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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. 

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Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People--and Break Free Image of Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People--and Break Free Reviewed by: Karen R. Koenig (Originally published at New York Journal of Books) https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/gaslighting “Although this book might be painful to read for gaslighting victims and survivors, it will bring them out of the darkness and into the light, helping them heal . . .” With or without our knowledge, most of us have met a gaslighter or two at some point in our lives or know someone who has been deceived by one. The scary truth is that these master manipulators are often our neighbors, friends, spouses, children, siblings, parents, co-workers, bosses, or political leaders. We may call them difficult, challenging, crazy-making, morally corrupt, narcissistic, power-hungry, or abusive because we don’t know enough psychology to give them the more precise label they warrant. The term gaslighting, a type of psychological...
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What Do You Mean by Parts of Yourself?

Here’s a phrase I hear often: “part of myself.” And here’s how it’s used, “There’s a part of me that wants to stop eating so much” or, “Part of me thinks I’d benefit from exercising and the other part thinks I’d be better off going back to sleep.” I’m sure you get my drift on how the term is used. But do you understand what you mean by using the word? Can you point to where this “part of you” is? If you’re talking about two parts, are they in different places? I’m not trying to be silly here but to make a point. The truth is that there is no “part” of you that feels one way or thinks another. What you mean is that you have conflicting/contradictory/mixed/opposing thoughts and feelings. We all do. When you use the word “part,” it sounds as if there’s a permanent installation somewhere within...
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It’s Time to Grow Up

There’s an I-won’t-grow-up quality to dysregulated eating. Denial of consequences or the childish hope of avoiding them. A rush from rebelling against authority, rules and being told what is right or what to do. Glee in getting away with something. The sly triumph of getting something for nothing. The magical belief of reaching goals without putting in a commensurate effort. Manipulation of others into setting your food boundaries, then resenting the hell out of them for doing just that. Yearning for what other people have without doing the work. Being ruled by irrational fears. Avoiding discomfort and pain. Giving in easily. Doing only what feels good and still expecting to have a great life. If you recognize yourself in these descriptions, sit a moment with your awareness. If you feel a ping of shame, that’s okay. A ping is just right. No need to do a number on yourself about how...
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What’s Behind Eating in Secret?

You might be surprised, or maybe not, how many people eat in secret: in their cars, in the bathroom with the door locked, or sneaking treats up to their rooms. I used to do it myself—tiptoeing down the stairs to the kitchen in the house I grew up in to swipe something I was forbidden to eat from the fridge, popping a leftover into my mouth in the kitchen of friends the moment they turned their backs, or barely nibbling at food during a party or dinner I hosted, only to gorge on remains after my guests had left. When clients bring up secretive or sneak eating, I make sure to tell them about my own experience to let them know a few things. First, they’re not alone. Many dysregulated eaters—high and low weight and in between—choose to eat without prying (aka feared judgmental) gazes. Second, it’s vital that they understand...
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Ditch Cheat Days and Diets

I have several friends whose eating style involves “cheat” days. In fact, I’ve heard that there are diets that promote food restriction during the week and cheating on the weekends. As an eating disorders therapist, the idea of cheat-eating has always seemed like an unproductive idea and encouraging it as a way to pull us farther away from, rather than closer to, “normal,” regulated, appetite-cued eating. The main reason is that the word cheating makes us feel as if we’re bad and doing something wrong. That perspective assumes that eating a slice of chocolate cake, enjoying a few potato chips or enjoying a buffet dinner is akin to sinful. What does that tell our poor brains? One thing it does is confuse them. It makes us think that some foods are bad and others are good and that we are bad or good for eating them. Mainly, it makes eating feel...
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Are You Too Porous?

While listening to a friend and retired psychologist, share her experiences about a trip to India many decades before, she mentioned how disturbed she was to see dead babies floating in the Ganges River. This led to discussing how some people are what she calls more “porous” than others. I find myself returning to this concept often in my practice, especially working with dysregulated eaters who generally are highly porous. Porosity, also called permeability, like most things, exists on a continuum. There are people who nothing seems to affect as if they have an emotional wall around them that prevents them from taking in the pain or suffering of others. No matter what’s happening to people, they appear to remain untouched by it. At the other end of the spectrum are people who are extremely sensitive to the feelings of others. They intensely experience the suffering of people, friends or strangers....
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Is It a Chore or a Challenge?

Twice in one day, I had clients complain about exercise and eating healthily being chores. They had nothing but negative things to say about how they felt about engaging in these activities. Obviously, the intense feelings they had about these activities are only made worse by filing them in the category of “chore” in their brains. Would it, I wondered with them, make a difference to categorize them as “challenge”? According to the English Oxford Living Dictionaries, a chore is either a “routine task, especially a household one,” or “a tedious but necessary task.” (accessed 1/21/19, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/chore ). Even here we have leeway. Thinking of exercise as a routine will get the job done. It’s something you do frequently and regularly, so much so that you have no need to even think about it. The second meaning is more like how my clients view chores: as one big “Ugh!” They give...
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What Is Secondary Gain and How It Can Hurt You

I’m often struck by the fact that psychological concepts that I recognize like the back of my hand are unknown to many clients. I don’t know why I’m surprised, considering that the education of a therapist is based on possessing a thorough knowledge of psychology. One of these concepts that people don’t readily see and often need a therapist to point out to them is called secondary gain. To put it simply, a primary gain is one we’re conscious of and a secondary gain is one that is generally unconscious. The term is often applied in relation to poor health. The primary gain from going to the doctor would include getting proper diagnosis and treatment. The primary gain from telling people about your sickness might include informing friends about why you’ve been isolating or even finding out if they’ve gone through what you’re experiencing. With primary gain, we have an intentional,...
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Time to Raise the Bar on Deservedness

I feel sad for my clients who settle for so little in relationships and in other aspects of life. You may do the same thing if you compare what you have now to what you had growing up and think this is the best you can do—with friends, romance or work. In childhood, you may have been neglected or physically or sexually abused. Now you put up with emotional abuse or indifference thinking, “At least I’m not being hurt physically.” You may have suffered emotional abuse at the hands of your parents and now accept romantic or friend relationships with people who are sometimes nice to you but mistreat you at other times. You stay because this is the best you’ve been treated to date and are grateful that at least someone isn’t awful to you all the time. You stay because life has improved. But you’re still not getting the...
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Fake News—In Your Head

What happens when we believe fake news and what happens when we take as truth the random irrational thoughts floating through our minds day in and day out is pretty much the same thing. When we stop even trying to distinguish fact from fiction—within or without— and go with how we “feel,” we surrender rationality and suffer grave consequences. When our eating behaviors are the product of mental flotsam—denial, fantasy, pretzel logic, and irrational fears—we can forget about growing healthier or wiser. The fake news being generated by our brains (aka eating disordered thinking) will keep us chained to the merry-go-round of emotional and mindless eating forever. The only way off this very unmerry go-round is to take charge of our minds and start separating fact from fiction, fake news from real news. Here are the top 10 hits being broadcast 24/7 on the fake news channel of dysregulated eaters: I...
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