An Interview With Karen Schachter, MSW

Frequently Asked Questions

How long and how did you get to be an “eating expert”?

I like to say that I’ve been a “food and eating expert” in an informal way, for about 30 years (over 3/4 of my life!)  When I was 13, my father, who was 46 at the time, had a heart attack. Not only was that one of the scariest moments of my life, but also one of the most transformative.  My father realized that his life was in his hands and step by step, through food and lifestyle changes, he completely recovered his health (and I’m happy to report, is a happy, healthy, active 73 years old now, who still works full-time, except when he’s busy traveling to exotic places with my mom).  This childhood experience taught me two major things:  1) that food has unbelievable power, both for healing and for harming, and 2) that we each have the power to change our own life – and the only way to do so is to “just do it” and not wait around for it to magically get fixed.

Unfortunately, it took me about 10 more years to actually put these two lessons to good use. I first had to experience my own struggles in order to really “get it.”  For years, through my teens and early twenties, I encountered my own difficult food issues. I battled my body constantly and most of my energy was tied up in concerns about eating and my weight.  Finally, when I was 23 years old, I had an epiphany: The only way I was going to end my self-imposed torture was to “just do it” as I had learned from my father 10 years earlier. It was then that I realized that instead of making food and body my enemy, I had to befriend it instead.

At that moment, I made a commitment to immerse myself in absolutely everything that had to do with developing a positive relationship to food and my body. I read every book I could find and worked with a wonderful therapist.  It was not easy and I had plenty of times that I felt discouraged, but after a year, my life was completely different. After a few years, I felt like a different person!  I decided to become a clinical social worker so I could help people make changes in their lives that would transform the quality of their lives, as I had mine.

After 12 years of practicing psychotherapy, I felt something was missing. I loved my clients and I loved my work, but I wasn’t using my knowledge of and passion for food and nutrition to help people.  I had also had two children by this time, and I knew that I wanted them to grow up eating well, but not developing crazy habits and worries about food and their bodies as I had.  That is when I decided to go back to school and more formally study nutrition and holistic health.

I am committed to working with individuals and families to help them both repair – and prevent – eating concerns and issues from both a nutritional AND a psychological perspective. The two can not be separated: What we eat affects everything: our mood, our energy, our cravings, our weight and our overall health.  Yet how we FEEL and THINK and how we balance the many aspects of our lives, has EVERYTHING to do with how – and what –we eat.

Most of my individual adult clients begin their work with me  after having tried multiple diets or having engaged in constant battles of frustration with food and their bodies for years.  They feel ready to make a change, but don’t know where to begin.  Together, we work to help them “tune in” to themselves – their bodies, their food, and their lives.  Since many of them have spent a lifetime tuning themselves out and instead looking  “outwards” – looking to diets for answers for their own bodies, or looking to others to define them - our work together profoundly affects both their relationship with food and their body, but even more importantly, their relationship to themselves. They learn how to nourish themselves on many levels.

Who are your clients exactly?

I work with smart, savvy people, who tend to know something about nutrition and health, but who are stuck in terms of how to apply these principals to their lives. Many of them have struggled with their weight and/or their relationship to food and their bodies for years and despite efforts to change, have felt frustrated in the process. They may feel that they do a lot of emotional eating and are not sure how to change that. Food cravings, low energy and busy lives often get in the way for them of truly nourishing themselves.

Many of my clients are mothers who want their children to have healthy eating habits and healthy emotional lives, but feel that their own concerns about food, eating, their own weight, etc. may be interfering with their ability to feed their children with clarity.

Another subset of clients are people who may have less “emotional” issues tied up with food and eating, but who simply would like to learn more to change their own nutrition, energy, and mood and the way they feed their family. They may want to improve their nutrition because they – or one of their children – have recently become symptomatic in some way: low energy, low mood, weight gain, excema, frequent illnesses, high cholesterol or high blood pressure, adhd, behavioral problems, etc. They have tried more conventional methods with little success, or perhaps they have a sense that adjusting their food could improve their symptoms in a more natural way. Many of my clients struggle with “picky eaters” and work with me to help establish peace around food.

How are you different from nutritionists and
other social workers?

I am very interested in what people are eating and whether those foods best support their individual bodies and their minds (I am much less concerned with what the FDA says, or some diet bestseller). However, because my training is holistic in nature, and because of my social work background, I am equally as concerned with everything else going on in my clients’ lives that are nourishing – or depleting – them (relationships, school or career, movement, relaxation, movement, spirituality, self-esteem, family dynamics, etc.).

Many traditional nutritionists do not consider emotional concerns when addressing their food intake, and most social workers do not consider how food is affecting their client’s emotions and mood. For me, in part because of my own struggles with food and in part because of my years as a psychotherapist, emotion and nutrition go hand in hand. It is almost impossible to make real changes in how we eat without also addressing the emotional, behavioral and lifestyle issues that a person has (this is why most diets don’t work in the long run).

What you get from me are my many years of studying psychology and human behavior, and my vast knowledge of various nutritional theories, as well as my belief that no two people are alike. Our work together is always geared towards your specific concerns and goals, not some interesting nutritional or psychological theory. I also throw in a healthy dose of compassion, encouragement, and humor, and lots of support. This is why my clients get great results!

What is the difference between psychotherapy and psychology of eating coaching and how will I know which is the right
program for me?

After an initial assessment of your concerns, your needs and your goals, we will determine together whether psychotherapy or coaching is best for you. However, I can not do psychotherapy on the phone, so all phone clients are automatically enrolled in my "psychology of eating" coaching programs rather than psychotherapy.

Clients in psychotherapy usually meet once or twice per week in the office, for 50 minutes per session. There is no outside coaching via email or telephone as part of the program (except in cases of an emergency). To submit your sessions for insurance, you must be engaged in psychotherapy and have a mental health diagnosis. I will be working with you as a licensed social worker in this capacity.

My "psychology of eating" coaching programs include either phone or in-person sessions as well as email support and telephone support (in the intensive program) as needed. They also include free attendance for clients and a guest at my workshops (cooking classes, grocery shopping tours, and a variety of classes on different wellness topics). Insurance does not cover the costs of these programs, as I am not wearing my “licensed social worker hat” in this capacity, but acting as a coach.

What happens if you haven’t worked with people with my particular problem or concern?

I have literally worked with hundreds of clients in over the past 14 years, with a variety of concerns. I have found that my nutrition training has more than prepared me to deal with a whole range of issues related to food, and my social work background makes it second nature to deal with emotional, psychological and lifestyle issues that affect our eating. I find that the food piece is the easier piece – it is implementing those changes that people usually require more support and guidance around. It is likely that I am able to handle your concern or problem, however, I am also very comfortable letting you know if I’m not! I have a vast network of colleagues who may be better suited to your needs and I gladly refer people when necessary.

What is expected of me during our work together?

My programs are created for people who are excited and serious about changing their families’ eating or their own eating, and develop a positive relationship to food. I expect people to show up to the session, to be committed to our work, to be open to trying new things, and to be honest with me about what’s working and what’s not. I love working with people who are eager to implement new strategies and experiment, open to learning about themselves,and who are engaged in our work together. I appreciate working with people who like to work hard and look to me to ask the tough questions and support them, but who do not expect me to “fix it” for them - that is one thing I can’t do!!


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