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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Why Diets Don’t Work and Can Make You Fatter

Though you’re aiming to become a “normal” eater, do you ever secretly consider returning to dieting? Do you envy dieters’ rapid weight loss? Or blame yourself for a lack of will power and an inability to keep weight off? If you answered yes to any of these questions, please read on to learn the scientific reasons why diets fail us.In “Why diets don’t actually work, according to a researcher who has studied them for decades,” (Washington Post, 5/4/15), Roberto A. Ferdman interviews Dr. Traci Mann, psychology instructor at the University of Minnesota and researcher on eating habits, self-control and dieting for more than two decades. Here are some of Mann’s quotes from the interview which she discusses in more detail in her new book, Secrets from the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again (HarperCollins, 2015). Watch for my review...
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Understanding White and Brown Fat Cells

Why should you care what color your fat is? You might be sick of thinking about your fat, period. But it’s important to understand fat composition, especially that brown fat has a positive roll in determining your metabolism and keeping you at a comfortable weight. Understanding the process of fat-cell making may help you think more about food choices and actually play a part in determining your brown/white cell make-up. “When good fat goes bad’ by Barbara Moran (Bostonia, Fall 2014, page 22) explains the function of brown fat and why we want to have more of it. “White fat looks white because it’s full of molecules called lipids, which the body uses for long-term energy storage. Brown fat has lipids, too, but it is constantly using them like fuel to stoke a fire. Brown fat looks brown because it is packed with mitochondria, the tiny cellular powerhouses that keeps us...
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Theory Challenged on Why People Get Fat

Common wisdom is that some people get fat because they have the “thrifty” gene, which helped our ancient ancestors survive during times of famine. It helped folks metabolize and store food more efficiently so that they were able to keep on keeping on. Now, according to “Ancient genes, modern meals” (Science News, 9/20/14, pages 18-22) come several challenges to this theory which may not help you become a “normal” eater, but hopefully will help you see yourself differently if you are large sized. Andrew Prentice of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine asserts that “food shortages affect fertility and that women with the highest body weight have greater reproductive success” and “plumpness is an advantage not because thinner members of a population are less likely to die, but because they are less likely to bear children and pass their genes to the next generation.” John Speakman of the Energetics...
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Which Weight Loss Motivator Works Best?

A major frustration working with people who say they have a “weight” problem is getting their goal to be improving their health rather than losing weight. For success, research tells us that this is the direction to go in. This study says it all: “The Weight-Inclusive versus Weight-Normative Approach to Health: Evaluating the Evidence for Prioritizing Well-Being over Weight Loss” by Tylka, Annunziato, Burgard, Daníelsdóttir, Shuman, Davis, and Calogero (Journal of Obesity, vol. 2014 (2014), Article ID 983495, 18 pages, http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2014/983495). “This review evaluates two methods of working within patient care and public health: the weight-normative approach (emphasis on weight and weight loss when defining health and well-being) and the weight-inclusive approach (emphasis on viewing health and well-being as multifaceted while directing efforts toward improving health access and reducing weight stigma).” “Data reveal that the weight-normative approach is not effective for most people because of high rates of weight regain and...
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Resist a New Year’s Diet

Now is the time that many people start a diet, vowing that this time it will stick and be the last one they’ll ever go on. Maybe your friends, family members and co-workers are planning to be “good” around food for the rest of their lives and follow a new fitness routine. Maybe they’re under the faulty assumption that they’re going to manage to say no to all “bad” foods even though that never has happened before. Don’t be fooled by their take-charge attitude, hope, and enthusiasm. Don’t be seduced by the idea that a diet is what you need in order to lose weight. I don’t care what the media or doctors tell you. You know better. You have your own experience to go by. Sure, it can be very exhilarating to strategize with friends, relatives and colleagues about how you’ll triumph over the battle of the bulge. January, as...
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Eating, Weight and Gender

As if there aren’t enough differences between men and women, science is now telling us that we’re farther apart than we might think in terms of eating and weight. According to “Uneven struggle: from food cravings to moral support, men and women diet differently” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Health & Fitness, 8/26/14, 5-7E), there are major dissimilarities between the sexes. Fortunately, recognizing these differences can help each gender become more like the other in positive ways. Because men have more muscle than women and muscle burns more calories than fat, guess who has the faster metabolism? Why men, of course. Which enables them to go on to lift heavier weights than women do and build even more muscles which burn more calories. Then there’s the matter of women’s brains lighting up when they smell, taste and observe sweets and treats in a way that men’s brains don’t. If you think it’s harder for...
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Science on Weight and Health

Every once in a while I come across enlightening and useful scientific studies which speak directly to actions that disregulated eaters can take to become healthier. Smart people use scientific conclusions (as opposed to irrational thinking or profit-driven marketing) to guide their actions to change behavior. Here are summaries of two studies and their take-away messages which I hope will help you move toward your health goals.“Nighttime Light Exposure as a Risk Factor for Obesity Through Disruption of Circadian and Circannual Rhythms” (McFadden et al., Am J Epidemiol. 2014; 000(00):000–000) Abstract: “Nighttime Light Exposure as a Risk Factor for Obesity Through Disruption of Circadian and Circannual Rhythms” reports findings on the relationship between light exposure at night and obesity from a cross-sectional study of United Kingdom women. Their research extends findings from a previous study with elderly participants by including a larger sample size of over 100,000 women and a broader...
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Why Weighing Yourself Makes You Crazy

It’s crazy when we’re attached to a particular weight and achieving or not achieving it colors our mood. I know there are people who weigh themselves and who don’t think much about the number on the scale, but for those of you who’ve spent much of your life dieting and obsessing about weight, it’s a different story. Here’s how I know. If you’ve read my books, you’re aware that I had eating and weight problems galore during the first half of my life, then became a “normal” eater and ditched my scale. The only times I’ve known my weight since then have been weighing in at the doctors’ office. But that changed a while back due to some intestinal problems I’d been having, which included—said the doctors’ scale—losing about five-pounds in a short period of time. Concerned because I hadn’t changed my eating or exercise, I started to monitor my weight....
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Dangers of Food Restriction

If you came from a home or a childhood in which food was regularly restricted or off limits, studies now tell us that this may be a major cause of your food problems today. In “Restricting food makes it all the more desirable” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 4/29/14, page 32E), Tara Parker-Pope looks at why some kids eat more than others. These children are called “reactive eaters” and, in studies, eat way more than “non-reactive eaters.” Pope notes that “Genetics and biology play a role in foods we like and the amounts we eat. At the same time, studies show that children who grow up in homes with restrictive food rules where a parent is constantly dieting or desirable foods are forbidden or placed out of reach (my childhood home), often develop stronger reactions to food and want more of it when the opportunity presents itself (I did!).” Summarizing Penn State experiments on...
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Why It’s Hard to Give Up the Diet Mentality

The thing that diet promoters don’t tell you is why you get so hooked on diets. But this is just the information you need to get yourself unhooked. The answer is found both in physiology and psychology. First, when you begin dieting you lose weight which is precisely what you want to happen. You think, “Hey, fab, this works!” which, of course, it does for a while, until it doesn’t. So, then you think that if it worked for a while, you must be doing something wrong that you’ve stopped dropping pounds and, therefore, redouble your efforts. If you then resume shedding pounds, you think it was you who caused the failure and success. This dynamic of on-and-off rewards is called intermittent reinforcement which means sometimes getting what you want and sometimes not, and it works as well, if not better, at strengthening goal-seeking behavior as positive reinforcement does. Second, if...
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What Does BMI Really Tell Us

Although I’ve never been a great fan of Body Mass Index (BMI) to assess quality of life, I find it interesting that something so many people have relied on for evaluation of health and longevity is now being questioned. Perhaps BMI will go the way of the scale and we’ll be left determining how we’re doing taking care of our bodies by more valid health measurements. But don’t hold your breath for that to happen. BMI is the measurement of a person’s weight in relation to their height. According to “Body mass index flawed as a measure of obesity” by Jane Brody (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 4/22/14, 41E), the index, developed between 1830-1850, was later adopted by insurers as a way to assess weight in large populations. Brody points out that BMI was not developed for doing individual assessments of health and longevity, but it became the gold standard anyway. Gotta wonder how...
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Clothes and Weight

Let’s talk about clothes. I can hear a lot of you out there groaning. Yuck, clothes. Oy, clothes. I get how you feel, but maybe by the end of this blog you’ll feel a bit better. You know, this subject really doesn’t have to make you unhappy. Many people who’ve struggled with their weight also struggle with their attitude toward clothes. It’s not uncommon for them to have several sizes of clothing in their closets, from larger and smaller times. It’s not uncommon for them to hold onto these items because they tell themselves they can’t stand to part with them. What do these clothes that no longer fit mean to you that you believe you can’t let them go of them? Some clients say that certain items are associated with happy memories of feeling popular, loved, and unashamed of their bodies. Others insist that giving up smaller-sized pieces is like...
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The Diet Ideology

Reading an article about why people are attracted to rigid ideologies, I got to thinking about dieting as a telling example. What follows are my musings on the subject which may help you understand and change your way of thinking about food. I have no science to back up my ideas, but ask you to consider them as food for thought. In a fascinating article, “Why they join” by Mark Potok (Intelligence Report, Southern Poverty Law Center, Spring 2014, issue 153, p.65), about the attraction of extremist groups, Pete Simi, an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, identified personality traits which make people more likely to join these groups. He says, “In terms of personality, I wouldn’t say there is one type of personality, but I would say there are certain characteristics of thinking that make a person more prone or susceptible. For...
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Health versus Weight Focus

Oddly, many of you are more disturbed by how you look than about the questionable or poor state of your health due to excessive unhealthy eating. While over-focusing on what you and others think of your size, you under-focus on how large quantities of non-nutritious food affects your body, which is the opposite way to think to eat better. I know this because I have a whole caseload of troubled eaters who think like this and because I run a Food and Feelings message board whose members talk a lot about hating their fat or overweight bodies, but not so much about how their eating is ruining their health and shortening their lives. I have clients who could spend hours telling me how horrid they feel going to a party because they’re not the size they wish to be, but are taken aback when I suggest that this might be the...
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Wanting to Lose Weight

One of the most frequent laments I hear from clients is that, although they are finally starting to eat “normally,” they’re not losing weight. They understandably would like to shed pounds along with becoming healthier, yet recognize that focusing on weight loss per se might derail their improved eating. This is tricky business for troubled eaters. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to lose weight as long as it’s part of an entire regime toward health and fitness. The best approach is to follow the Health At Every Size protocol. Its health and fitness—rather than weight loss—goals, keep you focused on caring for your body. Using their protocol and continuing to eat “normally” should help you shed pounds. If you want to lose weight because a lower weight feels better and because you’ll be able to do more activities, that’s fine. Be careful, however, about putting your attention on the scale. Avoid...
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The Relationship Between Thinking about Weight and Losing Weight

Here’s your pop quiz for today: 1) Is there a correlation between how frequently you think about losing weight and the shedding of pounds? 2) Is there a correlation between how desperately you want to lose weight and losing it? 3) Does focusing, or worse, obsessing about losing weight actually help you lose it? I confess, I don’t know if there’s been research done on these questions, so you’re stuck with my take on this subject based on 30-plus years of experience working with people who are unhappy with their eating and their weight. To a person, I would say that one of the major impediments to “normal” eating, getting (and staying) healthy and fit, and becoming mentally healthy is over-focusing on weight. Losing weight is the end of a process, but if you’re not focusing on the process itself, you will never reach that end. Think about weight loss as...
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Weight Loss Comes at the End of a Process

Sometimes I think I have more discussions with clients about weight than about eating. They tell me what happens when they weigh themselves, ask how often they should hop on the scale, explain that they want to stop but can’t help themselves, and just plain can’t seem to get weight off their minds. Does this sound like you? Truth is, a focus on weight may actively prevent you from becoming a “normal” eater. Remember this: Weight loss comes at the end of the eating process. Many of you act as if it’s a determinant of what you “should” or “shouldn’t” eat. It is not. You know what happens when you weigh yourself. Either you’ve lost weight or haven’t gained any and are thrilled. Or you haven’t dropped pounds or as many as you’d hoped you would and you’re disappointed. If you’re happy about your weight loss, you may feel it’s okay...
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More on Influences on Weight

Let’s move on, shall we, from believing that weight is based solely on what and how much we eat. Learning about other factors influencing weight can help take pressure off yourself for doing something “wrong” or for not doing enough of what’s “right.” “Could bacteria be influencing your weight?” by Gina Kolata (Sarasota Herald Tribune, 9/6/13) tells us that gut bacteria “may help determine if a person is fat or thin.” The study involved mice and humans, in this case twins, one obese and one lean. Dr. Michael Fischbach of the University of California, though not involved in this twin study, called the findings “the clearest evidence to date that gut bacteria can help cause obesity.” Does this mean that if you have fat-generating bacteria, you’re destined to be fat? Interestingly, the answer is no. It seems that “the part of the study that most surprised other experts [ie, those not...
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Oh, No, The Tongue Patch Diet

One of my favorite sayings is, “You can’t see the picture when you’re inside the frame.” It means that sometimes you need distance and objectivity to see yourself clearly and realistically. Nowhere is this more true than in an obsession with losing weight. Take “The Tongue Patch Diet,” which I learned about in a segment of 20/20. Silly-sounding, it’s truly horrifying. The segment followed two young women who had a doctor sew a rough plastic patch atop their tongues to make it painful and impossible to eat. Body mutilation, anyone? The back-story was that one woman wanted to fit into her skinny jeans and the other wanted to wear her bikini on vacation, but both loved eating high-sugar and –fat food which they swore they lacked the “will power” to give up. Hence this $2000 surgery! Long story short is that they each lost about 20 pounds and were over the...
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Doctor Visits and Weight Talk

Many disregulated eaters who are heavy have had difficulty talking with medical professionals due to their treatment of “overweight” patients. We know from anecdotal experience that this is true, and now a study in the journal Obesity gives us proof. But don’t despair, you can learn to get the most out of medical visits. Says Dr. Kimberly A. Gudzune of John Hopkins School of Medicine where the study was done (Sarasota Herald-Tribune (5/7/13), “The bedside manner may improve with slimmer patients. Doctors seemed just a bit nicer to their normal-weight patients, showing more empathy and warmth in their conversations. It’s not like the physicians were being overtly negative or harsh. They were just not engaging patients in that rapport-building or making that emotional connection with the patient.” No surprise to many of you, I’m sure. While this is disappointing news, it may feel good to be validated. It can be hard...
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This website is owned and operated by Karen R. Koenig, M.Ed., LCSW. It contains material intended for informational and educational purposes only, and reasonable effort is made to keep its contents updated. Any material contained herein is not to be construed as the practice of clinical social work or of psychotherapy, although adherence to applicable Florida States, Rules, and Code of Ethics is observed. Material on this website is not intended as a substitute for medical or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment for mental health issues or eating disorder problems, which should be done only through individualized therapeutic consultation. Karen R. Koenig, LCSW disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the use of any information contained on this website. This website contains links to other sites. The inclusion of such links does not necessarily constitute endorsement by Karen R. Koenig, LCSW who disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the use of any information contained in this website. Further, Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, does not and cannot guarantee the accuracy or current usefulness of the material contained in the linked sites. Users of any website must be aware of the limitation to confidentiality and privacy, and website usage does not carry any guarantee or privacy of any information contained therein.