Alumnae/i Feature

Award-Winning Author Karen R. Koenig '88MSW Publishes "Words to Eat By"

What inspired you to start writing and publishing books on dysregulated eating?

I started out trying my hand at fiction and screenplays. I was lucky enough to have an agent who advised me to write about what I knew and that was how to treat dysregulated eating, especially of the mindless and emotional kind. She helped me find an eating disorders publisher for my first book and I just kept writing books. I hope to start my next one this spring.

Tell us about your latest book, Words to Eat By.

Karen Koenig standing by her refrigerator in her home.

I wrote Words to Eat By because I realized how clients were actually promoting unhealthy patterns via their self-talk: talking themselves into destructive behaviors rather than out of them. The book teaches the reader what distinguishes healthy from unhealthy self-talk and how to listen to what they’re saying to themselves in order to improve the message.

My other books are on what clients with emotional and overeating problems need for recovery—rational beliefs to improve affect regulation and behavior; an understanding of their emotions; healthier personality traits; resolution of unconscious, internal conflicts about food and their body; and life skills to improve self-care. I also wrote two books for professionals on how to treat eating problems.

Tell us about the psychology of self-talk and how it can be applied to improve relationships with food, body, and mind.

Self-talk puts our thoughts into action — that is, the brain uses self-talk to know what to do, such as eat this and not that. Most of our self-talk is habitual and unconscious in that we don’t actually hear ourselves saying something, like eating a second piece of cake when the first was delicious and we’re already satisfied, then wondering why we did that.

My book is about the elements that constitute constructive, healthy self-talk versus destructive and unhealthy messages. My goal is to get people to pay attention to their self-talk around food, exercise, and self-care so they can re-program themselves to move towards what’s best for them.

If there was one thing you'd like readers to take away from Words to Eat By, what would that be?

The most unhelpful kind of self-talk uses external motivation. Words such as “should, shouldn’t, am supposed to, need to, must and ought to” are meant to pressure us to do something we’re ambivalent about doing.

A far better option is to use internal motivation in the form of words from the heart like “want, wish, desire, prefer and would like to.” The idea is to reduce bullying ourselves, which we often rebel against and, instead, use compassionate, inspiring, empowering words that generate positive behaviors and habits without the pressure.

What do you find most rewarding about your career?

After 30-plus years of being a therapist, I still love it at nearly 74-years-old. Doing therapy and writing are a joy for me and give me tremendous pleasure. I’m very fortunate to do what I enjoy.

Why did you choose to attend Simmons for an MSW?

I went to social work school when I was close to 40-years old, and the Simmons School of Social Work had an excellent clinical program. I never thought of going anywhere else.

How did Simmons help prepare you for what you're doing now?

I was so ready to become a therapist that I soaked up all the information in my courses. Fortunately, I had two excellent internships as well, my first in-patient and my second in a day hospital, where I learned so much that complemented the coursework.

Do you have a favorite Simmons memory?

I do: Dr. Sophie Freud was the instructor for our "Human Development" course and asked us when children emotionally separate from their parents. We all raised our hands to give different answers: around three years old, when they begin school, and when they move out and or go off to college. But Sophie knew better and said, “Never!” I’ve learned personally and professionally how very right she was. We never actually do separate from them emotionally.

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