to being higher weight. That’s because there’s such rampant fat bias and weight stigma among these professionals. To remedy that situation, Paige O’Mahoney, MD, and I wrote Helping Patients Outsmart Overeating: Psychological Strategies for Doctors and Health Care Providers a review of which can be found at https://www.karenrkoenig.com/blog/my-new-book-is-out-helping-patients-outsmart-overeating . Study after research study provides evidence of doctors, nurses and health providers offering inadequate treatment to higher-weight patients. Some admit to their bias about people they consider to be “fat” or “obese” and some fail to recognize their prejudice while it continues to inform their practice and harm their patients mentally and physically. Common problems include blaming the patient for being high weight and for their health problems; expressing patronizing, condescending, and contemptuous attitudes toward them; and misdiagnosing medical conditions based on the assumption that if...
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Reasons You Won’t Recover from Your Eating Disorder

One of the reasons I eventually was able to overcome my chronic dieting and emotional and overeating was that I’m a tenacious person and not inclined to give up when I set my mind on doing something. So, persistence served me. More importantly, there is no area in my life that I wouldn’t discuss and try to change (with the help of a therapist) in order to become a “normal” eater. I was willing to delve deeply into whatever was wrong in my life (lots!) and take steps to remedy it. Nothing was off limits for discussion and discovery if it would help me stop being a crazy person with food and weight. One of the barriers clients have is shying away from aspects of their lives that are obviously not working for them. Even talking about those areas makes them squirm. At first they may deny problems, but eventually (if...
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Are You a Practitioner of Learned Helplessness?

Learned helplessness is a psychological dynamic which comes up often in therapy and is useful for clients to understand. It’s “a phenomenon in which repeated exposure to uncontrollable stressors results in individuals failing to use any control options that may later become available. Essentially, individuals are said to learn that they lack behavioral control over environmental events, which, in turn, undermines the motivation to make changes or attempt to alter situations.” (APA Dictionary of Psychology, https://dictionary.apa.org/learned-helplessness , accessed 3/6/19) It has been tied to depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and could be a good fit with eating disorders as well, though that belief is from my clinical experience, not from research. Gillian Fournier in “Learned Helplessness” calls it “A condition in which a person or animal has come to believe he or she is helpless in a situation, even when this is untrue.” (Psych Central Encyclopedia of Psychology, accessed 3/6/19,...
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Feeling Less Than May Make You Want to Eat More

Many dysregulated eaters chronically feel less than. They’re sure they’re not qualified for a job, even after getting hired. Comparing themselves to others, they always come up short. No matter what they’re doing or who they’re with, the feeling of being less than what others expect of them (or of what they expect of themselves) overwhelms them. Feeling smaller than, they eat to feel bigger. Here are some examples: · A client we’ll call Joe met a woman named Marla doing online dating and they went out a few times. During conversation, without bragging or being uppity, she mentioned that she came from a wealthy family. Joe, who grew up in poverty and now made a decent income for a man his age, felt that she would never be interested in him. When he met her family several weeks later, he continued to feel less than around them and that they...
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Why We Do What We Do

We act in certain ways because we’re driven by what we call human nature. Over the centuries, there have been varying views of what that entails. “The bad news on human nature, in 10 findings from psychology” by neuroscientist Christian Jarrett (Aeon, 12/5/18, adaptation of an article published by The British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, accessed 12/7/18) may help you understand more about why we and others say and do things that are not always in our best interest. Here are some evidence-based conclusions about our baser desires and reactions. · We believe that people deserve their fate and blame the less fortunate for what happens to them. In part, this may be why many dysregulated eaters are hard on themselves and confuse taking responsibility for their actions with self-blame. · We are not particularly rational, open-minded creatures. Remember this when you’re arguing with someone and the facts that you present...
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Accepting What You Can and Cannot Change part 2

It’s crucial, as words go in the song “The Gambler,” to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em. It’s vital to recognize when and where to pitch your tent and it’s just as vital to accept when it’s time to pack everything up and go home. In my previous blog, I described aspects of our lives that are possible to change, including friends, eating, job, lifestyle, and partners. Here are some fairly permanent features in our lives: We cannot change our: · family of origin with whom we’re stuck for better or worse. They were there when we came into the world and tend to want to stick to us like burrs. We can try to pretend they’re not our relatives, but they are our flesh and blood whether we like it or not. Of course, we can regulate distance from them and even choose to be...
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Accepting What You Can and Cannot Change part 1

It’s curious that sometimes I think my clients who are dysregulated eaters view what they can and cannot change exactly backward. For example, I think it can be hard to budge weight, but easier to shift what and how much we eat. They think it’s easier to change others than themselves and I believe in the opposite. Here’s a list of things I see as changeable. In part 2 of this blog, I’ll review the things I see as relatively fixed and not possible to change. We can change our: · friends because we chose them, or we allow ourselves to be chosen by them. Somewhere, maybe way back when, we formed a bond and have agreed to keep it and call it friendship. But that doesn’t mean we must keep it if it isn’t serving us well. As we change, we may need to cast off old friendships and seek...
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Humans are a Mass(Mess) of Contradictions

Our brains developed to quickly assess “good” from “bad” people, that is, those that we expect will be friendly to and not harm us from those we fear will be hostile and hurt us. Back when the first humans came on the scene, this was a useful brain feature to help us assess and monitor our relationships with others. But now it oversimplifies relationships and encourages all/nothing thinking which actually works to deter healthy relationships and causes unnecessary stress and reactive unwanted eating. An example of how wildly complicated humans are can be seen in a February news story of a man who bought $540 worth of cookies so that two Girl Scouts could come in from cold weather and was “later arrest on federal drug charges, including conspiracy to manufacture and distribute heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl.” (“Man who went viral for buying $540 of Girl Scout cookies arrested in DEA...
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