Use Life Skills, Not Willpower, to Stop Overeating
The reason you turn to food when you’re stressed or distressed is that you don’t have better ways of managing life’s ups and downs. According to Karen R. Koenig, an expert on the psychology of eating, you can transform your eating habits — and your life — by developing effective life skills. When you have enhanced skills, you won’t need to turn to mindless eating to make it through the day and will get the best out of life rather than letting life get the best of you. With Koenig’s guidance, you’ll learn how to establish and maintain functional relationships, take care of yourself physically and emotionally, think rationally, and create a passionate, joyful, and meaningful life. When these behaviors take root and become automatic, food becomes what it is meant to be: nourishment and one of life’s many pleasures.
|Publisher:||New World Library|
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, MEd,, a psychotherapist, coach, and speaker, has been focusing on eating and weight issues for 30 years. A frequently quoted expert in both the popular media and professional literature, she lives in Sarasota, FL.
Read an Excerpt
Boost your Life Skills, End your Food Problems
By Karen R. Koenig
New World LibraryCopyright © 2015 Karen R. Koenig
All rights reserved.
The Definition and Purpose of Life Skills
Is Excelling at Cleaning My Plate a Life Skill?
You may think food is your main problem, but it isn't. Rather, food is the misguided solution to your real difficulties, and over the years misguided eating has morphed into a whopper unto itself. The truth is, your problem is that you never learned the skills and strategies everyone needs in order to live effectively and successfully. Think about it: you need skills for employment, relationships, parenting, and living in a community, for play and recreation, driving a car, and balancing your checkbook. No activity I can think of precludes having some degree of competence — not even tying your shoes!
So, agreed: everyone needs life skills? Of course, the bad news is that simply wishing for them won't make them magically appear. The good news is that these skills are learnable by anyone at any age at any time. We're all learning them to one degree or another as we muddle along, so join the crowd.
What are these must-have life skills? They're a set of universal competencies we all need to learn and practice to get the best out of life, rather than letting life get the best of us. Call them strategies or methods; tactics, tools, or techniques; competencies or abilities. What they boil down to are the essential maneuvers human beings must employ to engage with life successfully.
Specifically, here are the five basic life skills that span every culture, as identified by the World Health Organization's Department of Mental Health: (1) decision making and problem solving, (2) creative thinking and critical thinking, (3) communication and interpersonal skills, (4) self-awareness and empathy, and (5) coping with emotions and coping with stress.
I've taken the liberty of devising skill sets targeted to an audience of troubled eaters and focusing on the expertise they often lack regarding (1) wellness and physical self-care, (2) handling emotions, (3) living consciously, (4) building and maintaining relationships, (5) self-regulation, (6) problem solving and critical thinking, (7) setting and reaching goals, and (8) balancing work and play.
* * * Get Smart!
Do you still think you have only eating problems, or are you starting to recognize that your difficulties are due to not managing life all that well? Does that make you more, or less, optimistic about developing a positive, healthy relationship with food? Come up with a sentence that will put you in a positive frame of mind for reading this book and learning life skills.
What Are Essential Life Skills, and Where Do They Come From?
According to the 2003 World Book Dictionary, a skill is defined as an "ability gained by practice or knowledge; expertness." The most significant aspect of this definition is that a skill is something gained by practice. Like money, skills don't grow on trees, ready for you to pluck them off. Knowledge or expertise comes at the end of a process, not at the beginning, and life skills do not miraculously appear through wishin' and hopin' and thinkin' and prayin'. Unfortunately, many troubled eaters expect to excel at a task after one attempt or a few brief learning forays. Others believe that no matter how motivated they are and how much they practice, they'll never learn the skills others possess, because there's something inherently defective and unfixable about them.
The question of how life skills originate is complex. Certain talents and proclivities — art, music, math, language, dance, sports, writing, and so on — come to us through genetics. For example, I have two artist friends, one of whom is the son of a prolific portrait painter. The child of these two friends could, at eight years of age, outdraw and outpaint the adult me by a mile. We all know, or know of, families whose members shine in a particularly gifted way, and we generally accept that a certain amount of talent is innate. Alternatively, perfectly ordinary parents at times produce the most extraordinarily endowed children, and we wonder how that happened.
Although it's clear that heredity plays some role in our abilities, it's impossible to pinpoint how much is due to nature (genetics) and how much is due to nurture (socialization) — and I'm not here to debate or resolve the question. A useful way to think of the process is nature via nurture — that is, our environment helps us express the genetic tendencies with which we're born. In the end, we all have to make the best of what we bring into the world and how it's shaped by our personal history — by our parents, extended family, schooling, geography, social status, finances, race, ethnicity, gender, fortune and misfortune, culture, and other factors.
* * * Get Smart!
Take a look at my life-skills list and consider how your parents' skills stacked up. Can you see how you came to lack certain skills because of your upbringing? The idea is not to blame your parents (or yourself) but to understand how your deficits came to exist. It's a simple process of cause and effect. Remember, you didn't choose to miss out on learning essential life skills!
It would be naive to believe that life skills are learned on an even playing field. Obviously, if our parents were replete with these skills, especially those that improve a person's parenting abilities, we will be far better off than if they bumbled and stumbled through child rearing. Although I'm no sociologist, I can say from practicing psychology for more than thirty years, and from living on the planet for more than twice that long, that no particular race, gender, social class, ethnicity, or locale produces people with more effective life skills than any other.
Here's a case in point. When I was doing my first internship in social work, I worked with a lovely couple, both of whom had schizophrenia. In spite of their illness and living a substantial distance apart, these twenty-somethings were in love and seriously committed to each other. They both had low-level jobs, took their psychiatric medications consistently, attended therapy appointments regularly and on time (in spite of having to travel by public transportation in Boston), worked their tails off in sessions, and, in my presence at least, treated each other with respect and kindness. On the whole, although limited in some ways by mental illness, they had some pretty darned good life skills.
Compare this couple to psychiatrists who have sexual relations with their patients, to parents who charge onto the field where their child is playing a sport to berate a coach or an umpire, or to legislators shouting abuses at each other in the halls of Congress. Get my point? These examples show how people we believe should have better life skills very often don't. Moreover, I've met folks who had it fairly easy coming up who grew into adults with weak life skills, and survivors of the most egregious childhood abuses who manage their lives impressively by anyone's standards.
As far as I can ascertain, nothing inherent in anyone's upbringing is a surefire indicator that they're going to have stellar life skills. If I had to cite just one factor, however, it would be the life-skill level of a child's parents. What a boy or girl sees modeled at home goes a long way toward teaching him or her how to engage effectively with the world. Moreover, a child whose parents manage their own lives well will undoubtedly receive better treatment and socialization than a child whose parents' skill sets are spotty and ineffectual.
However, even that is not the whole story. Let's say a child grows up in a household in which her parents move from low-paying job to low-paying job, manage money poorly, drink or do illicit drugs regularly, scream at each other and their children, and mindlessly careen through life, bouncing from one crisis to another. Does this automatically mean that their child is doomed to miss out on learning how to negotiate life? Not necessarily, if this child has a neighbor, teacher, or close relative who cares enough and has sufficient life skills to help shape the child's attitudes and behaviors. Sometimes, all a child needs is one caring, competent person, called a mentor, to make the difference between growing up with or without effective skills. Of course, the longer that children blunder through life without observing or being taught appropriate ways of managing it, the harder it will be to reverse their habits. Hard, mind you, but never impossible.
* * * Get Smart!
Aside from your parents, where else did you learn life skills as a child: from your favorite TV shows, books, movies, your best friend's parents, your parents' best friends, your teachers, relatives, a coach, or a religious leader?
Sometimes a child doesn't even need a real person to be guided in the right direction. A book, movie, TV series, or other story might spark an interest in or model acting appropriately. Here's a case in point. As a preteen, I angered fairly easily. Not that I had a wicked temper, but my low-grade irritation often leaked out in inappropriate ways. Then, I read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and one of her characters, Jo, changed my life. Jo, too, was snippy and snappish and determined to get a handle on her temper. Inspired by her hard work and ultimate success, I followed in her fictional footsteps. Of course I didn't realize it at the time, but Alcott via Jo was an excellent life-skills teacher!
The truth is that most people have no clue what life skills are or whether they possess them. It's not as if folks go to bed at night and ask themselves, "Gee, how'd I do with my life skills today?" Instead, they muddle through their days dodging difficulties, winging it, hoping for change and success, and fervently wishing that enlightenment and competence would suddenly descend on them. Moreover, too many folks display their skill deficiencies by tsk-tsking about the deficits of others rather than assessing and improving their own qualities.
As far as I can tell, the key factors in developing life skills are recognizing which ones you lack, being highly motivated to acquire them, and practice, practice, practice. (More on the importance of practice in a bit.) Of course, the earlier you jump on the life-skills bandwagon, the easier learning them will be. Our brains are most malleable in childhood, when they're being shaped or "pruned" by what we (often unconsciously) learn from other people and through the experiences we encounter. But the neural circuitry of our brains is far from fixed, and we can learn new tricks at any point in our lives.
How Does Motivation Affect My Ability to Learn Life Skills?
This is probably a good time to stop and consider how motivated you are to acquire the skills you're missing. Are you psyched, ambivalent, begrudgingly willing, or mildly enthusiastic; or do you feel as if you're dragging yourself through this book kicking and screaming? How will your drive level affect your ability to learn? What could you do to ratchet up your motivation? What do you suppose will happen if your enthusiasm remains low — or wanes?
Here are three steps to increase and sustain motivation:
Step 1. Recognize why you're not champing at the bit, ready to add new competencies to your repertoire, especially ones that not only will help you have a more positive relationship with food but also will undoubtedly enhance many areas of your life. Maybe you're scared that you won't succeed in learning them, that since you've already failed at reaching life goals so many times, you don't want to even bother trying. If so, let me assure you that as long as you have at least midlevel intelligence, there's nothing stopping you but a fear of failure — that is, there's no earthly reason why you won't be able to learn these skills over time. We're not talking quantum physics here but the everyday actions that you see being taken by intimates and strangers. So if you fear you won't succeed, lay that misconception to rest. Most important, push that fear out of your mind, because the one reason — the sole reason — you might fail is the belief that you will.
Step 2. Focus on what learning life skills will get you. Break down the rewards, rather than saying, "I'll eat better" or "I'll be happier." What do those words really mean in concrete terms? Write down ten specific changes that will happen when you have improved your life skills, such as: "I will choose more appropriate friends; I won't turn to food so much when I'm stressed; I'll be better able to handle distressing emotions; I'll make wiser decisions; I'll treat myself better; I won't feel so bored and dissatisfied with life." See what I mean? Get down to specifics so you can keep in mind the rewards you'll reap by sticking with the learning process.
Step 3. Stop thinking you have to learn all your skills perfectly — and right this minute. Instead, plan on letting the process inch along slowly but steadily. Helpful mantras include: "Baby steps, nothing but baby steps" and (my favorite) "I'm doing the best I can and that's all I can do." Perfection and impatience are the enemies of progress. They're the attitudes that will most likely make you think you can't learn and, therefore, cause you to stop trying. Expect learning to be frustrating, slow, and incremental, and you won't be disappointed. Cultivate realistic optimism that says your competence and expertise will come in good time — not in a short time.
Think of yourself as entering college or a training program. In your first semester, everything will be a bit new and mind-boggling and you'll feel at sea, thinking you'll never catch on to what you're supposed to learn. That's what the first semester is all about — learning how to learn — in terms of setting expectations and knowing how to pace yourself. You wouldn't expect to know, as a freshman, all that seniors know, would you? Okay, then, acknowledge that you're at the beginning of learning, not at the end, and don't fault yourself for not getting things right away. You're not supposed to, nor is anyone else. Learning is a process, not an event!
* * * Get Smart!
Do you believe you must know everything right away, and that if you don't you're a failure? Do you fear that everyone else will "get it" but you won't? How do these faulty beliefs affect your ability to learn and sustain your motivation? What beliefs could you develop to ensure that your thinking about learning is helpful and won't impede your progress?
How Do I Know What Life Skills I Need to Learn?
There are two answers to this question. The first, broad answer is that you have to learn all the life skills necessary to achieve your goals. The narrower answer is that you have to learn all the ones you lack. If you're like most folks, you probably do better in some areas than others. That said, life skills aren't optional, nor can you pick and choose among them as if they're items on a menu. It makes sense that the more skills you possess and the more proficient you are at using them, the better your life — and (not incidentally) your eating — will be. I've never met anyone with a solid set of life skills who continued to hang on to their eating difficulties. Having effective life skills makes all the difference.
The second and unique answer to the question of what you need to learn comes from your responses on the preassessment questionnaire. Based on the assumption that everyone needs all the itemized skills, you can identify the work you have ahead by noting the areas in which you could use improvement. Remember, there's no shame in admitting that you don't excel in every area — or in any area. If you did, you'd be doing something other than reading this book right now, wouldn't you? No one gets straight As when it comes to life skills, me included, I assure you. There's always something for us to learn and improve on. So, join the club!
How Long Will I Need to Practice before I Feel Adept at Life Skills?
This question assumes that all adults begin their learning on a level playing field. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I said previously, some fortunate folks have an excellent life-skills education growing up (acquired through family, relatives, school, community, and mentors) and some unfortunate folks are raised in environments that model and provide abysmal skills. So the answer to how long you need to practice must take your starting point into account.
In addition to assessing your current skill level by means of the preassessment questionnaire to determine how your progress might go, you'll want to answer these questions:
Is my motivation strong enough to power me through the tough times of gradual skill learning?
Do I already have abilities that can transfer from one life-skill area to another? (For example, if you're good at problem solving, acquiring other competencies may happen faster.)
Am I able to ask for support and feedback as I learn these skills, or do I believe I must bumble along alone?
If I'm not learning fast enough to meet my unrealistic expectations, will I call myself a failure and give up, or decide to plug along until I get it?
Will my friends, family, or coworkers be supportive of my skill-learning process, or will they intentionally or unintentionally stand in the way?
Excerpted from Outsmarting Overeating by Karen R. Koenig. Copyright © 2015 Karen R. Koenig. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Life Skills Preassessment 5
Chapter 1. The Definition and Purpose of Life Skills
Is Excelling at Cleaning My Plate a Life Skill? 11
Chapter 2. Wellness and Physical Self-Care
You Mean My Body’s Not Like a Self-Cleaning Oven? 29
Chapter 3. Handling Emotions
I Thought That’s What a Spoon and Fork Were For! 47
Chapter 4. Living Consciously
I’m Conscious Only of Wanting to Go Unconscious! 67
Chapter 5. Building and Maintaining Relationships
I Already Have a Great Relationship...with My Refrigerator! 85
Chapter 6. Self-Regulation
There’s Something Besides an On-Off Switch? 103
Chapter 7. Problem Solving and Critical Thinking
Is Critical Thinking Different from Thinking Critically about Myself? 123
Chapter 8. Setting and Reaching Goals
What If I Can’t Get There from Here? 141
Chapter 9. Balancing Work and Play
All Work and No Play Makes Jack . . . Crave a Snack! 161
Life Skills Postassessment 182
Chapter 10. Integrating Life Skills into Eating “Normally”
I Get It Gain the Life Skills, Lose the Food Problem! 189
About the Author 217
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Love this book not only for the sage advice in it, but also Karen Koenig's writing style. Karen is witty, straight forward, encouraging, and breaks her suggestions down into bite-size chunks you can easily digest. I delighted in the fact that this book hardly mentions food and is really a practical guide for how to take care of yourself and manage the daily challenges of life. The 8-life skills Karen covers seem so simple, yet most of us never learned how to apply them consistently because our parents didn't either. Karen gives terrific examples and compassionately guides you how to bring your life back into balance. And, you gotta love that one of the skills she includes is making time for pleasure and play. This is a book you can turn to again and again for support, encouragement, and emotional nourishment, which is really what we're all craving at the end of the day.
I found Outsmarting Overeating by Karen R. Koenig so engaging that it was difficult to put down. It’s a must-read for anyone who has eating issues. The book is easy to read, presented in a relaxed style with humor. It is chock full of Karen’s expert advice, supported by scientific research and useful examples. Even though food and eating is discussed in each chapter, the focus of the book is more about developing 8 critical life skills, including Handling Emotions, Problem Solving and Critical Thinking, and Self-Regulation. These life skills are then integrated into “normal” eating showing the reader, in detail, how applying these skills will improve their relationship with food. Two important messages of the book are: Be kind and compassionate to yourself. And remember to take baby steps as you begin to think differently about eating, fitness and lifestyle. This book is a gold mine of information for anyone who needs guidance regulating their eating habits.
Outsmarting Overeating by Karen R. Koenig is an excellent resource for people who need help with overeating. This book will help you with tips and tricks on what to do instead of eating when you are stressed, sad, angry, happy, or any emotion you are having that would trigger you to grab food. If you or someone you know needs help with this, be sure to check out this book! Outsmarting Overeating is a book that provides comfort without the extra calories. This author has thirty years of experience helping people with their weight struggles and learning how to use something other than food to help with emotions. She doesn’t promise that this book or tips included in it will happen and work for you overnight, it will take time, and commitment on your part to actually put them to use, but if you do, big changes can happen and that scale you step onto each morning can slowly start to go back down. Worth trying? I think so! This is a great resource for people who overeat, I definitely recommend it to people who have problems with this. * Thank you to the publisher of Outsmarting Overeating, New World Library, for providing me with a copy of this book for review. All opinions expressed are my own.